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How to Clean Stainless Steel

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Overview of Cleaning Stainless Steel
Person at a sink adding dish soap to a damp cloth.

Daily use means your appliances are bound to get covered in fingerprints, spills and dust. This is normal wear and tear. The best way to clean stainless steel is regular cleaning, once or twice a week.

Oil and vinegar aren’t just for salads. They’re also key to polishing stainless steel. Vinegar can brighten stainless steel cookware and get appliances sparkling clean. An oil buff afterward keeps it shiny. If you’d rather not use a DIY method, stainless steel cleaners do a great job of de-griming stainless steel.

The basics of cleaning stainless steel come down to this: Clean, apply oil, buff oil, dry buff. The oils and cleaning methods vary. Read on for tips on how to clean stainless steel appliances, cookware and keep it shiny.

How to Get Rid of Grease and Grime on Stainless Steel Appliances
Person wiping the front surface of a stainless steel refrigerator.

When cleaning stainless steel appliances, first, find the grain. Look closely at your appliance to see which way the tiny lines run on the steel. That’s called the grain. It runs vertically or horizontally. 

Clean Stainless Steel with Water

You can get good results with just warm water if you want a light clean. This method is great for simple general maintenance:

  • Wet a microfiber cloth with water. 
  • Wring it out so it’s not dripping.
  • Use the damp cloth to firmly wipe with the grain. Work from the top of the appliance down.
  • Buff each swipe with a dry with a clean towel. Letting the water air dry may leave spots.

Tip: Use filtered or distilled water if you have hard water out of your home’s tap. Hard water may leave cloudy spots.

Clean Stainless Steel with Dish Soap and Water

A little bit of dish soap and some water take care of any greasy fingerprints or residue on stainless steel appliances: 

  • In a small bowl, mix a few drops of dish soap with warm water. 
  • Dip a microfiber cloth  into the mixture. 
  • Wring out the cloth so it’s damp, not saturated.
  • Work from top to bottom. That way, any drips are cleaned up as you go.
  • Wipe in the direction of the grain with firm strokes. This should remove grime, grease and fingerprints.
  • Rinse the cloth well, getting out all the soap.
  • With a rinsed or different cloth, wipe the appliance down again with just water. Go with the grain of the stainless steel to avoid streaks.
  • To finish, take a dry microfiber towel and wipe it down again. Again, go with the grain. 

Clean Stainless Steel with Vinegar

Vinegar is an excellent DIY stainless steel cleaner. You’ll just need white vinegar, warm water and an empty spray bottle. Microfiber cloths are recommended as they don’t leave lint behind, but you can use a paper towel too. Use vinegar to clean stainless steel by following these steps:

  • Pour one cup white vinegar into a spray bottle. 
  • Add one to three tablespoons of water. 
  • Spray the mixture in an even layer across the surface of the appliance. 
  • Cover only a small area with vinegar spray. You don’t want the cleaner to dry on the surface.
  • Using a microfiber cloth, wipe the vinegar and water away. Go with the grain.
  • To rinse, mist the appliance with clean water.
  • Wipe the water away with a clean and dry towel.

Clean Stainless Steel with Rubbing Alcohol

Get a streak-free shine and disinfect the surface. This is a great method for busy parents.

  • Apply rubbing alcohol to a microfiber cloth.
  • Wipe with the grain to remove fingerprints and smears.
  • As it evaporates, you’ll get a clean shine.

Clean Stainless Steel with Glass Cleaner 

A familiar solution for fingerprints, glass cleaner also works on stainless steel:

  • Spray cleaner onto a microfiber cloth.
  • Gently wipe with the grain.
  • No need to rinse.

Clean Stainless Steel with Club Soda 

A two-in-one approach for a quick clean, this fizzy drink cleans steel in a pinch:

  • Spray soda onto the surface.
  • Using a cloth, wipe with the grain of the stainless steel.
  • Follow by wiping or buffing with a clean cloth. This gives extra shine without the oiling step seen below.
How to Make Stainless Steel Shine
Person adding vinegar to a cloth in front of a stainless steel refrigerator.

Adding a nice sheen to your appliance elevates your kitchen decor. Learn how to polish stainless steel and make it shiny. Buffing a clean appliance with oil is the secret.

Commonly used oils are baby oil, olive oil, mineral oil and even coconut oil. Dry buff using a fresh microfiber cloth, going with the grain, to get a good shine. Any excess oil may go rancid, so use a small amount.

Here's how to polish stainless steel to get that out-of-the-box shine:

  • Thoroughly clean your stainless steel appliance using one of the above methods.
  • Put a few drops of oil on a soft paper towel.
  • Spread a thin layer of oil onto the appliance.
  • Buff the oil, using small circles or short strokes with the grain.
  • After the oil is absorbed, get a dry cloth.
  • Dry buff using the same method, this time with the new cloth.
  • When your stainless steel appliance is shiny, you’re done.

Shine Stainless Steel with Lemon Oil

  • Clean the stainless steel appliance or sink.
  • Apply lemon oil or a furniture polish with lemon oil to a dry microfiber cloth
  • Use small circles to rub the oil onto the metal.
  • Once the surface is oiled, take a clean cloth.
  • Buff out the oil, going with the grain.

Polish Stainless Steel with Flour

If you don’t want to use oil, you can use flour to polish stainless steel. The concept is the same:

  • Clean the stainless steel thoroughly using the method of your choice.
  • Dry the surface so you don’t accidentally make a flour paste.
  • Apply a thin layer of flour to the steel.
  • Use a clean, dry cloth to buff out the flour. Make tiny circles or follow the grain.

Shine Stainless Steel with Premade Spray Cleaner and Polish

You can also use stainless steel cleaner and polish to restore a shine to the finish. They come in aerosol, wipes and spray form. They’re your best bet for touching up scratched stainless steel.

This method might require extra ventilation, as these are chemical cleaners. Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for best results. 

Keep Stainless Steel Cookware Shiny
A stainless steel pan.

Stainless steel cookware can withstand extremely high temperatures. However, it’s not immune to tarnish, smudges and discoloration. Follow these tips for cleaning stainless steel cookware:

  • Prevent spots on your stainless steel cookware by towel drying it after each wash. Unsightly water spots form when you air dry stainless steel.
  • Rub cloudy spots with a dampened sponge sprinkled with baking soda. Then rinse the pot clean with water and towel it dry.
  • Let the cookware completely cool down before putting it in sink.
  • When boiling a pot of water, add salt after it's at a rolling boil. If you salt the water before it’s boiling, pitting erosion can occur. That leaves tiny but unfixable pits in the bottom of your stainless steel pot.
  • Prevent oil buildup on stainless steel cookware before it starts: Always heat your pan first, add and heat oil, then add the food. 
How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware
A set of stainless steel pans atop a stove with a stainless steel surface.

Even if you follow preventative tips to keep your cookware shiny, your pots and pans will eventually get dirty. Here’s how to tackle each type of problem area. 

Everyday Cleaning of Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

To keep your stainless steel cookware in good shape, keep these steps in mind:

  • Clean your pan while it’s still hot, but not straight off the stove. 
  • Use a mild scrubbing sponge to clean your pan.
  • For more difficult messes, soak your pan with hot water and dish soap.
  • Once your pan is spotless, rinse it clean with water.
  • To keep it shiny, always towel dry your stainless steel cookware. 

Tip: Running cold water in a piping hot pan can cause it to warp due to the extreme temperature change. Let your pans cool a bit before washing them.

How to Remove White Spots from Stainless Steel

Chalky white spots are a common problem when it comes to stainless steel. They’re often caused by hard water, tap water with calcium dissolved in it. 

Here’s how to get rid of cloudy stains on stainless steel cookware: 

  • Bring a solution of one part vinegar and three parts water to a boil in the pan. 
  • Let it cool. 
  • Wash and dry the pan as you normally would.  

If the white spots are on a stainless steel sink, treat it in a similar way:

  • Spray lemon juice or vinegar on the sink.
  • Let it sit for up to 5 minutes, then sprinkle baking soda all over it.
  • Wipe with a cloth.
  • Rinse with clean water and towel dry for shine.

Discoloration on stainless steel looks like a rainbow. It’s caused by overheating. Remove the unsightly hue with plain white vinegar:

  • Splash a bit of vinegar in the pan or pot. 
  • Clean the area using a non-abrasive sponge. 
  • Rinse and dry the cookware. 

You can also skip the vinegar and use your next meal to clean the cookware. Use the discolored pot to prepare a high-acid food, like tomato sauce. The sauce is acidic and will clean the pot like vinegar.

Burnished and stained pots and pans need a heavy-duty cleaning solution. But first check the fine print of your warranty. This method could potentially void it. 

  • Fill the bottom of the pan with water.
  • Add one cup of vinegar and bring it all to a boil.
  • Remove the pan from the heat. 
  • Add two tablespoons of baking soda, empty the pan and then scrub. 
  • You can also use a commercial mild abrasive cleaner made for stainless steel. It’s usually marketed to clean bar countertops. It may remove the protective coating from the cookware though. Proceed with caution.

How to Clean Rust from an Old Stainless Steel Pot

If you’ve found a stainless steel pot that needs serious TLC, try reviving it with a cream of tartar soak:

  • Mix cream of tartar and lemon juice to make a paste.
  • Apply the paste to the pan. 
  • Pay special attention to the rusty spots and cover them well.
  • Scrub gently with a nylon bristle dish brush or sponge.
  • Rinse with water and retreat as needed.
Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel
A person adding vinegar to a stainless steel pan full of water.

Stainless steel is tough. Even though it’s durable, avoid using anything rough that could scratch the surface. Here are a few things to avoid while learning how to clean stainless steel: 

  • Never use steel wool, abrasive scrubbing pads or scouring powders on stainless steel appliance.
  • Scouring powders and abrasives are a last resort for stainless steel cookware in poor condition only.
  • Avoid wiping against the grain or in circles. It can leave streaks.
  • If your tap has hard water, consider cleaning with filtered or distilled water. Hard water may leave spots due to the high mineral content.
  • Don’t use any cleaning solutions with ammonia, chlorine or bleach. These chemicals react with the stainless steel and can cause damage to the finish. It can corrode and stain the surface. 
  • Oven cleaner is for ovens, not for pans. It can remove the protective coating from your cookware. Use a soak-and-scrub method instead.

Knowing how to keep stainless steel shiny will make your cookware and appliances look great for years to come. There’s more than one best way to clean stainless steel. Find the method that works for you to enjoy a classic shine in your kitchen.

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