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Solid Brass - VS - Plated Brass, Which is Best?

Published: 9/28/2021

If you are shopping for brass fireplace accessories, it is important to know whether an item is solid brass or plated brass. While solid brass is much more expensive, it is extremely durable and can be polished to look like new for hundreds of years. Plated brass is has a thin brass coating over some other cheaper metal. Once the coating is scratched or starts to wear off the exposed underlying metal will start to rust. Solid brass is very durable around the fireplace, plated brass is not.

Most brass fireplace accessories sold at Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe's are mass produced in China from brass plated steel. In many cases the description may say whether it is plated or solid brass. If it does not say solid brass, you can assume it is plated. If it says "brass finish" it is almost invariably plated. If you are not aware of the difference between real brass and plated brass, read on.

Solid Brass vs Plated Brass The doorplate on the above left shows what happens to brass plated steel. In this case, you can see how the lacquer coating has worn off and the steel underneath has begun to rust. The center doorplate shows how solid brass without a lacquer or enamel coating will tarnish if it is not kept up. The beauty is, it can easily be polished and refinished to look as new as the piece on the right.

How To Tell The Difference Between Solid Brass and Plated Brass

Solid brass is not magnetic, so if a magnet sticks to it, it is plated brass. If a magnet does not stick that does not prove it is solid brass because plating can also be done on non-magentic metals like zinc or pot metal. So the best way to determine if something is solid brass is to scratch it deeply with a file to see if it is yellow or silver inside. Yellow would be solid brass, silver would be plated. Unfortunately, when you are shopping you cannot start scratching things, particularly if you are shopping online. So the only way to know if something is solid brass is for it to be clearly stated in the description. It must say "Solid Brass", not just "Brass" or "Brass Finish", but "Solid Brass". Anything made from solid brass is going to clearly say that in the description because it is a huge selling point and the seller wants you to know. Anything short of the words Solid Brass is a seller trying to be deceptive. Words like "Brass Finish" or "Brass" or "Antique Brass" are all code words for brass plated. So be sure you read the description carefully.

Virgin Brass - vs - Reconstituted Brass

There are different levels of purity between brass suppliers. Most of the brass used overseas is reconstituted, which is basically the process of melting down all types of brass scraps that are full of impurities. Impurities in brass can cause oxidation and discoloration to occur underneath a lacquered coating. So although a lacquer will protect the brass from outside, it can still tarnish and discolor from within. So you will end up with small spots growing larger over time that cannot be cleaned or polished because of the lacquer coating. The only way to fix that is to strip off the lacquer, polish the brass and then apply a new lacquer coat. Stone Manufacturing, the company that custom makes all of our solid brass accessories here in the USA, does not use reconstituted brass. Instead, they start with virgin brass ingots, formulated to a precise mixture of copper and zinc so the brass is always pure and consistent. Even more, before the baked on enamel is applied, every item goes through a rigorous hand finishing process that removes any impurities that introduced during manufacturing process. The enamel coating is immediately applied and baked on.

Lacquered Coating - vs - Baked Enamel

Lacquer and baked enamel are 2 completely different types of coatings. Lacquer is the most common because is simply sprayed on and air dried like paint, so it is cheap and easy to apply. Almost all brass items made in China have this type of coating. The lacquer may only last a few years and is easily scratched, which exposes the brass to air and leaves a mark that grows over time. Baked on enamel is cured at high temperature in a very controlled environment, so it is literally baked on. This process is more expensive but creates an incredibly durable, scratch-resistant surface that can last for decades.

We hope this has been helpful