How to Clean Stainless-Steel Appliances and Surfaces in Your Home

“How do you clean stainless steel?” That might sound like a ridiculous question; after all, it can’t be stained, right? Wrong. Your appliances, range, or countertop may be stainless steel but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get any less of a cleaning than other surfaces in your kitchen. So let’s take a look at why it’s important to keep your stainless-steel appliances in tiptop shape and how easy maintaining them actually is.

What is stainless steel?

Stainless steel is a steel alloy that doesn’t react with oxygen and is resistant to oxidation. That means it doesn’t rust, stain, or corrode easily. Because it’s one of the least corrosive materials on the market, manufacturers use stainless steel to make everything from car parts to kitchen appliances.

Why do you need to clean stainless steel?

As we’ve mentioned, despite its name, certain types of stainless steel can actually stain. Each type or “grade” has a different level of quality and ability to hold up to wear and tear, says Tricia Holderman, CEO of Elite Home Services and Elite Facility Systems in Dallas.

But even the highest grade of stainless-steel products can be ruined if they’re not cared for properly.

“Chemicals, sodas, and hot coffee can damage the finish on the surfaces,” says Holderman. “When there is a small tear or divot in the surface, [stainless steel] can actually rust.”

Common stains

The most common issues facing homeowners with a kitchen full of stainless steel would include limescale buildup, fingerprints, and even water stains. Yes, even simple H2O can harm this resistant material.

“Tap water is never entirely pure; it consists of calcium, salts, and probably other stuff, depending on your location,” says Lucy Norman, cleaning expert at End to End Cleaning Services in London. “When a drop of water hits on stainless steel, the water molecules are slowly evaporating while the salts and other minerals are just left there. This is how the water stains are formed.”

How to clean stainless steel

Stainless-steel products should get daily (or at least weekly) maintenance, Norman says. To clean stainless steel, soak a cloth in warm water, wring it out, and wipe the surface. Dry the surface to eliminate the possibility of creating or exacerbating water stains.

For a deeper clean, or when your stainless steel has been hit by a coffee spill or the like, Norman suggests pulling the vinegar out of your kitchen cabinet and doing the following:

  1. Pour vinegar into a spray bottle and generously spray the surface.
  2. Wipe away the vinegar with a soft cloth or towel.
  3. To polish the steel, dip your soft cloth into a bit of olive oil and wipe across the surface in the direction of the grain until all of the marks are gone.

Clean fingerprints off stainless steel

Spray glass cleaner onto the surface and wipe with a microfiber cloth. Instead of glass cleaner, you can also use a couple drops of a mild dish soap diluted in water.

Clean limescale off stainless steel

Mix one part white vinegar with three parts warm water, and soak the affected area with the solution. Rinse well.

How not to clean stainless steel

Although it can be tempting to grab your steel wool to tackle dried-on gunk that builds up on your surfaces, this quick cleaning method could end up ruining your stainless steel altogether. Don’t do it!

“You should avoid abrasive cleaning products like scrubbing pads or wool brushes since they can scratch the surface and break its protective coat,” Norman warns. “Use a microfiber cloth, instead. It will absorb all the water and won’t scratch the surface.”

You’ll also want to skip out on bleach. It may be great for cutting through grass stains in your laundry, but solutions that contain chloride are another no-no when it comes to cleaning stainless steel.

“They can damage the protective layer of your piece and cause oxidation,” Norman says.

Skip the stainless-steel cleaners

The cleaning aisle of your local supermarket might have dedicated stainless-steel cleaning options that make all sorts of seductive claims about making surfaces pristine or “just like new.” But you can pass right by them, Holderman says.

“Most stainless-steel ‘cleaners’ are really just polishing the surfaces,” she explains. They’ll remove fingerprints, but not much else.