How to care for and clean stainless steel
As one of the most resilient materials for household and industrial use, stainless steel is a practical finish for many home surfaces and appliances. It is the chromium film that coats stainless steel that is responsible for its resistance to rust and tarnish, and with proper care this film can provide protection for many years. The integrity of the film can be damaged by dirt and other contaminants, however, so stainless steel must be kept clean.
Follow these guidelines to keep your stainless shining.
Soft cloths or sponges
Mild detergent or ammonia solution
- Attend to stains as quickly as possible. Stainless steel does not hold stains easily, but it's best to clean up spills and marks as quickly as possible. While it will probably be possible to remove a stain after it sets, it will require more work and potentially damaging or scratching cleaners.
- Fill a sink or bucket with warm, soapy water or a weak ammonia and water solution. Stainless steel is durable, but can be sensitive to harsh cleaners, so for routine cleaning, use a gentle detergent, such as dish soap. Dilute the detergent with very warm water. It is better to have too little detergent than too much.
- Soak the object to be cleaned in the soapy water. If you are cleaning something small, such as a stainless pan, you can soak it to help remove burnt-on food or other stains if necessary. For really tough jobs, soak overnight. For larger objects or lightly soiled dishes, skip this step.
- Wet a soft towel or dish cloth in the soapy water. If you've soaked the stainless steel, you will probably need to change the water now so that it is clean and warm. Whenever possible, avoid using an abrasive cloth on stainless steel. Instead, get a soft cloth or nylon sponge, dip it in the water-detergent solution, and wring it out thoroughly. If you prefer to use a cleaning brush, choose one with soft bristles.
- Scrub the stainless steel. Take your cloth and softly scrub the surface. It is 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 with a circular motion. Rinse and wring out your cloth frequently to keep it damp and to avoid smearing potentially abrasive contaminants over the surface of the steel.
- Rinse thoroughly with warm, clean water. Using a clean cloth or sponge, wet and wipe down the stainless. Be sure to remove all the detergent residue - it can leave streaks and a rainbow-coloured discolouration.
- Repeat if necessary. The gentle cleaning should take care of most dirt and contaminants, but if stains persist, repeat the process. Be patient - persistent scrubbing will usually win out over even the toughest stains.
- Apply a mild abrasive cleaner. Only apply an abrasive product after you've exhausted your patience (and your arms) scrubbing. Start by trying a paste of water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Rub the paste onto the stainless with a soft cloth. Again, exercise patience, scrub well and rinse thoroughly.
- 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 using a second cloth, again rubbing with the grain.
- Clean often. You probably regularly clean stainless steel dishes, but most people let contaminants build up on larger objects. The more frequently you clean, the easier cleaning will be and the less chance you will have of contaminants damaging the protective film.
- If you have one, use a dishwasher for stainless steel dishes. Dishwashers are perfect for cleaning small stainless objects. They use very warm water, gentle cleaners, and are persistent and gentle in their "scrubbing."
- If you just can't get a stain out by soaking and gentle cleaning, you may just want to leave it. An isolated stain or discolouration is preferable to the potential damage to the finish that could result from applying a harsh chemical to the stainless. Oven cleaner works fine, spray on and wait 1 hour, then wipe off.
- Be careful when mixing any types of cleaners. Don't mix commercial cleaners with vinegar or with other brands.
- Do not 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.