How to Clean Stainless Steel

By: Marie Willsey & Kathryn Whitbourne  | 
cleaning stove
A soft cloth is a must when cleaning stainless steel appliances. xefstock/Getty Images

The distinctive shine of stainless steel is found everywhere you look — from the kitchen sink to the pinnacle of the Chrysler Building. And no wonder: It's a high-performance marvel, an extremely durable material that does not corrode or rust. It doesn't stain easily, either, although it's not stain-proof. Low maintenance and distinctive luster make it popular for use in cookware, cutlery, hardware and major appliances like refrigerators and stovetops, as well as surgical instruments and many industrial applications.

Stainless steel needs to be cleaned to look its best and to prevent corrosion. Here's why: Oxygen combines with chromium in stainless steel to form a sort of "film" of chromium oxide. That film protects stainless steel from corrosion. Any contamination on the surface by dirt or oils hampers this process and traps corrosive agents, reducing corrosion protection.


Luckily, stainless steel is easy to clean using several inexpensive methods. Unlike some materials, it thrives with frequent cleaning. It's impossible to wear out a stainless steel surface by cleaning it too much.

Here are some ways to clean stainless steel appliances. These methods will also work if you're cleaning a stainless steel sink or other items.


1. Start With Warm Water

Man cleans sink in commercial kitchen
Warm water is often the best and easiest thing to use when cleaning stainless steel sinks and appliances. kali9/Getty Images

It's true: Most of the time, stainless steel will come clean with warm water, with or without a gentle detergent. Simply rinse your stainless steel pots or cutlery in the sink and clean them with a gentle cloth. If you'd like, add a little of your favorite household dish soap to make the job easier. Or wipe down your stainless steel appliance with water.

Sometimes water may contain mineral solids that can leave water spots on stainless steel, so wipe thoroughly with dry towels to keep your pots and pans or appliances looking their best.


Be sure to use this cleaning method first before you move on to other solutions. You may find a little warm water and suds will do the trick, and you don't need to bother with harsher cleaning solutions.

2. Try Olive Oil on Smudges

Smudges and fingerprints are the most frustrating part of owning stainless steel appliances. To get around that, use a spray cleaner specifically designed for stainless steel. You can find it at the grocery store or a home improvement store. For a DIY option, apply a dab of dish soap to a wet microfiber cloth. Wipe down the appliance in the direction of the grain. Dry it and apply a little olive oil on another microfiber cloth and buff it until it shines.

Much like with fine wood, you must go with the grain when cleaning stainless steel. Follow the lines of the grain, wiping on cleanser gently, wiping off and rinsing. Do not wipe in a circular motion (this is tough if you're used to scrubbing in a circle.) Use long swipes instead.


3. Use Baking Soda on Stubborn Stains

Whether it's a crusty stainless steel frying pan or your grimy barbecue grill, mild non-abrasive powders may be in order for a thorough cleaning. Typical household cleaners like Comet, Ajax or Bar Keepers Friend will do the trick, but you can also find many specialty stainless steel cleaners at your neighborhood grocery store.

For a non-chemical method, look for good old-fashioned baking soda. Make a paste of baking soda and water and spread on the appliance with a sponge. Leave it for 15 to 20 minutes and then rinse in hot water. Wipe with a soft cloth.


After cleaning, always rinse with clean, hot water and enjoy the shine of your new-looking pots, pans, kitchen sink or appliance.

4. Spray a Little Vinegar to Clean

woman spraying fridge
Spray your stainless steel refrigerator and other surfaces with undiluted vinegar to clean them. Onfokus/Getty Images

A very effective and frugal cleaner for your stainless steel appliances may be hiding in your pantry: vinegar. Simply fill a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar, spray on all your stainless steel surfaces, and wipe dry with a soft cloth.

This method works because the acetic acid in the vinegar cuts through the oil left behind by fingertips, rather than smearing it around like other cleaners. Some cooks use lemon juice, which has a similar effect.


Vinegar works well to remove stains that result from heat and hard water, even on cutlery. To remove them, apply white vinegar with a soft cloth and rub gently. Dry thoroughly to prevent a film from forming.

Vinegar can also come in handy to clean your sink. Spread a paste of baking soda and water on the sink surface. Then rinse with vinegar — watch the mixture fizz as it disinfects and removes hard water stains.


5. Avoid Harsh Cleansers and Scrubbers on Stainless Steel

Never use a cleanser containing bleach, because it will ruin the finish. However, ammonia is OK. Don't ever scrub your appliances with an abrasive sponge or steel wool. Abrasive tools will scratch the grain of the stainless steel and make your beautiful new kitchen appliances look dull. Carbon steel brushes and steel wool can also leave particles embedded on the surface that might lead to rusting


6. Wipe Surfaces Immediately After Cleaning

Once you've cleaned your stainless steel appliance, sink or cookware and rinsed it in hot water, you'll want to dry it immediately with paper towels or clean dry cloths so that the water doesn't have time to evaporate and leave water spots. Avoid using oily rags or greasy cloths that can smear your newly cleaned surfaces.


Originally Published: Nov 22, 2010

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