How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

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All the best ways to clean your stainless steel appliances to leave them shiny and streak-free. Plus, which household cleaners you must never use on stainless steel.

A clean kitchen with shiny, streak-free stainless steel appliances

Every kitchen appliance develops a layer of grease and fingerprints over time. Stainless steel appliances like refrigerators tend to show these spots more than other surface materials since they’re semi-reflective. Stainless steel also requires a little extra care since it can get scratched if you use the wrong cleaning products.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

Despite its name, it’s possible to stain stainless steel, especially if you use the wrong products. Some contain harsh abrasives that can permanently scratch stainless steel appliances. Others contain harsh chemicals which can cause corrosion and lead to rust.

To keep from having to replace your expensive fridge or cooktop, never use these to clean:

  • Glass cleaner (e.g., Windex)
  • Oven cleaner
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Scouring pads
  • Household ammonia
  • Bathroom cleaners
  • Scouring powders
  • Steel wool
  • Scrubbing sponges
  • Melamine sponges (like Magic Erasers)
  • Silver polish, brass cleaner, and copper brushes

General Cleaning Spray

For an everyday stainless steel cleaner that removes smudges and spots, use a spray bottle filled with warm water and a little dish soap, plus a pair of lint-free microfiber cloths. First, spray the surface lightly with soapy water and wipe in circles to remove fingerprints, grease, and grime. Then, wipe the other cloth along the direction of the grain until the surface is dry. Doing this as part of your daily cleaning routine will keep your stainless steel looking clean all the time. 

Stainless Steel Grease-Remover

To thoroughly clean greasy stainless steel appliances, use one part white vinegar and one part hot water plus 2-3 drops of liquid dish detergent. First, spray this on a cleaning cloth and wipe it against the stainless steel grain with a microfiber cloth to remove greasy dirt. Then repeat, wiping along the grain. Finally, dry the surface well with a lint-free, soft cloth.

How to Remove Stubborn Dirt on Stainless Steel

The best way to remove stubborn dirt or dried food spots from stainless steel is with a paste made from baking soda and water. First, combine the two until you reach the consistency of toothpaste. Then, use a cloth or a soft-bristled brush to apply it and rub gently in a circle to dislodge the grime. Finally, wash and shine the area to protect it.

Note: In a pinch, you can use cornstarch or flour in place of the baking soda, or substitute non-whitening toothpaste for the entire baking soda mixture. 

How to Make Stainless Steel Shine

Once you’ve cleaned your stainless steel appliances, you can restore the shine and prolong how long it stays looking good. To shine stainless steel surfaces, wipe them along the grain with a lint-free cloth and a small amount of neutral oil, like grapeseed oil, mineral or baby oil, or even canola oil. There is no need to wipe off this layer — it will act to keep your stainless steel shiny and protect it from fingerprints.

• Do not use too much oil. You only need a couple of drops since you’re aiming to create a thin protective layer of oil on the surface.

• Choose neutral, unflavored oils. Avoid using olive oil, sesame oil, or coconut oil since they go rancid and are also likely to attract pests. 

Common Questions about Cleaning Stainless Steel

Below are some frequently asked questions concerning stainless steel surfaces in the home. If you have a question that’s not covered, feel free to ask it in the comment section!

Can I use Windex on stainless steel?

Do not use Windex and other window cleaners on your stainless steel. Windex contains ammonia which can strip the manufacturer’s glossy finish on your appliances. You may not notice the damage after one or two applications, but it is eroding the finish with each use. 

How should I clean my stainless steel sink?

To keep your stainless steel sink clean, wash it with dishwashing liquid and water at least once a day. Remove stubborn spots with baking soda or a soft powder like Bon Ami or Bar Keeper’s Friend, a sponge, and a little elbow grease. Then, rinse it well and buff it dry with a clean towel. For a shiny kitchen sink, use a soft lint-free cloth to rub a drop or two of neutral oil into the surface. To disinfect it, use this homemade daily sink spray.

What’s a good way to clean a stainless steel garbage can?

You should wash indoor trash cans every couple of weeks and outdoor garbage cans monthly. To clean trash cans, use soapy water and a long-handled brush with soft bristles to dislodge grime and spills. Rinse well with warm water and let them air-dry in a sunny spot. To disinfect stainless steel garbage cans, apply a spray made from equal parts water and 70% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) and let it air dry. You can also use Lysol disinfecting spray or wipes on stainless steel, but do not use bleach.

How should I clean my stainless steel pot and pans?

Stainless steel cookware cleans easily in dishwashers or with hot water and dish soap. For stubborn spots, soak it in hot water for a few minutes then sprinkle the mess with baking soda and scour it with a soft cloth or sponge. Half a lemon dipped in table salt also does a great job of removing spots and rust on stainless steel pans. Once you’ve removed cooked-on food, wash it again and pat it dry. For more tips, see “How to Cook with Stainless Steel.”

How do I keep stainless steel handles clean?

If you’re tired of seeing fingerprints and streaks on your stainless steel appliance handles, cabinet pulls, or sink faucets, try wiping them along the grain with a sheet of wax paper after cleaning. This trick will leave behind a smooth but unnoticeable layer of wax that repels fingerprints and grime for days. (Or pick up a bottle of faucet wax which also keeps handles spot-free.)

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