How to Clean Stainless Steel So It Sparkles
Once you know how to clean stainless steel, those streaks, smudges and stains will be ancient history
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Stainless steel is one of the most popular finishes for everything from appliances and sinks to cookware. Why? For starters, those gorgeous reflective surfaces take your room from ordinary to refined. Plus, stainless steel appliances go with every decor choice, from bold colors to retro finishes. No matter how many makeovers your kitchen may get over the years, these glimmering silver appliances will always fit right in—provided you know how to clean stainless steel.
The downside to stainless steel refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, kitchen sinks, cookware and other appliances: They seem to attract every fingerprint and water stain within a three-mile radius. You’ll definitely earn your cleaning stripes trying to keep them shining!
Stainless steel items undoubtedly deserve that spot on your cleaning schedule, especially when you’re cleaning the kitchen. But once you learn how to clean stainless steel, you can keep your appliances, sink and cookware looking good as new.
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Gather your supplies
If your appliances and cookware are looking a little spotted, streaky and fingerprint-y, it’s time to learn how to clean stainless steel. And that means it’s time to break out the cleaning supplies. The products you use will depend on the state of your stainless steel, the manufacturer’s recommendations and what supplies you have on hand.
Depending on the cleaning method you choose, you may need some of these products:
- Stainless steel cleaner
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Dish soap
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
- Steam cleaner
DIY stainless steel cleaners
It’s best to follow the cleaning recommendations for your specific appliance (more on that below), but there are a few homemade cleaning solutions that will get the job done gently and effectively.
- Baking soda: Sprinkle a bit of baking soda onto a damp cloth and lightly buff out any marks. Use a second damp cloth to wipe away the powder residue.
- Dish soap: Mix a few drops of a de-greasing dish soap, like Dawn, into hot water. Wash the stainless steel with a microfiber cloth dipped in the soapy water, rinse with hot water and dry immediately with a fresh, dry cloth.
- Vinegar: Pour distilled white vinegar into a spray bottle and spritz it onto the appliance. Wipe the vinegar off with a microfiber cloth or paper towel.
The best stainless steel cleaners
Stainless steel is easy to clean, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. These store-bought stainless steel cleaners will help you get the job done.
How to clean stainless steel appliances
Cleaning stainless steel is relatively straightforward, but there’s no single best method for getting your appliance to look as good as new. It’s a smart idea to check for any special instructions from the manufacturer and learn about the cleaning methods available to you. The cleaning tips below will help you get started.
Check the manual
According to Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of Aspen Clean, to learn how to clean stainless steel, look to the owner’s manual.
“It’s important to check the manual, because different types of stainless steel appliances have different cleaning requirements,” she says, noting that it’ll typically include instructions on the type of natural cleaning agents to use, as well as those to avoid. “Indeed, some of them can damage the surface of stainless steel or cause discoloration. Others may leave a residue or film that can be difficult to remove.”
Additionally, some types of stainless steel appliances have a special finish or coating that requires specific care instructions. “For example, brushed or satin finishes can be easily scratched or dulled by abrasive cleaning pads or acidic cleaning agents,” she says.
By checking the manual, you can ensure that you are using the proper cleaning techniques and products to maintain the appearance and integrity of your stainless steel surfaces.
Go with the grain
Stainless steel grain refers to the pattern of microscopic lines or grooves that are visible on the surface of the material. “These lines are created during the manufacturing process, when the steel is rolled or drawn through a series of rollers to shape it into its final form,” explains Sokolowski.
The direction of the grain can have important implications for the appearance and performance of stainless steel products. And it can affect the strength and ductility of the material.
“Go with the grain” means you should always wipe in the direction of the grain. “If you don’t, it will be a lot easier for dirt and cleaning chemicals to build up within the tiny cracks of the grain over time, decreasing the shine and overall beauty of the material,” she says.
Give it a quick clean
The quickest way to clean stainless steel will depend on the level of dirt or grime on the surface. For a light cleaning, you can use warm water and a microfiber cloth. “Simply dampen the cloth with warm water and wipe the surface clean,” Sokolowski says.
Use a vinegar solution or stainless steel cleaner
For tougher stains or marks, use a stainless steel cleaner or vinegar solution. “To mix that solution, mix equal parts water and white vinegar,” says Sokolowski. “Then dampen a microfiber cloth with the solution and wipe the surface clean, going with the grain of the stainless steel.”
Use baking soda paste
For stubborn stains, use a baking soda paste. To make it, mix a quarter cup of baking soda and enough water to create a paste that’s “thick enough to spread easily but not runny,” Sokolowski says. “Then apply the paste to the appliances, and you can even rub gently in a circular motion. Let it sit for five to 10 minutes, then rinse and dry. Use a damp microfiber cloth to do so.”
While you are on your kitchen cleaning spree, learn how to clean your countertops and your stovetop.
Sanitize with a steam cleaner
You can also sterilize stainless steel using steam, with the help of a steam cleaner that has a nozzle attachment. “The steam will disinfect the surface, which can then be wiped dry with a microfiber cloth. Stainless steel can scratch easily, so avoid using a brush attachment or any stiff cleaning tools,” says Sokolowski.
How to clean stainless steel sinks
Grace Cary/Getty Images
Face it: Your sink is gross. (Don’t worry, it’s not just yours.) Considering the use they get, it’s probably not a huge surprise that they’re so germy. That’s why it’s crucial that you learn how to clean a kitchen sink the right way. And that depends, in part, on its material.
If yours is stainless steel, gather the supplies below. You probably have some (or all!) of them on hand.
Ready to learn how to clean a stainless steel sink? Transforming your basin from dull to sparkling just takes five simple steps.
Step 1: Rinse the sink
Remove all items from the sink. Once it’s empty, Sokolowski suggests starting with a warm-water rinse. Run it over the sink to remove any loose debris or food particles.
Step 2: Apply cleaning solution
Sprinkle a natural cleaning product over the surface of the sink. Naturally, Sokolowski loves Aspen Clean’s Super Scrub Powder, but DIY cleaners also do the trick. Sprinkle baking soda over the surface, then use water to make a paste. Or simply mix water and baking soda into a paste that you can spread over the sink.
Step 3: Scrub the sink
Use a sponge to scrub the sink gently with the cleaning solution, paying extra attention to any areas with stains or discoloration.
Step 4: Rinse the sink
Rinse thoroughly with warm water, ensuring that all the cleaning solution has been removed.
Step 5: Dry the sink
Use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to wipe down the sink and remove any remaining water or moisture. “Be sure to dry the sink completely to prevent water spots or discoloration,” says Sokolowski.
How to clean stainless steel cookware
Grace Cary/Getty Images
If you’re worried about chemicals in your kitchen, stainless steel is among the safest cookware you can use. It’s not, however, the quickest to clean. Still, with the right supplies and a little elbow grease, you can remove even the most caked-on food.
You’ve cooked up a fantastic meal … and a mess. It’s time to clean that cookware. Cue up your cleaning playlist on Spotify, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Step 1: Let the cookware cool
After cooking, always allow your stainless steel cookware to cool down to room temperature, says Sokolowski.
Step 2: Soak the cookware
Fill the cookware with warm water and a few pumps of natural dish soap or a few drops of white vinegar. Let it soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 3: Gently scrub the cookware
Use a nonabrasive sponge to scrub the cookware gently. “Pay extra attention to any areas with burnt or stuck-on food,” she notes.
Step 4: Rinse the cookware
Rinse thoroughly with warm water, ensuring that all the soap or vinegar has been removed.
Step 5: Dry the cookware
Run a clean, dry dish towel over the cookware to sop up the water. “Be sure to dry the cookware thoroughly to prevent water spots or discoloration,” says Sokolowski.
For stubborn stains: Make a baking soda paste
If you’re dealing with discoloration or stains that just won’t budge (hey, we’ve all been there), you may need a little extra cleaning power. Sokolowski recommends using a mixture of baking soda (or a natural cleaning scrub) and water.
“Simply make a paste by mixing baking soda and water, apply it to the affected areas and let it sit for a few minutes,” she says. “Then scrub gently with a nonabrasive sponge and rinse with warm water,” she says.
Bigger messes may need even more work, so be sure you know the right way to clean a burnt pot.
LOOK Photography/Getty Images
How to prevent streaks
To prevent streaks, avoid buffing in a repetitive, circular motion or against the steel’s natural grain. This can cause a streaky film. Instead, repeat after us: Go with the grain.
How to preserve stainless steel
Stainless steel is durable, which makes the initial cost an investment worth every penny. Regular (at least weekly) wipe-downs with safe ingredients will keep stainless steel in tip-top shape and your kitchen looking clean.
Avoid letting any food spills harden and set in. Aside from looking messy, they become more difficult to remove the longer they sit. Worse, they can interfere with the appliance’s functionality and can potentially be a fire safety hazard on your stovetop.
While stainless steel is overall resistant to rust, you still need to wipe away excess water and water spots immediately to prevent prolonged contact. If rust does start to form, create a paste of baking soda and water, then scrub the solution onto the rust stain with a toothbrush.
How to shine stainless steel
You don’t need a trendy TikTok cleaning hack to enhance your stainless steel’s natural shine. Just turn to a commercial stainless steel cleaner and polish, like Therapy Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish. It contains a heavy dose of coconut oil for a glimmering, post-clean finish.
Sokolowski adds that you can also use olive oil to shine stainless steel. “Remember to apply only a small amount on a microfiber cloth,” she says. Rub it onto the stainless steel surface, going with the grain of the steel. And don’t forget to wipe off any excess. Use a dry cloth to buff the surface.
Additional reporting by Kaitlin Clark.
- Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of Aspen Clean