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March 11, 2021 4 min read

Brass vs. Stainless Steel: What's the difference?

It can be an overwhelming decision when it comes to choosing the perfect faucet for your home. Material, style function, and price all combine to make your choice extra tricky! Aside from wanting to be aesthetically pleasing, the primary importance is the quality and durability of your faucet. Brass and Stainless Steel are the two main streams of material used for faucet hardware on the market. Both options are highly beneficial and ensure a lifetime of function and satisfaction, but what is the main difference between them?

 

Material Composition (The Technical Stuff)

Brass is an alloy metal made of mostly copper and zinc. The composition can range anywhere between 50-63% copper and 50-37% zinc, with other additives used for material malleability. There are many manufacturing methods used to create brass hardware, including wrought, forged, cast, and die-cut processes. Since it has a relatively low melting point, it's easier to cast and is soft enough to machine with little effort yet hardy enough to endure the rigors of life as a faucet. One of the main (and only) issues with brass faucets is that they're not 100% lead-free. It used to be a common practice to add lead to brass for malleability purposes, but now it’s been virtually banned for use in faucets and most other plumbing fixtures. Before 2014, a faucet could contain as much as 8% lead and still call itself lead-free. Now the maximum lead content in a faucet is 0.25% (1/4 of 1%). To comply with the restrictions on lead, today's faucet brass is "lead-free" brass that uses other additives for malleability.

304 and 316 stainless is another material option used for faucets. These stainless steel options contain 18% chromium and 8-10% nickel, the nickel giving the steel a particular crystalline structure to increase the material’s strength and malleability while the chromium helps the steel resist corrosion. A small amount of molybdenum (2-3%) is added to 316 steel to better resist acids. Both materials are austenitic steels, which means they are low- or non-magnetic. Stainless 304 is by far the more commonly-used alloy for making faucets, which is what our Lulani stainless steel faucets are made of. Stainless 316, known as marine grade stainless, has superior resistance to pitting, corrosion, and staining, particularly in acidic or salt environments, but comes in second behind Stainless 304 due to its hardness and manufacturing difficulty level. Stainless 316 is usually a bit more pricey than Stainless 304 because of this, but other than that they are virtually identical. In general, stainless steel is harder than brass and has a higher melting point, making it more difficult than brass to cast and machine.

 

Benefits

Brass is one of the oldest faucet materials around and is well-known for its durability since it can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. Brass faucets do not easily crack or disintegrate. It's one of the most corrosion-resistant materials out there. This is particularly important if you have hard water, which corrodes a faucet even more quickly than other materials. It can almost always stand up to hot water damage and other corrosive environmental factors better than any other material. Brass is also fire resistant and often one of the few items salvaged when a home is razed by fire.

Since it's so commonly used, it's easy to find almost any plumbing part or fixture made of the same material, which makes replacing bathroom parts very easy. This can also make your installation and maintenance cost a little more cost-effective because the material is so easy to work with. Aside from being easier to find, brass fixtures are more malleable than steel or iron. This means it's easier to bend, shape or mold fittings to suit your needs than most other metals.

Stainless steel, on the other hand, is considered a step above brass. Its physical durability exhibits longevity that other materials cannot muster. It has natural heat-resistant properties that are considered corrosion-resistant, tarnish-resistant, and will not rust. This means it requires less maintenance since it's scratch-resistant and will disguise spots and smudges.

Stainless steel is extremely hygienic. It's a common material used in the food processing, hospital, and pharmaceutical industries due to its corrosion and rust-resistant traits. The stainless steel material used in faucets provides a smooth, easy-to-clean surface that will not produce small pores or crevices where bacteria may otherwise harbor. Its naturally occurring properties can be very attractive features to a plethora of industries.

One of the most major differences between brass and stainless steel material is that stainless steel is 100% lead-free. All plumbing fixtures in the US should be safe, but as we mentioned earlier, some materials contain a minute amount of lead. Stainless steel doesn't, so you can rest assured it won't release lead into the water that comes out of the faucet.

 

How to tell what you're getting

You can coat most metal and plastic faucets and fixtures with almost any finish, which means when shopping for a new faucet, make sure to ask about what material is inside the faucet's body. Another trick is to feel how heavy the faucet is. Since a good quality faucet will have some heft, you'll want to feel out how heavy various faucets are.

Solid brass constructions are much higher quality than faucets that have brass plating or a brass-like finish. You can usually distinguish between the two because solid brass is a lot heavier. The same goes for stainless steel fixtures. There are a lot of cheaper steel options on the market, but their lower price point often correlates with their lower quality. True stainless steel faucets are made of either 304 or 316 stainless, so be wary of anything listed differently.


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