Sterling Silver vs Stainless Steel – Which is Better?

Sterling Silver vs Stainless Steel – Which is Better?

Curious about the dissimilarity between sterling silver and stainless steel?

Great! You’ve come to the right spot!

In this handy Twirl weddings guide, I’ll provide answers to common queries about these gleaming metals, such as:

  • Which one is more suitable for daily use?
  • How does stainless steel endure over time?
  • Why does sterling silver become discolored?

Origin – Sterling Silver vs Stainless Steel

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is a precious metal used in making beautiful jewelry. Many people get confused between sterling silver and pure silver, but they are actually different.

Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% pure silver. So, it’s still real silver!

The remaining percentage is an alloy. An alloy is a mix of metals that is added to a precious metal to make it stronger and more durable. This is why we have 14K or 18K gold instead of 24K pure gold. These precious metals are too soft to be used in jewelry on their own.

If you’re careful, pure silver jewelry can last a while, but the alloy in sterling silver is what makes it sturdy enough for everyday wear.

There are also different qualities of sterling silver. Among fine jewelers, genuine sterling silver is considered good for people who have metal allergies, particularly to nickel. Most metal allergies are caused by nickel or copper.

Because of this, nickel silver is not used very often. However, it’s important to note that sterling silver is not considered hypoallergenic.

When it comes to metal allergies, nickel is the most common culprit. However, there are other alloys that can also cause allergic reactions. Copper alloy, which is the primary silver alloy found in sterling silver, can be problematic for certain individuals. This is why there are people who can only wear jewelry made of solid gold and cannot tolerate even sterling silver. It’s essential to be aware of these allergies and choose jewelry materials that are safe and comfortable for you.

RECOMMENDED: Sterling Silver vs. Gold

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a metal that many of us are familiar with because it’s used in our kitchen appliances and utensils. We often see it in sinks, pots, and pans—it’s pretty common.

You might be surprised to learn that stainless steel was actually discovered less than 110 years ago.

The credit for our stainless steel jewelry goes to a man named Harry Brearley, who made the discovery in 1913. He found a type of steel that didn’t rust. Many others had tried to do this before, but he is often credited as being the first to do it successfully.

However, there is some debate about who the actual inventor is. Nevertheless, it was around this time that stainless steel started gaining popularity in the market.

Stainless steel is a special kind of metal made by combining iron with 12.8% chromium. It’s the chromium that prevents stainless steel from rusting.

Appearance – Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel

Sterling Silver

Many people are attracted to the shiny appearance of sterling silver jewelry. The bright white metal is often preferred over yellow gold rings. However, there is often confusion between sterling silver and white gold.

Some individuals claim to prefer silver over gold, but it’s worth noting that white gold can provide a similar silvery look due to a coating called rhodium. This coating needs to be reapplied over time to maintain its appearance.

RECOMMENDED: What Is White Gold Jewelry?

By law, all fine jewelry made of sterling silver must be stamped with the mark “925,” indicating its purity as 925 parts out of 1000 are pure silver.

One drawback of owning a sterling silver ring is that it requires maintenance to preserve its shiny silver appearance. Over time and with regular wear, the ring will lose its luster and begin to oxidize or tarnish.

Tarnished sterling silver looks dull, dirty, and turns dark gray. Some jewelers intentionally use this effect in pure silver jewelry to create an “antiquing” look.

The good news is that tarnish is temporary and can be easily remedied with a silver polishing cloth, which is quite affordable, usually costing less than $15.

While all sterling silver jewelry will tarnish if not properly cared for, there are certain precautions that can reduce the likelihood. For example, it’s best not to store a sterling silver necklace with other sterling silver jewelry, as they can cause each other to oxidize more quickly.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to keep your sterling silver jewelry wet. Actually, it’s best to avoid wearing any jewelry while showering or swimming. Also, try not to store your sterling silver pieces in the bathroom where there’s steam and moisture.

If your sterling silver gets wet, that’s okay, but you must make sure to dry it completely to prevent tarnishing.

Stainless Steel

When you browse for stainless steel jewelry, you’ll come across various options. Stainless steel is generally divided into two categories: regular stainless steel and surgical stainless steel.

But don’t worry, surgical steel isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. It simply means that this type of stainless steel is hypoallergenic, sterilized, and of high enough quality to be used for performing surgeries on patients. In fact, all the tools doctors use for surgeries are made from surgical stainless steel.

Regular stainless steel jewelry may not always be stamped as “SS” like sterling silver. Surgical steel, on the other hand, can be marked or abbreviated as “316L”.

One downside of stainless steel jewelry is that you can’t always be certain about its grade or quality. Cheaper stainless steel jewelry found on websites like Etsy and Amazon often turn out to be of lower quality. There are reviews from people who experienced rashes after wearing stainless steel rings that were supposed to be hypoallergenic surgical stainless steel.


On those websites, there’s no proper oversight or guarantee of quality. These items are simply mass-produced to be inexpensive, making it challenging to distinguish the high-quality pieces from the inferior ones.

One of the most popular styles of stainless steel wedding rings is the inlay ring. These rings showcase the steel on the edges and inside, while a strip of another material runs through the middle, encircling the ring.

Among the most sought-after styles are carbon fiber, wood inlay, and meteorite inlay. Some people may prefer more daring designs like chains or spinner rings.

Similar to sterling silver, stainless steel also loses its shiny look over time. However, unlike sterling silver, once the shine is gone, stainless steel cannot be restored to its original state. But don’t worry, the tarnish can be managed and polished out to bring back its luster.

Price and Value – Sterling Silver vs Stainless Steel

Sterling silver is often considered a valuable metal, while stainless steel is not regarded as precious.

When it comes to the cost of these two metals, several factors can influence the price. One of the most significant factors is where you choose to purchase them. If you’re browsing on platforms like Etsy or Amazon, you’ll come across a wide range of prices. Sterling silver engagement rings can be as affordable as $20, while stainless steel rings can start as low as $10.

For sterling silver jewelry without gemstones, prices may go as high as $300. On the other hand, stainless steel jewelry without gemstones typically ranges around $150 on average.

However, if you visit a high-end jewelry store, you can expect to pay more for sterling silver earrings with natural diamonds compared to a stainless steel ring with a carbon fiber inlay.

Another metal called vermeil, which consists of sterling silver as the base metal with a layer of yellow gold plating, tends to be more expensive than most stainless steel jewelry.

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When it comes to buying jewelry, it’s important to remember that the price tag isn’t the only thing to consider. The overall value of the piece matters too. Sometimes it’s easier to replace a less expensive piece of jewelry compared to one that costs a lot.

Now, let’s talk about engagement rings:

I don’t suggest choosing either sterling silver or stainless steel for an engagement ring. While sterling silver rings are more affordable, many people don’t want to deal with the maintenance they require.

Gold, on the other hand, is more expensive but easier to take care of. It can withstand water and doesn’t tarnish. If you prefer the silver look, white gold wedding and engagement rings are a good option as they don’t require as much upkeep.

Stainless steel rings may be shiny, but they can be challenging to work with. You can’t easily resize them. This can be problematic if your finger size changes in different seasons. Imagine not being able to wear your ring for an entire season.

Moreover, people’s ring sizes may change over the years. If you have sentimental attachment to your original ring, you might not want to replace it. There’s also a chance that the style goes out of fashion because it’s not in high demand.

But here’s some good news:

With sterling silver and other precious metals, resizing is possible. While you don’t want to resize too often, jewelers can try other solutions to address size changes.

Stainless steel wedding bands with gemstones and diamonds can look great, but they’re not practical. If a stone gets loose or falls out, it can’t be replaced individually. You’ll need to get a completely new ring.

That’s why places like Kay Jewelers and Jared offer a one-time replacement warranty for stainless steel and other alternative metal wedding bands. Precious metals, on the other hand, often come with a lifetime warranty, but not stainless steel. It’s not a flexible metal.

Stainless steel also doesn’t have high scratch resistance, so it doesn’t tend to last as long. In the case of inlay rings, many people report scratches on the inlay or the seal wearing off. Stainless steel jewelry is not typically designed to last for many years.


In my opinion, I would recommend choosing sterling silver jewelry over stainless steel jewelry.

Here’s why:

  •  Sterling silver can be resized by a jeweler.
  • Sterling silver is less prone to scratches compared to stainless steel.
  •  There are more options available when it comes to designs and styles with sterling silver jewelry.
  • If a stone in a sterling silver piece gets damaged or lost, it can be replaced.
  •  Stainless steel jewelry doesn’t offer as many options when it comes to incorporating stones.
  •  Sterling silver doesn’t have different quality grades like stainless steel.
  •  Many jewelers offer lifetime warranties for sterling silver rings.
  • Both sterling silver and stainless steel jewelry are suitable for affordable and fashionable costume jewelry.
  • However, when it comes to diamond engagement rings and diamond wedding bands, it’s best to choose gold or platinum.
  •  If you’re looking for high-quality jewelry without spending a fortune, sterling silver is a better choice than stainless steel for gifts or special occasions.

Read More: How to Clean and Polish Silver Jewelry at Home

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