Polished Nickel vs. Brushed Nickel: What is the Difference?

There can’t be that much of a difference between polished nickel and brushed nickel, right?

After all, they’re both made with nickel, so how different can they actually be? Surprisingly enough, polished nickel is starkly different from brushed nickel.

While polished nickel features a beautiful, glossy shine, brushed nickel boasts a subtle, semi-satin finish with a soft glow. But beyond that, each offers specific pros and cons, making one better than the other for particular situations.

This article explores the differences to help you decide which option is best suited to your home.

Polished Nickel

Polished nickel finishes are a staple in the world of fixtures and hardware. It’s a go-to pick for countless homeowners, acting as the perfect option to complete homes with modern aesthetics. It features a warm undertone but a glossy finish similar to chrome.

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Kingston Brass KS1276ALBS Heritage Bridge Kitchen Faucet, Polished Nickel, 13.88 x 8.56 x 13.13
Kingston Brass KS1276ALBS Heritage Bridge Kitchen Faucet, Polished Nickel, 13.88 x 8.56 x 13.13
Solid brass construction for durability; Deck mount 4-hole installation with side sprayer; Drip-free ceramic disc cartridge
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The smooth surface catches and reflects light, bouncing beams of light all over the space and creating an overall brighter area. It can be an excellent choice for smaller bathrooms, as the light finish and reflective surface can make the space feel larger.

This finish is usually made by plating nickel over a metal core, usually brass, in an electroplating process. Manufacturers then polish the finish to a high shine, creating a highly reflective and glossy surface.

Pros

This finish offers an impressive array of perks, from versatility to durability. Its best perks include the following:

  • Subtle warmth: This finish can coordinate with various color schemes, whether you prefer warm neutrals or deep, cool, bold colors. Its subtle warm undertone allows it to blend seamlessly with nearly any aesthetic.
  • Long-lasting: Polished nickel is a long-lasting finish, making it a great choice for nearly any application. It’s a good fit for doorknobs, shower fixtures, faucets, kitchen cabinet hardware, and more.
  • Reflective finish: If you enjoy glossy, reflective finishes, polished nickel is a worthwhile consideration. It is somewhat similar to chrome in that it has a highly reflective surface. Light bounces off of it, creating a brighter experience.
  • Easy to clean: The lack of texture on polished nickel finishes makes it incredibly easy to clean. All it takes is a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth to restore this finish to its glossy form.
  • Durable: Polished nickel holds up well under regular use, making it an excellent choice for those who want a long-lasting finish.
  • Versatile: Since polished nickel can go either way on the color spectrum, it’s perfect for nearly any aesthetic. You can use it in more rustic homes or use it to complete your modern palette in a contemporary home.

Cons

Polished nickel has a few downsides to keep in mind, including the following:

  • Visible wear: While polished nickel is durable, it is more susceptible to showing signs of wear. The high-gloss finish may wear down over time, leaving visible dull marks in high-use areas, like on door handles or faucet handles.
  • Frequent maintenance: Although polished nickel is easier to clean, it requires frequent maintenance. The glossy surface displays dirt, grime, fingerprints, and water spots very well. So, if you want to ensure the surface remains shiny, you’ll need to wipe it down regularly.
  • Pricier: Polished nickel is often more expensive than brushed nickel. However, the price differences are often minor, so while you might need to spend a bit more to get polished nickel, the increases are usually minimal.

Best For

Polished nickel is a worthwhile consideration for many folks, especially those who enjoy high-gloss finishes. The shiny surface works well in various applications, from your kitchen to the bathroom.

While it isn’t the best for families with kids due to its tendency to show fingerprints and dirt, it can be an excellent addition to thousands of homes.

It works well with everything from warm neutrals to cool tones, making it suitable for nearly any aesthetic.

Brushed Nickel

Like polished nickel, brushed nickel is a popular finish for kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas of your home requiring a hardware finish. It boasts a softer, semi-satin look that is more muted than polished nickel.

It features a textured finish that is comparable to the surface of many stainless steel finishes. The textured surface prevents it from reflecting light like polished nickel, giving it a nearly matte finish.

When manufacturing this finish, they treat the surface of the fixture with a wire brush. This removes the glossy shine characteristic of polished nickel, leaving behind a duller, more textured result.

While it isn’t as shiny as polished nickel, it isn’t completely matte. Instead, it has a textured appearance with a soft glow reminiscent of its glossier counterpart.

Pros

Brushed nickel is an exceptional consideration for several reasons. Its most notable upsides include the following:

  • Durable: Brushed nickel is incredibly durable and maintains its good looks for quite a while. Since it doesn’t have a high-shine finish, wear and tear isn’t quite as noticeable, so it can hold its beauty for many years.
  • Easy cleaning: While the textured finish can create a perfect hiding spot for dirt and grime, the grooves on the surface aren’t deep enough to make cleaning a nightmare. Instead, it’s as simple as wiping dirt and grime away with a microfiber towel and a mild cleaning solution.
  • Easy maintenance: Unlike polished nickel, brushed nickel is relatively easy to maintain. Its satin, almost matte textured surface hides dirt, water stains, smudges, and fingerprints well. This allows you to go longer between each cleaning session, as grime doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
  • Affordable: Brushed nickel is a worthwhile consideration if you love the warm undertones of nickel but aren’t a fan of the steep cost. It’s substantially cheaper than its polished comrade, making it an excellent budget-friendly pick.
  • Versatile: The warm undertones in nickel finishes allow them to go either way – they can coordinate with warmer finishes or cooler tones. They pair beautifully with nearly any aesthetic or style, from warm neutrals to cool, bold hues.

Cons

Of course, brushed nickel has specific drawbacks. For some, these downsides might be a strong deterrent.

  • Susceptible to tarnishing: While nickel finishes are surprisingly tarnish-resistant, brushed nickel is more susceptible to tarnishing than polished nickel. The chances are even higher with poor maintenance.
  • Inconsistencies: Brushed nickel from different manufacturers can look surprisingly dissimilar. Some may feature a more satin look and a browner hue, while others might be more matte and silver. This can raise issues when you purchase brushed nickel fixtures and hardware from multiple brands.
  • Texture: The textured surface isn’t ideal for everyone. Some may not like the grooved surface, preferring the smooth, glossy surface of polished chrome over the brushed finish.

Best For

Brushed nickel finishes are perfect for customers who prefer a textured finish. This particular finish works great for families, especially those with young kids with a knack for leaving tiny dirty fingerprints all over faucets, cabinet hardware, and door handles.

The textured surface helps hide these marks, saving you time by allowing you to go longer between cleaning.

This finish is a great choice for those who prefer matte or semi-matte finishes over glossy ones. It blends beautifully with neutral colors, particularly whites, beiges, tans, and more.

The brushed surface gives this finish a subtle warmth, allowing it to mesh with warm neutrals to create a soft, welcoming, and modern aesthetic.

Polished vs. Brushed: The Difference

Kitchen Faucet

So, we’ve explored the critical markers of polished and brushed chrome, but what is the actual difference between the two? The primary difference is the texture of the finish, as this affects all other aspects, from durability to looks.

While polished nickel is finished in an electroplating and polishing process that creates a glossy look, brushed nickel features a textured, brush-like finish that creates a more matte appearance. From there, the pros and cons are directly associated with how the manufacturer made the finish.

The table below offers a quick overview of key differences between polished and brushed nickel to help you choose the best fit for your home.

FactorPolished NickelBrushed Nickel
CleaningEasyEasy
FinishGlossySatin
Fingerprint and water spot visibilityMoreLess
PriceMoreLess
DurabilityGoodGood
MaintenanceMoreLess

So, Which One Is Better?

Polished nickel has its place, just like brushed nickel does. Each option has its merits, making each one better suited to a unique need.

For example, if you have kids and want a low-maintenance finish, brushed nickel might be the best option for you.

In contrast, polished nickel might be the perfect choice for your home if you prefer glossy, reflective finishes. Ultimately, the best fit for your home hinges on your needs and preferences.

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