Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cable Railing

Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cable Railing. When choosing cable railing for your home or office, this simple guide will help you make an informed decision.

Aluminum vs stainless steel cable railing systems a comparison. Aluminum and stainless steel are the two most popular materials when it comes to making a cable rail system frame. Both metals are durable, but they have quite different corrosion-resistant properties. They are both very functional, practical, and easy to clean. However, consideration of environmental factors is paramount when choosing the right material. 

Which one represents the best fit for your environment and the best value for your money with all things considered?

A Comparison of Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cable Railing

The following is a simplified comparison of aluminum vs stainless steel cable railing. This will help you make an informed decision. This comparison is based on the four primary qualities you should look for in a cable railing system. Those being a visual appeal, strength and durability, ease of maintenance, and overall cost. 

Visual Appeal

When brand new, both aluminum and stainless steel cable railings are attractive options. Furthermore, the clean, timeless appearance of stainless steel often gives it an edge over aluminum. When shopping for a cable railing system, whether for residential or commercial use, many people are attracted to the corrosion-resistant finish. There are also advanced treatments like electropolishing to provide extra corrosion resistance. Stainless Steel can hold up to the harshest environments. The aesthetic appeal of stainless steel is always present. But does not match all settings well and in some cases, coated railings are a better choice.

Aluminum railings are usually treated with a protective powder coat finish that will resist corrosion and fading if applied to the 2604 specification. A powder coat less than 2604 will be suspect in terms of corrosion resistance and fading.

Aluminum is generally not a good product for saltwater environments. There are specialty treatments such as  2605 powder coating that will greatly enhance aluminum’s resistance to corrosion and fading. But the use is generally considered cost-prohibitive. Aluminum railing frames come in a large variety of colors and shapes. These options may offer a better match to certain environments. For example lakes, mountains, back yards, and even ocean view properties, as long as not in saltwater contact.

In the harshest environments, stainless steel will be your choice. Alternatively, in moderate environments that have no direct exposure to saltwater, aluminum can hold up just as well at a much lower cost. There are products available that combine high-quality stainless steel with a powder coat finish for an optimal saltwater resistant finish.

Note:

Material grade is a major factor. Less than 316 stainless steel frames tend to rust in saltwater environments. Low-quality powder coating or paint on aluminum also turns dull, chips and gives the metal minimal protection. So, whichever option you choose, go for appropriate quality grade materials.  

Strength and Durability 

Both aluminum and stainless steel can have great strength, but they gain it in different ways. Stainless steel as a material is very strong in comparison to aluminum. But aluminum can be formed and extruded into shapes that provide strength by way of design.

Stainless steel is much stronger and more durable than aluminum in regard to direct impact. However, may have no advantage over an aluminum product manufactured vis extrusion to render superior strength. According to studies and tests, stainless steel can resist just about any kind of environment. It can also withstand higher levels of abuse and repair itself when deeply scratched. A is a critical factor when choosing a material for your railing system. 

In harsh environments, stainless steel definitely has the advantage. For moderate environments, a well-engineered aluminum system can provide a much more economical option for residential or commercial use.

Maintenance Needs

In general, high-grade stainless steel railings are easier to maintain. Stainless Steel will require routine maintenance and the harsher the environment the more maintenance that may be required. The good news is that freshwater is the best friend to stainless steel. Often times it just needs a quick rinse and a wipe down. 

High-grade extruded aluminum systems also require routine maintenance. They generally do not perform well in saltwater environments unless specially treated to do so. As mentioned, aluminum railings are typically offered in a powder-coated finish. And like any coating, it can crack or chip from impact or very harsh handling. The good news is touch-ups are minimal effort.

Cost

Aluminum is typically more economical than stainless steel. On cost alone, the choice would most often go to Aluminum, but value and cost are different subjects.

Price ranges vary widely from one manufacturer to another and between aluminum and stainless steel. Within these factors, there are several considerations that will affect the cost, and the highest price is not necessarily the highest quality, not the best value. Your best value will depend on the install environment, desired quality, design, and your personal preferences. 

Verdict: Stainless Steel is Slightly Better

Wrapping up our comparison. Even though they’re more expensive, stainless steel railings are more durable specifically in saltwater environments. As well, they are very visually appealing. The base material is stronger. In harsh environments, stainless steel requires less maintenance than aluminum cable rail systems. Furthermore, makes for a better long-lasting investment in harsh environments.

Aluminum may be a less expensive option for moderate environments that do not have chemical or saltwater exposure. They may also be very structurally sound due to the engineering of a system. If your location does not dictate advanced protection against saltwater or chemicals aluminum may provide great value. Especially, if you like the style and color combinations available. 


To find out more or to get help with making the best choice for your project, contact us today!