How to Tell the Difference: Silver vs Stainless Steel

Follow our easy steps to determine the authenticity of silver at home.

Jane Pardo | Updated December 30, 2023

Silver and stainless steel have the same white, metallic glint at first glance.

But if you look closer, you’ll find unique characteristics that can help you distinguish one from the other.

How to tell stainless steel from silver

Stamp and ringing test

Check for stamps. An S925 or 925 stamp indicates genuine sterling silver, a silver alloy containing 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper or other metals. Also, test your silver by gently tapping it with a metal coin. Sterling silver will create a high-pitched bell tone, while stainless steel won’t have this distinct sound.

  • A 999 stamp on silver means your precious metal is fine silver, which means 99.9% purity. Other silver hallmarks are 800 (80% pure) and 958 (95.8% pure).
  • Some jewelry makers use STG, SS, and STER as alternative hallmarks to authenticate sterling silver.

If markings are hard to read, use a jeweler’s magnifying loupe to see details clearly. Many loupes feature bright LED illumination for better clarity.

Tarnish test

Tarnish resistance is another key difference between silver and stainless steel. Stainless steel and pure silver resist rust and corrosion. However, sterling silver tarnishes over time, especially without proper care.

  • Test your silver by buffing it with a soft, white cloth. Dark streaks indicate that your silver is real, whereas stainless steel won’t leave any dark marks. The cloth turns a little dark because of sterling silver’s exposure to air and moisture, creating a thin layer of tarnishing.

Color test

Check your item closely to see its underlying tone.

  • Sterling silver has a yellowish-white undertone, whereas stainless steel displays a grayish-blue tone.

Price Difference

Silver is a precious metal that’s much more expensive than stainless steel. Watch out for imitation sterling silver items that could be plated or made from stainless steel.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, our quick guide helped you learn how to distinguish silver from stainless steel. Whether investing in silver coins, jewelry, or silverware, it’s best to buy from reputable sellers to get your money’s worth.

Written by Jane Pardo

Jane Pardo

Jane Pardo is our senior gold & silver expert. Jane lends insight into precious metals investing, collecting, testing, and maintenance.