Faucet Finishes – So Many Choices!

Years ago most faucet companies offered product in one of two finishes, chrome or brass. My how things have changed. Today in addition to chrome and brass you can find shades of nickel, bronze, copper, silver and gold as well as powder coat colors and textures. This allows you to find a finish that will work with almost any design but before you jump in there are some important things to know about decorative finishes.

 The Problem with Brass 

Antique uncoated polished brass faucet from The Sink Factory, Berkeley, California

Anyone who has had an older brass faucet will be familiar with the tarnishing issues once associated with brass. Originally polished brass was untreated which meant it was quick to oxidize and discolor in a wet environment. The upside was that it could be polished again to shine. Eventually faucet makers began to apply a clear coat to brass which did help to prevent the discoloration but the clear coat could also be easily damaged by improper cleaning or even by standing water. The damaged area would quickly begin to tarnish but couldn’t be easily polished without damage to the remaining clear coat. Most other metals, including nickel, copper, silver and gold, are also subject to tarnish and corrosion (chrome is not).

Phylrich K101 Polished Gold Antiqued

New Faucet Finishes Are Created

 Beginning in the 1960’s companies like Phylrich and Altmans began offering faucets in a selection of uncommon and exotic finishes. Polished, brushed, satin and antiqued finishing of nickel, gold and copper were used as well as what has come to be known as oil rubbed bronze. Polished finishes are shiny. Strictly speaking brushed and satin surfaces are both matte finishes with brushed showing a fine pattern of brush marks and satin a more uniform matte surface. In fact I have seen many companies use the terms interchangeably, causing a certain amount of confusion (Rohl for examples calls it satin nickel even though their finish clearly is brushed).  Antiqued finishes are rubbed with a blacking color that is worked into the lines and crevices to get an aged look. Both polished and brushed surfaces may be antiqued although it is much more common on brushed. Oil Rubbed Bronze involves darkening the metal and can result in a variety of hues.

 Powder Coat Finishes are Introduced 

Hansgrohe Pura Vida White and Chrome

Originally most metal finishes were produced by electroplating. Powder coat finishing came along and allowed manufacturers to produce a finish that was much harder and more durable than the standard lacquer that had been in use to prevent tarnishing. Powder coating also allowed for the use of different colors which was quite useful in the 1990’s when white, almond and biscuit were popular faucet colors. Many companies today continue to use powder coat to produce colors like antique bronze or polished copper.

Moen Kingsley in Antique Bronze (PVD)

PVD Finishes Solve the Problem

 Manufacturers kept looking for a good solution to the problem of tarnishing and in the 1990’s found Positive Vapor Deposition or PVD. The PVD process produces metal finishes that are very resistant to corrosion, abrasion or chemical damage and so do not require a clear coat. For the first time faucets could be produced in polished brass that would keep it’s shine. The manufacturers that could afford the PVD machines started bringing out other finishes and soon companies like Moen, Kohler and Delta were offering many PVD colors. PVD machines are quite expensive so it took some time for smaller companies to catch up but today most manufacturers offer some PVD options. PVD finishes come in many colors and under many names: LifeShine, Brilliance, Infinity Finish and Vibrant are names applied by various manufacturers to their PVD finishes. Polished brass, satin nickel, brushed bronze and French Gold are a few of the colors offered in PVD.

 Are PVD Finishes Always the Best?

 No. While PVD finishes offer some great advantages they do have some limits, the major one being the quality of the color. There can be quite a bit of color difference between manufacturers. This is easily seen when one compares several brushed nickel and stainless finishes; some have a duller matte finish while others lean towards a brighter silvery hue. This often comes up in the kitchen where you are matching a faucet from one brand with an air gap or filter faucet from another. If you are ordering a PVD finish it’s a good idea to see the finish in person as it may be a bit different from what you expect.

 Living Finishes – Oil Rubbed Bronze and Others 

Rohl Acqui Tuscan Bronze - A Living Finish

 “Living finish” is a term used to describe finishes that do change over time. Polished brass was probably the original living finish and now it is oil rubbed bronze that usually falls into this category. It is very important to understand what to expect from a living finish as these usually look very pretty when new but will soon begin to change once in use. Such changes include spotting, color rubbing off on areas that come into contact with fingers and even a slight greening around the edges of the spout or base. While this might sounds awful to some of us others look for exactly this quality to get the effect they want. Living finishes today are more common in high end decorative product and are not limited to brass or oil rubbed bronze. Because these are expected to change there is typically no warranty on the finish.

 In addition to often being a living finish the name “Oil Rubbed Bronze” covers a wide range of color. Some ORB can be almost black or range from a brown or grey tone to a very coppery hue. You will need to see a sample to know what kind of oil rubbed bronze you are getting. Oil rubbed bronze may also be called names like “Tuscan Bronze” , “Venetian Bronze”, “Blackened Bronze”, “Oxford Oil Rubbed Bronze” or several other names, some living, some not. If you are wanting an ORB finish be careful to understand exactly what you are purchasing.

 Everything You Need to Know About Finishes?

 The finishing process can be done a quite a few different ways and I have only touched on some general points (for some more details click here ). Other factors such as the thickness of plating or whether the base metal is brass or plastic or zinc alloy can make a difference in the long range durability of a finish. More than anything else it is day to day maintenance that will make the biggest difference in how well the finish holds up. Believe it or not the best way to keep you faucets looking good is to keep them dry. In addition most can benefit from a light coat of faucet wax (Carnauba and beeswax) which helps keep water from damaging the surface. Do these two things and your faucets will look good for years to come.


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