When I bought my first barbell, I was surprised by a number of things. Price was a big one. So was the number of finishes available. Bare steel barbells were the least expensive, with Cerakote™ options being the priciest.
I already had sticker shock. I had no idea what a “good” barbell cost. Add to that what things like stainless steel or Cerakote™ added to the price of a barbell, and I quickly found myself trying to find ways to save on my barbell.
One of the most common ways to bring down the price of a barbell is to forgo any finish at all and stick with the bare steel that the bar is constructed of.
No fancy finish or high-end material would mean a much lower price. But was buying a bare steel barbell worth the money I was saving?
Are Bare Steel Barbells Worthwhile?
Bare steel barbells are the least corrosion-resistant of any barbell while also having what many consider to be the best possible feel & connection to the bar. Bare steel is the least expensive bar finish when all other features are equal, but it requires weekly care and maintenance to prevent rust.
As with everything in life, you must consider tradeoffs when selecting your barbell finish. With bare steel, you will need to weigh two important benefits (price and feel) against one significant drawback (corrosion).
The Benefits of a Bare Steel Barbell
The first benefit and the one most people care about, is price. When looking at the same model barbell in bare steel compared to other finishes, bare steel is always much less expensive.
To give you an example of this, the Texas power bar (one of the most famous barbells ever made) comes in four finishes:
- Bare steel – $295.00
- Black zinc – $305.00
- Chrome – $320.00
- Cerakote™ – $350.00
As you can see, there is almost a 20% price premium to get Cerakote™. While some people might not see $55 as a big difference, those of us working within budgets need every penny we can get!
The second benefit of a bare steel bar is feel. Your barbell is what connects you to the weights you are lifting. As strange as it might seem, putting a finish material (zinc, chrome, Cerakote™, etc.) between the bar material and your hand changes your connection to the weight.
There’s something about lifting with a bare steel (or stainless steel) bar that feels very different. The heavier you lift, the more you’ll notice this.
For me, there’s no comparison. That’s why my daily driver barbell is stainless steel.
The Drawbacks of a Bare Steel Barbell
The single biggest issue with bare steel barbells is that they rust. And they rust fast!!! Here in Illinois, in the summer, it gets pretty humid. In these conditions, I can see rust forming on a bare steel bar in about 10-14 days.
To keep your bare steel barbell from corroding, you’ll need to clean and maintain it weekly. In dryer climates, you can probably get away with every two weeks. Not sure how to do that or what’s involved? Check out my complete guide to barbell care and maintenance here!
You’ll also need to clean it between uses (check out my new favorite barbell brush here, which works amazingly well for this purpose!). Remove any and all chalk from your bar, and ensure no sweat is left on it.
While that might not seem like much, I can tell you that most people will never do that. Sure, they might at first. But we all get lazy. The problem is that fixing your bar is a huge pain once your bar is rusted.
Another minor drawback of bare steel is that it’s not available on all bars, so your selection is small. Because bare steel is often seen as a budget option, a lot of nicer bars aren’t available in that finish.
Should You Buy a Bare Steel Bar?
Unless you have somehow landed on a barbell that only comes in bare steel, no. If you have the budget, a stainless steel barbell is a much better option. It will have the same feel as bare steel without drawbacks!
Yes, stainless steel is more expensive, but it’s also the most corrosion-resistant barbell material you can buy. It also has the same feel and connection to your bar that bare steel has.
Other than price, stainless steel is as good or better than raw steel in every way!
I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that some very well-known competitive lifters only use bare steel bars. When you are loading up 600+ lbs, every advantage helps, and the feel of a raw steel bar helps.
I also want to point out that those folks lift in gyms where the gym cleans the bars weekly. When they are at home, this is their primary hobby. That makes cleaning their bar something they are much more likely to do than the rest of us.
So, unless this is you, I’d advise against a bare steel option.
I am on a budget. What’s the best budget-friendly bare steel barbell I can buy?
The best option for this right now is the bare naked power bar by Bells of Steel. It’s got pretty aggressive knurling on it, but if you are okay with that, it’s a great option at a very reasonable price!
What kind of brush do you recommend to clean my barbell?
Hands down, the best barbell brush on the market today is the Barbell Rescue 360-degree barbell brush. It’s perfect for getting the chalk out of the knurling each lifting session. It also works great for more intense maintenance duties!
Will oil or another substance help prevent my barbell from rusting?
A small amount of oil is used to “seal” your bar after cleaning. While that won’t prevent rust on a bare steel bar, it may slow it by a small amount.