In terms of barbells, the coating of the bar is one of the most important factors you have to consider when choosing the best barbells for you.
The coating can impact the look, feel, durability, and price of the bar. With so many options on the market, it can be hard to narrow down which one is right for you. Whether you’re looking at a cerakote vs stainless steel barbell, or some other option, you want to be sure of your decision since your barbell is such a focal point in your home gym.
Speaking from experience, the quality of a barbell can have a significant impact on its quality and experience. In this guide, we will break down everything there is to know about barbell coating. We will examine each type of coating and discuss the pros, cons, and people that the coating is best for.
Regardless of which coating you end up choosing, we will also discuss how to maintain your barbell and keep it looking great.
- Zinc vs Chrome vs Cerakote vs Stainless Steel Barbell: Which Is Best?
- Types Of Barbell Coatings
- Other Barbell Coatings
- How To Maintain Your Barbell Coating
- Which Type Of Barbell Coating Should I Get?
- Bottom Line
Zinc vs Chrome vs Cerakote vs Stainless Steel Barbell: Which Is Best?
The coating you choose for your barbell is likely the largest factor you will consider when purchasing a barbell. Here are the four main ways a bar’s finish will impact your barbell:
At the end of the day, barbells are just large pieces of metal so you will have to take into account rust and corrosion. Depending on the coating you choose, your barbell can be better protected against rust and last longer.
- Excellent Resistance: Stainless Steel, Cerakote, Electroless Nickel. These are the best protection against rust overall. With at least some care, you can expect these bars to last a lifetime.
- Good Resistance: Hard chrome, Zinc, and E-coat. These all do a decent job protecting against corrosion but you should maintain them as needed.
- Bad Resistance: Bare Steel and Black Oxide: These coatings provide little to no protection against corrosion and you should be doing frequent maintenance. Even in the best conditions, you should still expect some rust.
Any form of additional coating will impact how the knurling and barbell feel in your hands. When it comes to the feeling of a barbell coating can be broken up into three main categories:
- No Coating: Both bare steel and stainless steel are raw finishes with no additional coating. These are by far the best types of barbell finishes since they do not have any impact on the knurling and can you get that “raw” barbell feeling.
- Conversion Coating: Black oxide is the most common conversion coating. Essentially a barb is transformed via a series of chemical and temperature treatments to convert the coating into black oxide. Since there is minimal additional material applied to the bar, conversions coatings provide a great feeling that rivals that of bare and stainless steel.
- Applied Coating: Applied coating is things like chrome, zinc, Cerakote, E-coat, and powder coat. These are the most common types of coating sold on barbells that are applied directly on the bar. The additional coating fills in the knurling to some extent so these bars do not have the same raw texture.
Look And Colors
Barbell coating also provides manufacturers with a way of adding color to a bar. This may be a minor thing for most people but some people enjoy the additional level of customization that you get with colored barbells
- Silver Finish: Stainless steel, hard chrome, bright zinc, bare steel, and electroless nickel all have a silver finish. This is the most traditional barbell color.
- Black Finish: Black oxide, black oxide, E-coat, and powder coat all provide a nice black finish.
- Cerakote: Cerakote is the only option that allows you to choose any color. Therefore, cerakote is a very popular option on custom barbells.
Generally, the finish of a barbell is the factor that has the largest impact on the price. Finishes that are more oxidation resistant tend to fetch a higher price. Stainless steel, cerakote, and electroless nickel are the most expensive options while black oxide, bare steel, and zinc tend to be more affordable. You should also be aware that a similar pricing dynamic is on the used market as well. Old stainless steel bars can still sell for plenty of money since people know they last forever.
- Premium ($$$): Stainless Steel and Cerakote
- Average ($$): Chrome, E-coat, Black Oxide
- Affordable ($): Zinc, powder coat, Bare Steel
Types Of Barbell Coatings
Each of these coatings has its own unique advantages and disadvantages in terms of oxidation resistance, price, look, and feel.
Bare steel is the traditional barbell coating if you want to call it that. What bare steel really means is that no coating was applied at all and that the bar is entirely raw. Due to the low manufacturing cost, this is often the most affordable option on the market. The price you really pay is that the bar is more prone to oxidation.
In terms of knurling, the only other barbell coating that even comes close is stainless steel and black oxide. The lack of coating means you get to feel the knurling exactly how it was a machine and that the bar holds chalk very well.
As we already touched on, the price you pay for the great feel and low price is with oxidation resistance. To even keep this bar looking somewhat rust-free, you will need to do regular maintenance, especially if you live in a humid area. Regular care will help slow down the oxidation to some extent, but the bar will eventually shows signs of rust and oxidation no matter what you do.
Before the eventual rust sets in, bare steel bars look amazing when new. They have a really nice old-school, silver finish. However, as time passes, the barbell will begin to develop a surface rust/patina. I and many other lifters think this looks look but it really is a personal preference.
Stainless steel is the most premium barbell finish you can get, You get the combined raw feeling with excellent oxidation resistance. The only downside is that stainless steel usually comes at a heavy price.
Similar to stainless steel, the bar really shines in terms of a knurling feel since there is no additional coating. This makes the feeling and the grip of the bar superior to other barbells that use applied coatings,
As far as oxidation resistance goes, stainless steel is again ahead of the pack. Ceraokote also provides excellent oxidation resistance but that comes at the cost of a knurling feel. If you hate doing maintenance or live in a humid area, stainless steel is hard to beat.
Stainless steel bars tend to age great over time since they their a silver, shiny look. You can often find decades-old stainless steel barbells that still look great.
You will most commonly see this on barbell shafts with only some really premium options offering both the sleeves and shaft as stainless steel.
Cerakote is up there with stainless steel in terms of premium barbell coating. Cerakote is a fairly new barbell coating but has quickly emerged as a fan favorite thanks to the color options and great oxidation resistance.
The downside to cerakote is that since it is a ceramic-based coating, it will take away some of the knurling depth. Don’t get me wrong, the texture still feels good in your hands and takes chalk well but is just not the same as a stainless steel finish.
Where cerakote really shines is oxidation resistance. Time and time again, cerakote ranks highly along with stainless steel in terms of rust protection on every test conducted. If you train in a garage or just live somewhere humid, cerakote is another great option.
In terms of the cerakote vs stainless steel barbell debate, cerakote has a slight edge when it comes to customization and looks. Many brands or now offering cerakote finishes in a whole rainbow of colors so that you can match your bar to your home gym setup.
Cerakote is also offered on barbell sleeves but it is not the best in this regard. Due to the frequent loading and removal of plates, cerakote on sleeves tends to chip off and show imperfections quite easily.
Hard chrome is arguably the most common barbell finish that you will encounter in home and commercial gyms. The reason for this is that the hard chrome feels decent, provides some rust resistance, and is fairly affordable.
Since hard chrome is an applied coating, you can expect the knurl to fill in some. The bar still grips well and takes chalk well but just is not up to the same standard as a bare/stainless steel bar.
Over the first few years, you can expect hard chrome to do a decent job of fighting rust off as long as the takes care of your barbell. However, over time, you can expect to see some level of isolated rust along your barbell.
From a look’s perspective, hard chrome has a silver finish and tends to be very shiny. You can also get chrome in black but that is rarer than silver versions.
Regardless of the shaft finish, hard chrome is also commonly used on barbell sleeves. It is a great option for sleeves since it tends to still look new despite the frequent loading and stripping of weight plates,
Zinc is fairly comparable to hard chrome but slightly worse overall. You can expect a decent level of rust resistance and affordability, but the feeling really is not the best.
Since zinc is an applied coating, the knurling depth will be filled to some extent. Based on my experience, zinc tends to be one of the slicker barbell coatings and does not seem to accept chalk all the well.
You can get zinc in either bright zinc or black zinc. Bright zinc tends to be very shiny and looks great while black zinc is very dark.
Zinc is another coating that is commonly used on barbell sleeves, especially bright zinc. Zinc is a great choice for sleeves since it hides imperfections well and just looks really nice.
E-coat is a fairly new barbell coating that was brought over from the automotive industry by Rogue Fitness. With good corrosion resistance and affordable pricing, the E-coat is a great option for most home gym owners.
The downside of E-coat is the texture that it gives the barbell. Since it is an electronically applied paint, it fills in the knurling a bit. This has led to many lifters complaining that an E-coat barbell is slippery and harder to grip. I have found this to be my experience as well but do not think it is as bad as some exaggerate.
E-coat is up there with cerakote in terms of corrosion resistance. This makes sense since it has already been used for decades on heavy machinery.
In terms of looks, I think that the E-coat looks great. The paint gives the barbell a kind of sleek black look that almost reminds me of what a barbell would look like if it were made by Apple.
Since this coating is so new, we have yet to really see it become a widespread option or available on sleeves yet.
If you are asking me which coating provides the best value, black oxide would certainly be in the conversation. This barbell coating is very affordable while also granting you the look and feel that you would expect with a premium bar.
Since black oxide is a conversion coating, there is no additional material applied to the bar. This means that the knurling on a black oxide bar will feel just as good as a stainless steel or bare steel bar. Many people have even said that black oxide bar feels gripper than stainless steel and takes chalk better than other barbell coatings.
The downside to black oxide comes with its poor oxidation resistance. It is slightly better than bare steel but even with regular maintenance, you will eventually see some rust. This is especially true in humid environments.
Black oxide has a nice matte black appearance that is comparable to that of an E-coat. However, you can expect that look to fade over time as the rust settles in.
You will rarely see black oxide on barbell sleeves. Most manufacturers tend to opt for chrome or zinc instead.
Powder coat is typically only seen on specialty barbells like trap bars or safety squat bars. Powder coat tends to be very cheap, so it has been good in the sense that it has allowed these types of barbells to become more affordable.
Since the powder coat is an applied coating, the knurling depth will be shallower. However, many specialty bars do not even have knurling, so that may not be an issue. Depending on the powder coat used, some specialty bars can be extremely grippy with no knurling at all.
The downside to a powder coat is that it can chip very easily with any sort of use. It also just tends to not look all that great on a bar.
As the specialty bar market becomes more advanced and refined, I expect most companies to switch away from a powder coat and start offering specialty bars in traditional barbell coatings like chrome or stainless steel.
Other Barbell Coatings
The ones we discussed are by far and away the most common barbell finishes you will run into, but there are some additional coatings that are not as common:
- Magnesium Phosphate: This is another conversion coating that is most similar to black oxide. Much like black oxide it has poor oxidation resistance and is most commonly found on budget barbells. I think black oxide is superior thanks to a better look and feel.
- Electroless Nickel: Electroless nickel was first introduced by Kabuki Strength but due to some supply chain issues, this coating is no longer offered. The finish itself is actually very nice and highly durable. I expect it to eventually make its way back into the barbell market.
How To Maintain Your Barbell Coating
Since even the more affordable barbells can be fairly expensive, you want to do your best to maintain your barbell. With just basic regular care and maintenance, you can keep your barbell looking good and extend its lifespan for years to come.
Barbell maintenance really is not that hard, all you need is some oil and a brush.
- Brush: You can use a specialty barbell or just a regular deck brush if you have one. Ideally, you should be doing this every time you use your barbell, but once a week will be fine for most people. All you do is brush your barbell to get the chalk, sweat, blood, and any other debris off your bar. Anything that is left on your barbell will only harbor moisture and allow for rusting.
- Oil: 3-IN-OIL is the most common oil used for barbells. All you have to do when you oil your barbell is take a cloth or paper towel and apply the oil over your barbell and all of its parts. How often you need to oil your bar will depend on both the type of coating you have and where you live but here are some good general guidelines:
- Monthly Oiling: Black oxide, Bare steel, Magnesium Phosphate
- Bi-monthly Oiling: Hard chrome, zinc
- Annual Oiling: Stainless Steel, Cerakote
By just following these basic guidelines, you are well on your way to making your barbell last for a long time.
Which Type Of Barbell Coating Should I Get?
If you still are not quite sure which barbell coating you should get, here are some great guidelines to help you decide:
For A Barbell That Lasts Forever
If all you want is a barbell that will literally last forever and be able to be passed to your children, stainless steel is the best option. There is little risk of rusting and the bar will look great for decades to come. Also, most brands that sell stainless steel barbells also offer a lifetime warranty.
For A Unique Barbell
If you want a unique barbell to add to your collection or match your other equipment, cerakote is the way to go. With so many color options, you can make the barbell look however you want while also getting a very premium barbell that will last for a long time.
For A Starter Barbell
If you are just looking for something to start your home gym with and do not want to spend that much money, black oxide is the way to good. Sure the bar may eventually rust, but the bar feels just as good as stainless steel and will be very affordable.
Overall, stainless steel is the best barbell coating thanks to its corrosion resistance and raw feel. However, if this is too expensive then there are tons of other options on the market.
Find The Best Barbell
After years of testing, we assembled a master list of the best barbells on the market for every home gym owner. Whether you are just starting out or looking to buy your tenth barbell, this guide will have you covered,
Stainless steel is the overall best thanks to its corrosion resistance and raw feeling. However, other coatings have their own advantages like price or customization that are worth looking into as well.
Both cerakote and stainless steel will provide great oxidation resistance. However, stainless steel will be better since there is no additional material on the bar. Meanwhile, cerakote allows you to have a different colored bar.
A barbell coating is meant to protect against rust and oxidation. However, the coating can also impact the look and feel of the barbell.