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When Stainless Steel Is Only a Look

 by Patricia Lynn Henley   Posted on September 9 2013

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Silver Mist. Stainless Platinum. Titanium. Slate. Stainless Satina. Cosmetallic.

Sound exotic? Those are all appliance color names -- the finishes available on refrigerators, ranges, microwaves, dishwashers, washer or dryers. Stainless steel is still preferred by most consumers when outfitting their kitchens or laundry rooms, because it is attractive, durable and can be refinished if scratched.

However, actual stainless steel stainless steel typically adds a couple hundred of dollars to the cost of an appliance. It can also require diligent maintenance, often with special cleaning products, to fight ever-present fingerprints and smudges. Plus, real stainless steel doesn't hold a magnet in place, making it difficult to turn the refrigerator into a family art gallery and message center.

So appliance manufacturers have created a variety of stainless-style "colors" -- variations of a metallic gray that is paint or a vinyl coating over low-grade steel or other metal. It looks like stainless steel, but isn't.

For some consumers these look-alike or "fingerprint-less" options can be a good choice, as they often cost a hundred to two hundred dollars less than the high-end stainless steel models while providing a finish that resists smudges, is easy to clean with standard household products and attracts refrigerator magnets. The painted or coated finish is similar to (and as durable as) the finish on a standard white appliance.

Unfortunately, some appliance advertisements blur the line between what is "stainless" and what is "real stainless steel." Always keep in mind that they're not necessarily the same thing. "Stainless" may be just part of the color name, while "stainless steel" should refer to the actual metal --- unless it's followed by "-look" or "-style" or a similar qualifier.

If you're considering purchasing an appliance and it's not clear whether it's high-end stainless steel or a stainless "look," there's an easy test -- if a magnet sticks to the surface, it's not stainless steel.

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