Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: What's the Difference

Jewelry can give a necessary touch to the same old outfits we throw on every day. There’s really nothing more eye-catching than the metallic sheen of a stainless steel or sterling silver piece.

You could put a piece of silver or steel jewelry in front of most of us, and we’d never know the difference. However, both of these metals have specific qualities that might make them better options in certain situations.

Let’s take a look at what those circumstances might be and finally understand what’s different about stainless steel and sterling silver.

Stainless Steel

Steel is made by combining iron with carbon in a two-step process. It’s a highly durable metal that also has heat resistant properties. The problem with ordinary steel is that it tends to corrode quickly, as the iron reacts with elements in nature, causing tarnish over time. 

To reap the benefits of steel without the corrosion, stainless steel was invented by adding chromium and other alloying elements, such as nickel. When combined, stainless steel becomes acorrosion-resistant metal that makes it a popular material for surgical instruments, architecture, and, of course, jewelry.

Stainless steel is a high-quality option for necklaces, rings, and bracelets because, in addition to its durability and elemental resistance, it comes at a low price point when compared to other metals. If you buy a piece of jewelry made from stainless steel, you can feel confident that your investment will last a long time with little need for maintenance.

Sterling Silver

Technically, silver is considered both a metal and a chemicalelement. Pure silver must be made of at least 99.9% of the compound, but since the metal itself is so soft and brittle, pure silver is not often used in jewelry manufacturing.

But since silver is so pleasing to the eye, sterling silver was created to enhance its durability and widen its range of uses. Sterling silver is made of 92.5% silver, often being written as .925 sterling. The other 7.5% is made of another alloy, typically copper or zinc. When combined, sterling silver becomes significantly stronger, allowing it to be used for silverware in addition to jewelry.

Sterling silver is also a more affordable alternative to more expensive metals such as gold, but it still has an iconic luster that’s impossible to miss. Because of their durability and timelessness, your sterling silver pieces will last a lifetime.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver

While stainless steel and sterling silver are both excellent materials for making jewelry, there are some differences that you should be aware of before purchasing your next chain or ring.


Both stainless steel and sterling silver have a clean, metallic luster. They look classy, representing excellence and maturity. Stainless steel is a good option as a base for familiar designs, such as chains or ring bands. Since steel is such a strong metal, it can be challenging to manipulate the metal into intricate designs.

Silver, on the other hand, is much more malleable. If you’re looking for something a bit more complex, pieces made out of sterling silver can replicate more detailed patterns. However, it’s important to remember that these both look and feel extremely similar, so it’s hard to go wrong.

Something great about sterling silver and stainless steel is that they can both be used as a base metal, meaning that they can be plated with other metals. For example, stainless steel can begold plated, combining the durability of steel with the prestige of gold. 

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver: What’s the Difference?

3 Piece 5mm Tennis Bundle Set in 18k Gold

Cleaning and Maintenance

While both metals are durable, stainless steel does have a bit more sturdiness. If you’re always on the go and have less time to regularly clean your jewelry, stainless steel will be more long-lasting in terms of scratch, rust, and tarnish resistance.

Despite all of that, you’ll want to make sure that you keep your stainless steel away from harsh chemicals such as bleach and chlorine. This means making sure that you remove your stainless steel before deep cleaning the kitchen or hopping in the pool. 

All of that applies to sterling silver as well, though your skin’s natural oils can help keep sterling silver shiny and polished. If you choose a sterling silver option, you’ll want to wear it often, as this will keep your piece looking brand new.

Even if you take extra precaution in keeping your jewelry in good condition, you’ll still have to do some cleaning every now and then. You can use the same mild techniques for each of these metals.

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to scrub away any remaining residue. Be sure to gently polish it with a lint-free cloth to avoid scratches, especially on your sterling silver accessories. You can also purchase a cleaning kit from the company that you purchased the jewelry from.


If you’re on a budget, either one of these precious metals will be much more cost-effective than most other jewelry materials. Since stainless steel is an abundant metal, most stainless steel options have a minimal price tag that’s perfect if you want quality at a lower price.

Sterling silver does tend to garner a higher price tag, but this is because of silver’s rarity when compared to steel.Sterling silver rings just have a pristine quality to them that can be difficult to replicate.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver: What’s the Difference?

Baguette Eternity Ring


If you’re looking for an eco-friendly choice, stainless steel is the way to go. In fact, stainless steel is the most environmentally friendly metal that can be used in manufacturing because of the low amount of energy needed for its fruition. Plus, they are easilyrecyclable and readily reusable.

However, since stainless steel is so durable, it is difficult to get it resized. So, if you get a stainless steel ring and feel that it might be a bit too tight or loose, recycling may become your only option. Alternatively, sterling silver is simple to resize, as its malleability allows jewelers to make the perfect fit with ease. 

Furthermore, stainless steel can irritate certain sensitive skin types, usually due to its combination with nickel. Since this alloy is not typically used to make sterling silver, this might be a better option if you’re prone to allergic reactions.

Which Is the Better Investment

Both of these metals are filled with pros and have very few cons, so it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. The short answer truly is that neither of these is a better option than the other. It should all come down to personal preference and style. 

However, there are a few things to keep in mind about the jeweler before deciding to buy any type of jewelry. The biggest factor to keep in mind is if the company has any warranty policies in place. Some companies might offer a lifetime guarantee for their products, while others may allow free cleaning, maintenance, or insurance for purchasing their accessories.

These types of policies are proof that the jeweler has confidence in their product’s quality. It is a good indication that they are a reputable source for enhancing your jewelry collection.

Furthermore, check to see if the company uses quality metal in their pieces. Especially if you’re looking for gold plated options, be sure that they are using at least 10k gold and are using a high-quality sterling silver orstainless steel base. This will make sure that any piece you purchase will last a long time.

Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver: What’s the Difference?

Iced Presidential Watch w/ Red Dial in 18k Gold

In Summary

Sterling silver and stainless steel are similar in appearance, style, and durability. They are both cost-effective options when compared to most alternatives and make for fantastic additions to any jewelry drawer.

Stainless steel does tend to be a bit more sturdy and is an eco-friendly metal that can be recycled when ready for disposal. Though, sterling silver is hypoallergenic and can be resized much more easily, extending its lifespan.

Regardless, these are both quality choices that are representative of superior jewelry. When it comes to stainless steel and sterling silver, you really can’t go wrong.