Three signs that your old bath faucets are treading water: Their finish is dull or pitted. They still drip even after you repair them. Or, their style looks dated with the bath remodel you're planning. If that describes your faucets, get ready for a sea of replacement options. Stores are filled with quality $100 lav faucets with five-year warranties and others that take care of the needs of older users, tub faucets tough enough for a house full of teens and multihead shower walls that make you feel like you just stepped under a tropical waterfall. Making things tougher is that you'll also find poor-quality pretenders that glitter as brightly as top-of-the-line models. Picking a style you like is the easy part of buying a new faucet. The harder questions are: What material and finish were used in the faucet you like? Will they last and still be easy to clean? If there is a problem, how difficult and expensive are repairs? In other words, which faucet will give you the style and service for what you want to spend? TESTING THEIR METALS
Aside from style and features, what separates good lav, tub or shower faucets from the not-so-good is the material they're made of. Start by checking out the body, which encompasses the spout and controls. Solid-brass bodies last longest and require the least care, especially with hard water, which corrodes lesser metals. At $150 or so to start, these faucets also cost the most. If you aren't sure whether a fitting is solid brass, pick it up. It should feel heavier than other units. Often, the box will read "all-brass body" versus "ZMACK" for brass- or chrome-plated fittings. Faucets with die-cast zinc-alloy bodies cost less (typically starting at about $70) and deliver good durability. Zinc is the metal beneath most brass- and chrome-plated fittings. Because zinc corrodes when it contacts water, these faucets must be replaced when the plating wears off. Stay away from low-end faucets with plastic bodies. Though their $50 entry price might be appealing, plastic simply doesn't hold up. Finish is another crucial choice that determines not only how a faucet looks but also how easy it is to maintain. An electroplated chrome finish on a brass or zinc faucet looks good and lasts. If you opt for the warmth of natural brass, you'll avoid frequent cleanings with one of the proprietary lifetime finishes that block out oxidation. Examples of these finishes include Delta Brilliance, Moen LifeShine and Jado Diamond. Pewter, nickel and satin finishes are also easy to maintain. Their muted tones hide water spots, scratches and fingerprints. They also match door and cabinet handles more easily than brass. Chrome and combination chrome-and-brass finishes are popular for baths but require frequent cleaning to maintain their shine. With a spectrum of colors available, going with painted or enamel finishes is the easiest way to individualize a faucet and coordinate it with the rest of the bath. But because most of these finishes aren't bonded to the metal like plating, they chip and scratch relatively easily. Save them for less-used powder rooms and guest baths.
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