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Stainless Steel, Bronze, Brass, or Aluminum: How to Choose Handle Materials

Stainless Steel, Bronze, Brass, or Aluminum: How to Choose Handle Materials

Door handles are a ubiquitous part of daily life, being used constantly in almost every space but rarely given thought by the passing user. Nevertheless, the chosen material of each handle can vary widely in terms of aesthetics, durability, and sustainability, with good choices going noticeably right and poor choices going noticeably wrong. For objects that are seen and used multiple times every day without fail, it’s imperative that designers get the choice right.

To deepen this topic, FSB helps us to lay out the properties of four of the most common handle materials below, allowing you to make an informed decision on which material aligns best with your project’s needs.

© Daniel Vieser © Daniel Vieser Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB © Daniel Vieser + 32

© Christian Grund
© Christian Grund

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a naturally corrosion-resistant, hard-wearing, and low maintenance material. No matter the force or frequency of use, it rarely reveals traces of dents or scratches, even after years of employment. As a result, stainless steel handles require very little, if not no, care at all.

Stainless Steel. Image Courtesy of FSB
Stainless Steel. Image Courtesy of FSB

First patented in 1912 by Krupp in Essen, stainless steel was referred to as “V2a-steel” and “Nirosta” (never rust). Recognized for its easy-care and blemishless properties at the outset, the material has since been used in scenarios requiring continuous use and infrequent maintenance. As a material for door handles, stainless steel is thus best applied to heavily used doors, particularly those in public buildings such as the public authorities, hospitals, on ships in motorway service areas, in parks and sports facilities, and other locations with large user populations that will be in use for a long time.

Stainless Steel. Image Courtesy of FSB
Stainless Steel. Image Courtesy of FSB

While stainless steel does not rust, traces of dirt that collect over long periods of time can be quickly removed with a moist cloth. For stainless steel handles in chlorinated swimming pools, what appears to be surface rust is usually not from the material itself but is transported from outside to the fitting. These blemishes can be removed as well with vigorous rubbing.

Bronze

Bronze is an aesthetically pleasing material that actually grows more radiant over the years due to properties of its chemical makeup. Developing an incrustation titled a patina through oxidation and years of use, this change is typically considered of high ornamental value.

Bronze. Image Courtesy of FSB
Bronze. Image Courtesy of FSB

With the increasing occurrence of antibiotic-resistant germs, surface hygiene can be a concern with bronze door handles, particularly because of their naturally high frequency of use. However, bronze created from copper alloys sport bactericidal properties that can eliminate this issue almost completely, with critical studies in the U.S. and Britain revealing that bacteria on copper alloy surfaces are 99.9% eliminated after two hours at the latest. Among them is MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most virulent germs known. Regardless of where these bronze handles are chosen to be placed, it is therefore highly encouraged that designers choose suppliers that can provide bactericidal copper alloy bronze.

Bronze. Image Courtesy of FSB
Bronze. Image Courtesy of FSB

Aluminum

Aluminum is a lightweight and highly durable material, conceived of from the start as a high-tech option. It is strong and pleasant to handle, being highly adept at matching ambient temperatures, and allows for a multitude of aesthetic options due to its ability to be painted any range of colors.

Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB
Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB

With a reputation for being used in the auto, aeronautical, and aerospace industries due to these unique qualities, aluminum can likewise be applied to door handles not just for its low weight, strength, and durability, but because of its ecologically friendly life cycle. While the initial extraction of aluminum requires a large amount of energy, the material can be recycled repeatedly with no loss, making up its initial extraction many times over through extensive energy savings.

Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB
Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB

Aluminum coloring options additionally pave the way for seemingly unlimited aesthetic possibilities, ranging from classic emulations of real hardware metals to lively applications of hundreds of pure colors. Depending on methods of coloring, some colored aluminum handles are more durable than others – for example, blasted anodized aluminum finishes are typically more resistant to knocks and scratches than traditionally worked and anodized aluminum. If both color and durability are a priority for the designer, we recommend considering the differences in properties produced by differing processes.

Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB
Aluminium. Image Courtesy of FSB

Brass

Formed by an alloy of copper and zinc, brass has been used since time immemorial in the manufacture of decorative elements and accessories for doors and windows due to its unique golden tones. If not waxed or lacquered, brass will react naturally to environmental conditions, causing it to corrode and develop a brown to greenish-gray patina. This effect is valued by many designers and users for gracefully representing the passage of time. However, for those who wish to maintain the original golden tone, it is recommended to choose polished surfaces and avoid using the brass for frequently used doors or in spaces exposed to environmental conditions.

Brass. Image Courtesy of FSB
Brass. Image Courtesy of FSB

With these characteristics in mind, designers should weigh the importance of durability, aesthetics, color, maintenance, weight, sustainability, hygiene, and temperature in relation to their specific projects and choose the material that best fits their needs. While many of these properties are inherent to each material, others are augmented or introduced by the quality of production varying with each supplier. As with every other architectural component, for every choice, there are a plethora of considerations every designer has to keep in mind.

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About this author
Cite: Lilly Cao. "Stainless Steel, Bronze, Brass, or Aluminum: How to Choose Handle Materials" 03 Mar 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/929360/stainless-steel-bronze-brass-or-aluminum-how-to-choose-handle-materials/> ISSN 0719-8884
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