Best Way to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances, Sinks, Cookware, BBQ

Stainless steel is very tough and scratch resistant, but any scratches that do occur, really show up and ruin the appearance. So over-enthusiastic cleaning, with the wrong stuff, can cause scratches or dull the shiny finish. So when cleaning stainless steel it is easy to feel - you can't win!

Adding to the care and maintenance problems, is the issue that not all stainless steel surface are identical. There are a wide variety of stainless steel types and thicknesses, with a wide range of finishes and patterns (dull, shiny, dapples, swirls, various patterns).

Some appliances are easier to clean than others. The refrigerator is probably the easiest to clean, apart from the incessant finger marks. The stove is a little harder to keep clean as well as your dishwasher.

Don't despair, this article provides a summary of the best advice for cleaning stainless steel appliances, sinks, cookware, utensils, barbecues and grills.

It also includes lots of practical tips on all the Do's and Don'ts, Questions and Answers, Care and Maintenance, as well as routine Cleaning Tips and Stain Removal Guide.

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General Cleaners for Stainless Steel Appliances (from Refrigerators to Toasters)

  • Basic mineral oil based cleaner and polish like 3M Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish.
  • This is good soft cleaner that you spray on, wipe off, then polish. Its good for general cleaning, but not for tough stains.
  • Cameo cleaner, which is an excellent cleaner for stainless steel pots and pans as well as for large appliances. It can be used for stainless steel toasters and small kitchen appliances as well, that tend to discolor over time.
  • For tough stains - Scotchbrite Stainless pads - excellent for thick stainless steel cooking appliances like stoves and barbeques. Warning - it can tend to scratch thinner cladding (such as toasters) and may be too harsh for refrigerators.
  • Peracetic acid - It smells like vinegar and is a combination of acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide. A weak solution is a very good cleaner and can deoxidize most highly polished metal surfaces. But it is an acid, so you don't want to use it too frequently. Dilute the concentrate to a 3-5% solution. You need a fresh solution each time as it loses its activity quickly when exposed to air. It can be obtained from craft beer and wine stores and pharmacies(drug stores).

Quick Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel

General Cleaning - Simply wipe with a damp cloth (or panty hose) - not wet or it will leave steaks. Apply a few drops of olive oil or lemon oil to a dry cotton cloth and wipe down to polish the surface and remove any sign of streaks

Fingerprints - The fastest, easiest and simplest way to remove fingerprints is with standard glass cleaner and a paper towel or a clean soft cloth.

Moderate Stains - For most general cleaning jobs a simple mixture of warm water and mild neutral detergent. This will clean off most stains without risking any damage to the stainless steel. Always ensure you rinse the stainless steel well to prevent spotting and staining. Dry well to prevent water spots that can be caused by minerals in water. It is similar to glass windows. If you leave water spots they will leave marks.

Tough Stains - For tougher stains the best option is to use a good quality, specific purpose stainless steel cleaner. See the summary below.

Care of Stainless Steel Surfaces

  • Don't use greasy cloths or oily rags when wiping the surface. Try to set aside a cloth and sponge that is dedicated to cleaning stainless steel. Always use a clean cloth and not the general purpose cleaning sponge that you use for wiping up the bench tops or cleaning dishes.
  • After cleaning wipe over with a cloth rinsed thoroughly with water and then wipe over with a dry cloth.
  • Don't use any cleaners containing chloride or abrasives.
  • On surfaces with fine lines or patterns always rub or wipe in the direction of the polish lines, not across them.
  • Be very careful with sticking anything onto the stainless steel surface. Many tapes, plastic sheets, can “age” in short periods of time and can become very hard to remove.

Detailed Guide to Cleaning Stainless Steel

Most stainless steel appliance surfaces are protected from rusting and corrosion by a very thin layer of chromium oxide. When cleaning it is important that this surface is preserved otherwise there may be corrosion.

Types of Surface Contaminants and How to Cleaning Them

Dirt - Dirt and dust can cause scratches if wiped over with a wet cloth. If there is a lot of dirt it should be removed with a duster or vacuum cleaner. Non-particulate dirt and marks can be removed by wiping with warm water to which a small amount of a gentle detergent is added. For tougher stains and marks add a small amount of vinegar. After cleaning wipe with a fresh clean cloth dampened with plain hot water.

Fingerprints and Stains - The best way of removing fingermarks is by using a standard or homemade glass cleaner. Once again, thoroughly rinse off with a cloth dipped in clean warm water.

Oil and Grease - Try soap or detergent mixed with warm water. For tough stains use a commercial stainless steel cleaner. Otherwise you may need to use a solvent such as alcohol, methyl alcohol, acetone, mineral spirits or turpentine. But always test first to ensure the solvents won't leave a mark.

Abrasive Household Cleaners - Always test first and use with caution as these cleaners may scratch many stainless steel surfaces. A neutral cleaner with no chloride is preferred. Beware that many products labelled “for stainless steel” may damage particular surfaces. Only use products specifically designed for stainless steel. Ensure the product is not acidic, abrasive, or contains chloride. Rinse off well with a damp cloth.

Commercial Stainless Steel Cleaners - Many commercial cleaners are available and most are safe and very effective when used according to the instructions. But always test first.

Detailed Cleaning Guide

Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel Kitchen Sinks

  • Sprinkle any stains with baking soda and spray with water (or vinegar for tougher stains). Wipe with a plastic sponge while the powder is fizzing (for vinegar), then wipe off and rinse with a damp cloth.
  • Use a powdered special purpose stainless steel cleanser with and a plastic scouring pad.
  • Only use abrasive powders, steel wool or metallic scourers as a last resort as these products can scratch and tarnish the finish.
  • Do not let household cleaning agents such as bleach stay on the surface of the sink as this may damage the finish of your sink.
  • Do not use silver cleaner.
  • Always rinse the sink after cleaning with chemicals.
  • Do not leave wet sponges, cleaning pads, rubber mats, cloths or dishpans in the sink for longer periods of time.
  • Do not allow liquid soap or other cleansers to dry on the surface of the sink

Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel Cookware

  • To remove mild stains simply use a green scouring pad (not steel wool unless the softer varieties don't work) on the inside of the pans only.
  • Don' use any scoring pads or abrasive powders on the outside as it will dull the mirrored polished surface. Adding baking soda with a few drops of water will increase the scouring action of the green pad.
  • To remove white residues from hard water on the cookware use a mixture of 1:3 parts of vinegar to water. Bring to a boil, allow to cool, then rinse well with hot, soapy water and let dry.
  • Don't use ammonia-based or chlorine bleach or cleaners on your stainless steel cookware.
  • Don't use metal scouring pads or abrasive cleaners, unless all other methods fail as they can scratch the surface. Instead leave the pan to soak for several hours and use for nylon-net scouring pads and nylon or plastic brushes.
  • Use a non-abrasive cleanser like Bar Keepers Friend or Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser for removal of tough stains. Vinegar is also very useful on all stainless steel surfaces.
  • To remove tough stains and food residue, add hot, soapy water to the pan and set aside for an hour to soak and soften the stain. Transfer the pan to the stove top and simmer the soapy water for about 10 to 15 minutes (make sure the pan does not boil over). Let the water cool down and then scrub with a nylon brush or scouring pad. Rinse and dry.

Tips for cleaning Stainless Steel Barbecues

  • Remove ordinary stains with a bucket of mild soap and warm water, and a nylon brush.
  • Clean the barbecue after every use to prevent build up of stains that get 'baked on' when the barbecue is heated.
  • More stubborn stains can be removed with commercial grade stainless steel cleaners
  • Only rub cleaning scourers parallel to the polish lines, pattern or ‘grain’ of the steel.
  • For tough stains, use ‘stainless’ steel wool or a nylon scourer. Don't use standard steel wool, because it will affect the finish on the stainless steel and may lead to corrosion
  • Use commercial products such as 3M Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish to clean, maintain the metal surface from rust and corrosion and to provide a polished shine to the barbecue.

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson

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Comments 2 comments

Cleaning supply profile image

Cleaning supply 3 years ago

Hi, Nice hub. stainless steal cleaning is very much important to get the shine on that. It will make the stainless steal utensils shiny. You have shared nice tips with us. Thank you for solving our problems through this post.


Judy Filarecki profile image

Judy Filarecki 2 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

Thanks for all the great recommendations. I just got several stainless steel appliances and new cookware and want to be able to start off right with them.

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    Dr. John Anderson (janderson99)753 Followers
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    Dr. John uses scientific skills (PhD) to review and develop natural home cleaning methods, tips & remedies. Safe effective cleaning guides



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