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Old 06-07-2019, 11:03 AM   #1
makethatkerdistick
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Aluminum in wet areas / corrosion

Curious what the pros have to say. I am convinced that aluminum for many reasons is the wrong material in wet areas, especially in areas with hard water.
I've seen aluminum corrode quickly in my own house when in prolonged contact with hard tap water, in particular when efflorescence isn't removed regularly.

I also think that aluminum is actually fine when exposed to the elements such as rain water. The thin aluminum oxide film that forms on aluminum and that protects the material is undisturbed by soft water such as rain water (unless you have acid rain which will eat through it). I've seen aluminum exposed in such a way for decades without much or even any discernible corrosion at all. Of course, in dry indoor situations, aluminum is fine as well

What have you seen in the field? How long does aluminum last? Does the anodization process really increase its resistance? In my experience, with hard water no surface treatment will save aluminum.

Lastly, whenever people on here use Schluter and other trim profiles, they mostly utilize the ones that are made of aluminum as the base material.
How does this trim age in the field? 10 years from now, 20 years in heavy-use situations? I'd love to see a picture.

We are often talking about the long service life of a properly built shower. One would expect such a shower to last decades. While flexible sealant can be renewed over time, the aluminum trim seems to me the weakest non-replaceable part. Or am I missing something?

Enlighten me about the benefits of aluminum over, say, stainless steel! Other than price, weight and ease of cutting, that is.
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Old 06-07-2019, 02:19 PM   #2
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All the aluminum I've seen is anodized. When the anodizing fails/is nicked/scratched you can see the oxidizing aluminum as a different color and finish. This leads people to think it looks like crap and they try to clean it by scrubbing, only to chip off more of the anodizing. There may not be anything wrong with aluminum oxide, but you can see the difference between a clear anodized part and an oxidized part.

Unpainted stainless is the way to go. Polished or brushed.
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Old 06-07-2019, 05:07 PM   #3
makethatkerdistick
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That's my thinking too, Mike. To that end, I don't understand why the Schluter aluminum strips are so popular even in high(er)-end showers. Investing so much money and effort and then picking aluminum to marry to your permanent tile assembly makes little sense to me.

When I am in Germany occasionally, I noticed that Schluter's stainless steel profiles are much more common there in stores. I guess that makes sense since they're also made there. Germans call stainless steel "Edelstahl" (noble steel). Growing up, I always liked the sound of that word.
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:08 PM   #4
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I've had the schlutter brushed nickel anodized AL edgetrim in my masterbath for 3 years now. Not a single scratch and looks identical to the day it was installed. What are you scratching this with in a shower where you are naked?
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Old 06-09-2019, 01:50 PM   #5
makethatkerdistick
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John, three years is not a long time.
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Old 06-09-2019, 05:50 PM   #6
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Well for a shower used daily you can extrapolate the wear. There is zero sign of corrosion and as along as the anodizing stays in tact there is no worry that will change. Anodized aluminum is proven to hold up for decades in many applications such as automotive and outdoor building materials and furniture. Outside of physical abrasion damage the biggest threat is UV from the sun. A shower sees neither. You shouldnt be scrubing a shower with steel wool.
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Old 06-09-2019, 08:44 PM   #7
makethatkerdistick
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John, I don't scrub my shower trim. I never said that. The anodized aluminum trim on my Kohler doors were slowly eaten away after four years because of prolonged water exposure alone.

There is a big difference between some tap water sources and rain water, noticeably in hardness. I wouldn't worry about aluminum in rain at all. Maybe you're lucky and have soft tap water.
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:33 PM   #8
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I had the same worries. Probably unfounded. But, I bought stainless trim for my shower. I hope it outlasts me.

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Old 06-10-2019, 07:44 PM   #9
jadnashua
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You almost never see raw aluminum...it is so reactive that almost instantly after it is cut, the surface oxidizes. Unlike iron rust, AlO2 is about the same size as Al, so it seals the surface. It's relatively hard, but the underlying metal is not, so that surface layer can be damaged/cracked, exposing more raw metal unless you can artificially make that oxidized layer thicker. Anodizing makes that surface layer of oxide thicker. If the prep is not done well, it will be more likely to be uneven and more easily damaged. That could be because it was not cleaned properly, or the voltage was off, or the vat was contaminated, or the process was not run long enough. The last Kohler thing I bought was made for them in China...IMHO, a piece of junk. Done right, it's durable. Anodized stuff used in the military is pretty robust stuff. They have some strict quality control. Not everyone in the commercial space does.

To give yourself some perspective, look up a thermite reaction. They take powdered aluminum and iron oxide, get it hot enough (burning a little magnesium works well), and the aluminum will pull the oxygen out of the iron oxide, creating liquid iron...aluminum oxide is that much more stable than iron oxide, that increase in stability releases huge amounts of heat energy, which is what creates the liquid iron.
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Old 06-11-2019, 08:35 AM   #10
makethatkerdistick
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Jim always brings an engineer's perspective to this.
I suppose the military mostly uses aluminum for its low weight combined with structural strength. But in a shower that shouldn't matter.

My Kohler doors' bottom rail is faulty by design as it traps water for prolonged periods and only slowly dries out (if ever). Not sure if it's an inferious anodization process. Anodization is not a miracle cure against corrosion. Maybe the military can specify a higher-quality treatment but I doubt most of us have access to that. Maybe I am wrong.

Regarding the profiles, by cutting them one always destroys the integrity of the anodization, doesn't one? In a typical profile install there are always cut edges. They might be hidden under the grout or tile but they're still there. Insofar, insisting on the integrity of the surface treatment is a moot point.

My point still remains: Other than cost, there is no real advantage of aluminum over stainless steel. It might be good enough in most situations but it's not a premium material.
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Old 06-12-2019, 01:37 PM   #11
speed51133
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Not only do you cut it, but many probably sand off the cut edge. The material handling of an 8 foot long strip of aluminum may not be the best either. I've always seen them stored in tubes or racks banging around on each other.

Plus, when grouting with sanded grout you probably easily scratch it.

My water is so damn hard that I have to use a ton of salt in the softener. I'm sure those sodium ions don't help maintain finishes either. My glass doors are are really etched after just 2 years. Ammonia cleaner and even acids don't take off all the haze/pitting. I have to go in and use a random orbital polisher with some fine compound to get them clear again.
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