Which metal is a better choice for your cable railing system? Aluminum or stainless steel? These two popular metal options make very modern-looking, sleek railings. In fact, they both share many positive qualities. However, there are some important differences between the two materials that you should be aware of when you’re making your choice.

Saltwater Issues

By far, the most important factor if you live in California and you’re choosing between these two materials is how close you are to the ocean. Aluminum is not suitable for saltwater environments. It will experience significant corrosion even if well-protected with high-quality coatings. In non-saltwater environments, aluminum can stand up to corrosion with these coatings.

If you are near the ocean and there is the possibility of saltwater contact, you should choose stainless steel for your railing system. Still, you will need to select quality stainless steel and likely have a powder coating applied to maximize its lifespan. We recommend better than 316 stainless steel, and we can guide you through the various qualities of steel available.


It should come as no surprise that stainless steel wins out over aluminum for overall strength. While we can design a cable railing system with aluminum that is quite strong, some applications simply call for the extra power of stainless steel. This is particularly true in commercial environments where your railing may have to hold a considerable amount of weight or may have to deal with direct impact.


These two materials are very similar in looks. Of course, as metals, they both feel clean and modern. You can get various different textures from either material. While they will look rather similar once installed, when they are side-by-side, most people prefer stainless steel. Steel just looks a little classier and sturdier. However, you won’t be directly comparing the materials once your railing is installed and aluminum meets many people’s needs for aesthetics.


Stainless steel will be less maintenance work than aluminum. Aluminum with powder coating may eventually need to be retouched with that coating. This is relatively rare and relatively simple. However, stainless steel wins out in this department because it should not need any maintenance. You’ll have to wipe both railings down for dust and dirt, but that’s all you’ll have to do for steel.


As the more durable material that is more expensive to manufacture, stainless steel is also a more expensive option than aluminum. You can find less expensive steel and more expensive aluminum, as there are various quality levels for each material. Ideally, you’ll end up with a material that costs the least for the level of quality that you need from your cable railing system. Typically, we suggest that you make a larger investment in materials upfront in order to get a railing system that will not need to be replaced and that will be exceptionally unlikely to break.

We have experience walking our clients through an honest assessment of the materials available to them so that we can make the best choice for your specific railing.