How-To Articles

How to Clean Stainless Steel

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Thanks to it’s durable and resilient nature, stainless steel has a wide range of household and industrial uses. The chromium film that makes it resistant to rust and tarnishing can last for many years if correctly cared for. So you need to keep it clean and free of dust and other contaminants.

7 steps to clean stainless steel:

1. Attend to stains as quickly as possible. Even though stainless steel doesn’t hold stains easily, it's best to clean up spills and marks as quickly as possible. It’s usually possible to remove a stain after it sets, but it will require more work and potentially also damage the surface of the object. 

2. To clean a stainless steel object, fill a sink or bucket with warm, soapy water or a weak solution of ammonia and water. Stainless steel is durable but can be sensitive to harsh cleaners. For routine cleaning, it’s best to use a gentle detergent, such as dish soap. Dilute it with very warm water – it’s better to have too little detergent rather than too much. 

3. Soak the stainless steel object in the soapy water to help loosen burnt-on stains, such as food. Very tough jobs may need to soak overnight. Skip this step for larger objects or lightly soiled dishes. 

4. Wet a soft towel or dishcloth in the soapy water. If the stainless steel has been soaked, change the water so that it’s clean and warm. Avoid using an abrasive cloth on stainless steel. Rather use a soft cloth or nylon sponge. Dip it in the water-detergent solution and wring it out thoroughly before using. If you prefer using a cleaning brush, choose one with soft bristles.

5. Next, softly scrub the surface of the stainless steel using the soft cloth or cleaning brush. It’s typically not necessary to press very hard. If the stainless steel has a polished finish, scrub with the finish, not against it, and avoid scrubbing in a circular motion. Rinse and wring out the cloth frequently to keep it damp and to avoid smearing potentially abrasive contaminants over the surface of the steel.

6. Rinse thoroughly with warm, clean water. Use a wet, clean cloth or sponge to wipe down the stainless steel. Be sure to remove all the detergent residue as it can leave streaks and a rainbow-coloured discolouration.

7. Repeat the process if necessary. Gentle cleaning should take care of most dirt and contaminants, but if stains persist the process should be repeated. Be patient. Persistent scrubbing will usually eliminate the toughest stains.

Still not clean?

If the stain persists and you've exhausted your patience (and your arms!) by scrubbing, apply a mild abrasive cleaner of sodium bicarbonate and water to the stain. Make a paste of the water and sodium bicarbonate and apply to the stainless steel with a soft cloth. Scrub well and rinse thoroughly. 

Go all out. If the combination of soaking, detergent and a mild abrasive doesn't work it may be necessary to go all out and apply a more caustic abrasive cleaner, such as Ajax, Comet, or a similar commercially available product. To do this, wet a cloth or sponge with hot water, put the abrasive on one side and, moving in the direction of the stainless steel grain, apply the abrasive side of the cloth to the steel.

Flip the towel over to the side without the abrasive and remove the cleaner you just applied (again in the direction of the grain). Keep this towel hot and damp, but not dripping wet.

Rinse thoroughly and dry. Immediately after wiping off the abrasive cleaner, rinse well using clean, warm water. Dry the stainless steel using a second cloth, again rubbing with the grain.

What you’ll need: 

- Warm water
- Soft cloths or sponges
- Mild detergent or ammonia solution
- Abrasive cleaners such as Bar Keepers Friend, Comet, Ajax or similar 

Tips:

Clean your stainless steel often. Smaller stainless steel dishes are cleaned regularly but we tend to allow contaminants to build up on larger objects. The more frequently stainless steel is cleaned, the easier it cleans and the less chance there is of a buildup of contaminants damaging the stainless steel's protective film.

Dishwashers are perfect for cleaning small stainless steel objects as they use very warm water, gentle cleansers, and are persistent and gentle in their "scrubbing".

Oven cleaner works well on stainless steel: simply spray the cleaner onto the surface, allow it to stand for an hour and then wipe off with a damp cloth. 

For really tough rust stains or heat discolouration on stainless steel, apply a 10 percent solution of nitric acid (aqua fortis) before washing. This is generally only recommended for industrial use and should be used with care. 

A stubborn stain that doesn't come out after soaking and gentle cleaning should just be left. An isolated stain or discoloration is preferable to the potential damage to the finish that could result from applying a harsh chemical to the stainless steel. 

Warnings: 

Be careful when mixing different types of cleaning products. Don't mix commercial cleaners, such as "Bar Keepers Friend", with vinegar or with other brands.

Don’t apply bleach to stainless steel. Stainless steel is sensitive to chlorine, and contact with bleach will result in staining and damage to the protective film.

Nitric acid is a highly corrosive chemical and should not be used if you are not familiar with proper handling and disposal techniques.