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

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 18, 2023
Stainless steel is a corrosion-resistant alloy of iron, carbon, and chromium, while sterling silver is a precious metal alloy mainly consisting of silver and copper.

Key Differences

Stainless steel is a popular metal alloy primarily used for its resilience and resistance to corrosion. Sterling silver, on the other hand, is a cherished precious metal alloy recognized for its beauty and value in jewelry and other artifacts.
Stainless steel contains iron, carbon, and at least 10.5% chromium, giving it its unique anti-corrosive properties. Sterling silver consists mainly of silver (92.5% by weight) and is alloyed with other metals, usually copper, which provides it with strength while maintaining its ductility and beauty.
When it comes to durability, stainless steel stands out as it is less susceptible to scratches and dents compared to sterling silver. Sterling silver, although soft and malleable, tends to tarnish over time when exposed to air and moisture.
Stainless steel jewelry and products are typically more affordable and require minimal maintenance. In contrast, sterling silver items often command a higher price due to silver's inherent value and require regular polishing to maintain their shine and prevent tarnish.
Both stainless steel and sterling silver have unique qualities that make them preferred choices for different applications. While stainless steel is favored for its strength in construction and daily wear items, sterling silver remains a favorite for jewelry, decorative items, and silverware due to its luster and historical significance.

Comparison Chart


Alloy of iron, carbon, and chromium
Alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals (usually copper)


Resistant to corrosion and rust
Prone to tarnishing


Highly durable and sturdy
Softer and more prone to scratches

Main Uses

Construction, tools, everyday jewelry
Jewelry, silverware, decorative items


Minimal maintenance required
Requires polishing to prevent tarnish

Stainless Steel and Sterling Silver Definitions

Stainless Steel

A metal known for its bright, silvery finish and durability.
The bridge was constructed using stainless steel beams to ensure stability.

Sterling Silver

A metal known for its shiny luster but also its tendency to tarnish.
She polished her sterling silver bracelet to restore its original shine.

Stainless Steel

An alloy often used in jewelry due to its hypoallergenic properties.
Her stainless steel earrings are both stylish and safe for sensitive skin.

Sterling Silver

A malleable metal alloy valued for its aesthetic appeal.
Artisans often prefer working with sterling silver due to its versatility.

Stainless Steel

A corrosion-resistant alloy combining iron, carbon, and chromium.
The kitchen sink made of stainless steel remains rust-free despite constant water exposure.

Sterling Silver

A standard for silver indicating a purity of 92.5%.
The ring was stamped with 925 indicating it was made of sterling silver.

Stainless Steel

A common material used in appliances, tools, and industrial equipment.
The modern refrigerator boasts a sleek stainless steel finish.

Sterling Silver

A precious metal used prominently in high-quality jewelry and ornaments.
The heirloom teapot, made of sterling silver, has been in our family for generations.

Stainless Steel

A sturdy metal that does not rust, stain, or corrode easily.
Stainless steel cutlery is preferred in many households for its longevity.

Sterling Silver

An alloy primarily composed of silver and a small percentage of other metals, often copper.
The necklace was crafted from genuine sterling silver and gleamed beautifully.


What percentage of silver is in sterling silver?

Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver by weight.

Is stainless steel resistant to rust?

Yes, stainless steel is highly resistant to rust and corrosion.

Why does sterling silver tarnish?

Sterling silver tarnishes due to reactions with sulfur compounds in the air.

How should sterling silver jewelry be stored?

Sterling silver jewelry should be stored in a cool, dry place, ideally in an airtight bag to prevent tarnishing.

What is stainless steel primarily composed of?

Stainless steel is primarily an alloy of iron, carbon, and chromium.

Where is stainless steel most commonly used?

Stainless steel is widely used in construction, kitchen appliances, tools, and everyday jewelry.

Why is copper often added to sterling silver?

Copper is added to sterling silver to enhance its strength and durability.

Is stainless steel used in high-end jewelry?

While stainless steel is used in many types of jewelry, high-end luxury pieces typically favor precious metals like sterling silver or gold.

How can one distinguish between stainless steel and sterling silver items?

Stainless steel has a more grayish hue, while sterling silver is brighter and shinier; additionally, sterling silver items often have purity stamps.

Do both stainless steel and sterling silver have resale value?

While both can have resale value, sterling silver typically holds a higher resale value due to its precious metal content.

How can tarnish be removed from sterling silver?

Tarnish on sterling silver can be removed using special polishing cloths or silver cleaning solutions.

Is stainless steel more durable than sterling silver?

Yes, stainless steel is generally more durable and resistant to scratches than sterling silver.

Are sterling silver items always stamped with a mark?

Most genuine sterling silver items are stamped with marks like "925" to indicate their purity.

Does stainless steel contain nickel?

Some types of stainless steel contain nickel, but many jewelry-grade varieties are nickel-free.

Can stainless steel be magnetized?

Some types of stainless steel are magnetic, while others are not.

Is stainless steel jewelry hypoallergenic?

Yes, most stainless steel jewelry is hypoallergenic and doesn't irritate the skin.

What causes sterling silver to turn black or green?

Sterling silver can turn black or green due to tarnish or reactions with certain chemicals and body oils.

Is sterling silver considered a precious metal?

Yes, sterling silver is considered a precious metal.

What is the main use of sterling silver?

Sterling silver is primarily used for jewelry, silverware, and decorative items.

Can stainless steel discolor or stain the skin?

Generally, stainless steel doesn't discolor or stain the skin.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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