How to Clean Stainless Steel Surfaces

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Cleaning stainless steel surfaces can feel tricky since some products leave a haze while others leave spots. If your appliances are also covered in fingerprints and smudges, it’s important to resist using the wrong methods or you’ll permanently damage the glossy finish. In this post, I explain the three easy steps to clean stainless steel, remove stubborn grime, and leave a protective shine that repels fingerprints and spots.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Surfaces

You need microfiber cloths, liquid dish soap, baking soda, white vinegar, vegetable or olive oil, and a paper towel to get your stainless steel sparkling clean again.

Step 1: Clean with Warm, soapy water.

Make a simple homemade stainless steel cleaner by filling a spray bottle with equal parts warm water and white vinegar, then add 1-2 drops of degreasing dish soap. Remove everything from the surface and spray it lightly. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe it in circular motions to lift away grime.

Step 2: Treat stubborn spots with baking soda.

Dip the corner of a damp cloth into baking soda (bicarbonate) and rub the grimy area in a circular motion. Rinse the cloth, dip it again into the baking soda, and this time rub softly against the grain to remove embedded grime. Once the baking soda has lifted the mess, use a clean, damp cloth to remove the excess.

Step 3: Dry and shine with a small amount of oil.

Buff the surface dry with a clean, soft cloth following the direction of the grain to bring out the shine. The direction of the grain on stainless steel refers to the lines you’ll see on its surface. To increase the shine and add a protective layer that repels water spots and smudges, dampen a paper towel with a tiny amount of olive or vegetable oil and rub the surface in the grain’s direction.


For quick and easy smudge removal on stainless steel, use a felt chalkboard eraser. Swipe the surface in the grain’s direction to erase fingerprints and smudges in a jiff.

What Not to Use

Despite its name, stainless steel is a soft metal that is easily scratched. Manufacturers apply a finish to help repel dirt and protect it. However, using the wrong cleaning products or methods can damage this finish and permanently scratch, pit, or corrode your appliance. To prevent damage, never use glass or oven cleaners, bleach, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, bathroom cleaners, scouring powders, steel wool, or melamine sponges like Magic Erasers.

Frequently Asked Questions

This site exists to help you. One way I do this is by answering frequently asked questions. Below are some of the most common ones. If yours is not covered, please use the comment section.

Can I use Windex?

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. This allows humidity and grease to reach the steel itself, which can cause rust and permanent damage. You may not notice the problem at first, but it is eroding the finish with each use. 

How do I clean mirrored, polished stainless steel?

Some stainless steel has a highly polished, reflective surface resembling a mirror. You can clean this using the same method, but it also benefits from a non-ammonia glass cleaner or specialized cleaning product. Weiman is one brand which makes both a spray and stainless steel cleaning wipes.

How should I clean my stainless steel sink?

To clean your sink, wash it with hot soapy water and treat spots with baking soda or a soft powder like Bon Ami or Bar Keeper’s Friend. Rinse it well and buff it dry with a clean towel to prevent spots. To disinfect your sink, spray with a homemade sink disinfectant made from equal parts water and rubbing alcohol and let that air dry. Then, if you want to add shine, use a couple drops of oil on a paper towel and wipe with the stainless steel’s grain.

Why does it get water spots or streaks?

Like any metal, stainless steel should not be allowed to air dry. Moisture left to air-dry on metal will leave streaks, especially if you have hard water. When you wipe it with a damp cloth, follow it with a dry cloth. Using oil to create the protective layer mentioned can help prevent this.

How do I keep fingerprints off of my stainless steel fridge?

Fingerprint smudges are caused by oils and dirt on fingertips. These can be more noticeable on shiny finishes. Apply a couple of drops of oil (such as mineral oil or olive oil) to a soft, lint-free cloth and gently polish in the direction of the grain. This technique creates a smudge-repelling layer and helps restore the shine to clean stainless steel.

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  1. Priscilla says:

    How can I clean reglazed shower tiles and tub and a reglazed kitchen sink without bleach, vinegar or alcohol? The management folks said to only use Scrubbing Bubbles.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      If you’re renting, I’d encourage you to follow the management company’s advice so they don’t withhold a security deposit or seek compensation for property damage.

  2. Darlene Arruda says:

    Love your cleaning tipo. Keep them coming!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying them!