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Brushed vs. Polished Stainless Steel Cookware: The Real Difference

Should you buy brushed or polished stainless steel pots and pans?

What’s the difference? Does the finish impact anything besides appearance?

In this comparison of brushed vs. polished stainless steel cookware, you’ll learn what these terms mean and if the finish makes a difference beyond appearance.

Plus, I reveal what eight cookware brands and kitchenware retailers say about both options.

Keep reading to see if brushed or polished stainless steel cookware is better for you.


Use the links below to navigate the guide:


The Difference Between Brushed and Polished Stainless Steel Cookware

Let’s get right to the point. What’s the difference between brushed and polished stainless steel cookware?

The difference boils down to appearance.

Brushed stainless steel has a matte, almost textured finish. It’s created by sanding the surface lightly and then smoothing it with a non-abrasive pad. This finish gives the cookware a modern and elegant look.

Brushed stainless steel cookware
Brushed stainless steel cookware

On the flip side, polished stainless steel gleams with a shiny, mirror-like surface. It’s achieved either by hand polishing or using specialized machines, like an HAU polishing machine—the kind Heritage Steel uses for their cookware. Polished stainless steel cookware has a classic, timeless look that catches the eye.

Polished stainless steel cookware
Polished stainless steel cookware

Beyond style, brushed stainless steel does a better job hiding everyday wear, like scratches or smudges. It’s practical if you want your cookware to maintain a cleaner appearance over time. Because polished pans have a shiny, pristine look, even the most minor scratch or fingerprint is noticeable.

Scratches on a polished stainless steel pan
Scratches on a polished stainless steel pan

It’s important to know that the terms “brushed” and “polished” are usually used to describe the exterior walls of the pans. The interior and bottom of most cookware is brushed in a circular pattern.

For example, the All-Clad Copper Core collection is marketed as polished. And while the exterior walls are indeed polished, its interior and bottom is actually brushed.

All-Clad Copper Core Brushed Interior
All-Clad Copper Core Brushed Interior
All-Clad Copper Core Polished Exterior
All-Clad Copper Core Polished Exterior

Stainless steel cookware with a polished interior does exist, but it’s not the most practical design. Why? Because most wear and tear occurs on the cooking surface and bottom, and scratches or nicks are far more noticeable on polished finishes.

Polished stainless steel pan interior
Polished stainless steel pan interior

Appearance Over Time

Choosing between brushed and polished stainless steel cookware isn’t just about the initial look; it’s also about how that look will change over time.

Polished stainless steel tends to oxidize over time, developing a patina. In other words, it will eventually lose its initial mirror-like shine.

Polished stainless steel pan after years of cooking
Polished stainless steel pan after years of cooking

As you use the cookware, high heat, contact with utensils, and abrasion from rough sponges will eventually dull the finish, and some parts may darken or discolor faster than others.

You can extend the polished look by practicing proper care, like cooking on low to medium heat, avoiding metal utensils, cleaning with a soft sponge, and drying the pans immediately after washing.

Hand washing is generally better than using a dishwasher, and cleaners like Bar Keepers Friend and The Pink Stuff can help maintain that new, shiny appearance for a longer period.

Here’s a look at a brand-new polished stainless steel pan versus one that’s been used for several years.

Old vs New Polished Stainless Steel Pans
Old vs. New Polished Stainless Steel Pans

On the other hand, brushed stainless steel holds up better over time in terms of appearance. Its matte finish is naturally good at concealing wear and tear, like minor scratches and discolorations.

Compared to polished stainless steel cookware, brushed pots and pans are more likely to look closer to their original state even after years of use.

The picture below shows a brand new brushed stainless steel pan versus one I’ve used for years.

New vs Old Brushed Stainless Steel Pans
New vs. Old Brushed Stainless Steel Pans

What Cookware Brands and Retailers Say

I contacted several cookware brands to get their opinion on brushed vs. polished stainless steel cookware.

When I spoke to each company, I asked two questions:

  • What’s the difference between brushed and polished stainless steel cookware?
  • Besides looking different, is there any functional benefit of one over the other?

Interestingly, the answers from each brand were slightly different. Some claimed the finish impacts performance or cleaning, but others said the only difference is appearance.

Here’s what they said:

The product specialist at Cuisinart said, “The difference between brushed and polished is simply that a product with a polished finish isn’t sanded. Brushed cookware is sanded to give it a textured finish. The difference is purely aesthetic; it doesn’t impact performance.

The expert at Misen said, “Brushed pans have way more texture than polished pans. Polished is believed to be more durable due to its harder surface texture for fewer dents and scratches.”

GreenPan primarily makes aluminum non-stick cookware, but their pans have steel handles. They told me, “Polished cookware is more shiny, like a mirror. Brushed cookware has more of a satin look. There is no difference in the function.”

The customer care representative at Calphalon said, “The difference is style. There is no functional benefit of one over the other.”

Sardel, a start-up cookware brand producing high-quality pans in Italy, said, “There is no performance difference between brushed and polished stainless steel cookware. It is more of a personal preference.”

360 Cookware, a company that’s been making premium stainless steel cookware in the USA since 2010, said, “Brushed cookware has more of a matte finish, while polished is more like a mirror. Brushed or sanded is better for a cooking surface while polished is usually regarded as more aesthetically appealing.”

Clipper Corporation, the company that makes Viking cookware and has been supplying the food service industry since 1994, said, “Polished stainless steel has a smooth surface, and brushed stainless steel has a rough surface. The performance will be the same for both brushed and polished cookware. However, polished stainless is less prone to collect deposits.”

I also reached out to Crate & Barrel, a retailer that sells a variety of stainless steel cookware brands. The kitchen expert I spoke to said, “Besides looks, brushed steel is slightly harder to clean due to its rough texture. It’s also more susceptible to corrosion.”

Examples of Brushed and Polished Stainless Steel Cookware

Now that you understand the basics of brushed and polished stainless steel cookware, let’s delve into specific collections showcasing these finishes.

All-Clad D3 (Polished): This polished collection is All-Clad’s best-selling cookware. It has 3-ply construction, long handles, and a shiny exterior.

All-Clad D3 Stainless Cookware up close
All-Clad D3 Stainless Cookware

All-Clad D5 (Brushed or Polished): Available in both finishes, this is All-Clad’s most even-heating collection due to its aluminum inner layers and steel core that diffuses heat transfer (learn more about this unique construction in this guide).

All-Clad D5 brushed exterior
All-Clad D5 brushed exterior and flared rims

All-Clad Copper Core (Polished): This polished collection has a copper core that conducts heat faster than aluminum. It’s a luxury choice for those who want performance with shine.

All-Clad Copper Core polished exterior
All-Clad Copper Core polished exterior

All-Clad G5 (Brushed): This is one of All-Clad’s newest collections. It has a brushed steel exterior and a graphite core. Graphite conducts heat incredibly well, but it’s much lighter than copper.

All-Clad G5 Graphite Core brushed exterior
All-Clad G5 Graphite Core brushed exterior

360 Cookware (Polished): This polished cookware features lids that seal tightly to retain moisture, giving you a cooking experience similar to a pressure cooker.

360 Cookware Exterior
360 Cookware Exterior

Heritage Steel (polished): This cookware features a 316Ti titanium-strengthened steel exterior with a polished finish. The titanium adds strength and corrosion resistance to the steel.

Heritage Steel cookware exterior
Heritage Steel cookware exterior

Made In Stainless Steel (Brushed): Oven-safe up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, this brushed cookware is made in Italy and the USA and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Made In brushed stainless steel exterior
Made In brushed stainless steel exterior

Sardel (Polished): Sardel cookware has sealed edges, a wide cooking surface, and a shiny, polished exterior.

Sardel stainless steel pan exterior
Sardel polished stainless steel exterior

Misen (Brushed): Misen is a start-up offering quality brushed stainless steel cookware at affordable prices.

Misen 10 inch stainless steel skillet brushed exterior
Misen brushed stainless steel pan

Goldilocks (Polished): This brand features a polished exterior and thick, 3-ply construction. The New York Times rated Goldilocks the best-performing cookware in its price range.

Goldilocks polished stainless steel cookware
Goldilocks polished stainless steel cookware

Demeyere Industry (Brushed): This brushed cookware has a 5-ply construction and a thick aluminum core. It also features a Silvinox surface that makes it easy to clean and fingerprint-resistant.

Demeyer Industry pan on electric stove
Demeyer Industry brushed exerior

Demeyere Atlantis (Brushed): With a brushed finish and 7-ply construction, this cookware retains heat better than most stainless steel brands. Its polished handles give it a unique aesthetic appeal.

Demeyere Atlantis Exterior
Demeyere Atlantis Exterior

Bottom Line: Should You Buy Brushed or Polished Stainless Steel Cookware?

If you’re unsure whether to buy brushed or polished stainless steel cookware, here’s my advice.

The main difference between brushed and polished stainless steel cookware is their appearance.

Brushed has a matte look, while polished is shiny. Brushed does a better job hiding scratches, and its appearance won’t change as much over time. But other than that, there are no differences.

Although two cookware experts I spoke to suggested the finish impacts factors beyond looks, the six others agreed that appearance is the only difference.

After testing over 30 cookware brands, including all the examples I shared in this guide, I can confidently tell you that brushed and polished stainless steel cookware performs exactly the same. The finish does not impact how easy it is to clean or its durability.

So your decision should come down to whichever style you like. Finish is just one of the many factors to consider beyond investing in stainless steel cookware.

Want to learn more? Read my guide on What to Look for When Buying Stainless Steel Cookware.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He began his career in marketing, managing campaigns for dozens of Fortune 500 brands. In 2018, Andrew founded Prudent Reviews and has since reviewed 600+ products. When he’s not testing the latest cookware, kitchen knives, and appliances, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew via emailLinkedIn, or the Prudent Reviews YouTube channel.

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