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Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel – Which Is Better?

Sterling silver vs stainless steel

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Sterling silver and stainless steel are two similar looking metals, commonly used in costume jewelry. Both stainless steel and sterling silver have a similar luster and color, and it can be hard to tell the two apart.

What’s more, these metals are perfect for adding some glamor and style to your look, without having to spend too much money.

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But how do these two metals compare and which of the two is the better choice? Let’s compare sterling silver vs. stainless steel side by side to find out.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver – Composition

Stainless steel refers to a range of iron-based alloys. It’s not a raw metal and isn’t found in nature but is only made by blending several metals together, typically made of iron and carbon along with other metals such as nickel, silicon, manganese, and carbon. Because there are so many types of stainless steel, the variety used to make your kitchenware, for example, is different to what’s in your jewelry.

Sterling silver (also known as 925 silver) is made by mixing 92.5% of pure silver with 7.5% of copper, nickel or zinc. The metal should be stamped with a sterling silver hallmark, which include .925, 925, STERLING, or the notation 925/1000.

Bottom line: While stainless steel is made entirely of industrial metals, sterling silver contains over 90% of silver, which is a precious metal.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver – Durability

Stainless steel is one of the most durable metals there is. It’s highly resistant to scratches and wear and tear that comes with daily use. It has a hardness rating of around 5.5 Mohs. It’s perfect for someone with an active lifestyle, as you don’t have to take off the ring each time you engage in vigorous activity. Stainless steel has a wide range of industrial and technological applications as well.

However, this hardness also has a downside. It makes it difficult to mold stainless steel jewelry into intricate designs. This is why elegant and delicate jewelry can be made using sterling silver but not typically with stainless steel.

Sterling silver is a much softer metal than stainless steel, but it’s still highly durable. Much harder than pure silver, sterling silver can last a lifetime if given appropriate care. It doesn’t easily bend or damage, however it does scratch and tarnish (more about this below) and will require regular maintenance more than stainless steel.

Bottom line: Stainless steel is harder than sterling silver and doesn’t get scratched as much, but sterling silver is more workable and can be molded into delicate designs.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver – Luster

Stainless steel wedding bands

Stainless steel or sterling silver? Check here to find out.

Both stainless steel and sterling silver have a similar luster and are highly reflective and shiny. They can be difficult to differentiate from more expensive white metals.

Rings made from both these metals can be crafted into a variety of finishes, including hammered, matte, brushed, polished and satin.

Bottom line: Both stainless steel and sterling silver have a similar luster – reflective and shiny like white gold.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver – Tarnish

Stainless steel doesn’t easily tarnish and corrode. It’s highly resistant to tarnishing and scratching, which makes it easy to maintain its luster and beauty.

Sterling silver, on the other hand, doesn’t age well. The copper content in the alloy makes it prone to tarnish, which reduces its luster and dulls it quickly. Tarnish can easily be removed but it requires some commitment to maintenance. This is the one thing that tends to put many people off sterling silver.

Bottom line: Sterling silver is prone to tarnish, which dulls its luster, while stainless steel remains lustrous for longer.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver – Hypoallergenic

Neither stainless steel nor sterling silver are always hypoallergenic, which means that they can cause allergic reactions for people who have metal sensitivities and allergies.

This is because of metals like nickel, which are typically found in these alloys. If nickel is not present, then the alloy can be considered safe.

It’s always good to ask the retailer whether the metal contains nickel to ensure that it’s safe to wear, especially if you’re prone to allergic reactions.

Bottom line: Stainless steel and sterling silver is more likely to be not hypoallergenic, due to possible nickel in the alloys.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver – Price

Stainless steel is much more affordable than sterling silver, because it’s made entirely of industrial metals. Sterling silver, on the other hand, contains silver which is considered a precious metal. As such, sterling silver holds more value and prestige than stainless steel.

In terms of price, you can find a good quality stainless steel ring for around $20 or more, like this wedding band, while sterling silver wedding bands would average around $100, like this ring.

Bottom line: Sterling silver holds more value and prestige than stainless steel.

Sterling Silver and Stainless Steel – Recapping the Pros and Cons

Sterling Silver

Choose sterling silver if you want a valuable and prestigious metal. But you will need to have the time to periodically clean the ring and remove its tarnish, if you want to maintain its luster.


  • Sterling silver is a precious metal, carrying prestige and value.
  • It’s easy to form sterling silver into elegant and delicate designs due to its moldable nature.
  • It’s easy to repair and resize as sterling silver isn’t overly hard.
  • Sterling silver is affordable compared to other precious metals.
  • For those who love an antique look, the tarnish of sterling silver offers a beautiful, oxidized finish.


  • Sterling silver requires regular maintenance as it tarnishes easily.
  • It’s a soft metal and acquires scratches and dents over time.
  • It’s more expensive than stainless steel.

Stainless Steel

Choose stainless steel if you’re after a budget-friendly, lustrous metal that requires minimal maintenance. It’s appearance will make it very hard to tell apart from more expensive metals, so you’ll be able to purchase an inexpensive ring or jewelry that still looks great.


  • Stainless steel is extremely hard and is resistant to scratches and damage.
  • It’s a highly affordable metal for jewelry.
  • The luster of stainless steel is similar to that of more expensive white metals.
  • It’s easy to maintain as it doesn’t acquire scratches easily.
  • Stainless steel doesn’t tarnish.


  • Its hardness can make stainless steel difficult for jewelers to work with. Resizing, repairing and molding into elegant designs can be difficult.
  • Stainless steel isn’t valuable or prestigious as it’s made entirely of industrial metals.
  • There are limited styles of stainless steel jewelry because its not malleable.

Wrapping Up

As the above discussion indicates, both stainless steel and sterling silver have their own pros and cons.

One thing to note is that if you’re looking for wedding or engagement rings made of either of these metals, you won’t find them on sites dedicated to precious metals and gemstones.

It’s best to take your search to Etsy or Amazon to avail yourself of a wide range of stainless steel and sterling silver designs at a range of prices.

Click browse stainless steel and sterling silver rings.