How to Clean Stainless Steel Surfaces

Hate those streaks and fingerprints on your appliances and sink? Here’s how to clean and revitalize your stainless steel surfaces, including a homemade cleaning spray.

Clean and shiny stainless steel French door refrigerator sitting alone against a blank blue wall.

How to Clean and Shine Stainless Steel

Stainless steel appliances can look gorgeous in your kitchen as long as they’re spotless and streak-free. Unfortunately, these surfaces are magnets for fingerprints and grime. Plus, they seem to grow a layer of grease every time you cook. The guide below explains the best ways to clean stainless steel surfaces in your home and keep them streak-free.

Light or Daily Cleaning

The easiest way to clean stainless steel without leaving streaks is by using two cloths, one wet and one dry. Get one wet with soap and water, or spray it with this homemade all-purpose cleaner. Rub in circles with a wet cloth to get rid of fingerprints, grease, and grime. Then switch to a soft, dry cloth and rub along the stainless steel’s grain — the direction of the lines on it — until the surface is completely dry.

What NOT To Use

When I wrote about cooking with stainless steel pots and pans, I explained how this metal is surprisingly porous and softer than you’d think. Even though it feels smooth to touch, it’s not smooth at all on a microscopic level. That’s why stainless steel collects grime and holds onto it. It’s also why it’s important that you use the right cleaning products to clean, or you’ll scratch it and also leave streaks.

Things you should never use to clean stainless steel include:

  • Harsh abrasives or scouring powders. Anything grittier than baking soda (bicarbonate) or Bar Keeper’s Friend can scratch the surface.
  • Steel wool or metal scrubbing pads. Again, these are far too abrasive.
  • Chlorine bleach: Using bleach on stainless steel causes discoloration. It’s not actually a stain but a chemical reaction that oxidizes and corrodes the steel surface.

If you’ve been using any of these methods to clean stainless steel, stop now. Just because you don’t see the damage doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It will only worsen over time. In fact, if you’re finding it hard to get your stainless steel clean and feel like it’s starting to look dull, improper cleaning may be the reason. Read on for the best ways to clean stainless steel.

Woman polishing stainless steel sink with homemade cleaner

How to Make Stainless Steel Look New Again

If your stainless steel surfaces get heavy use, or if it’s been a while since you’ve thoroughly cleaned them, they can start to look dull and grimy. In homes with hard water, you might also see a lot of spotting on your stainless steel sink or a white crusty buildup near the hose sprayer or other outlets.

Follow the steps below to revitalize your stainless steel surfaces. If you’d rather use a store-bought version, Weiman’s makes both stainless steel cleaning spray and wipes. Interestingly, a glance at their safety data sheets shows the primary ingredients in both are mineral oil and alcohol — two ingredients that my homemade cleaner recipe below uses, too.

Homemade Stainless Steel Cleaner

This method eliminates grease, water spots, and hard water buildup. Then it revitalizes your stainless steel’s shine and continues working to repel fingerprints and streaks.

Equipment you will need:

  • Empty basin or sink
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Soft, lint-free cloths (old t-shirts are fine)
  • Old toothbrush
  • Spray bottle

Materials you will need:

  • Warm water
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Baking soda (bicarbonate)
  • 70% strength rubbing isopropyl alcohol (surgical spirit in the UK)*
  • Food-grade mineral oil (or baby oil if you won’t be cleaning food preparation surfaces)

* Stick with the standard 70% strength of rubbing alcohol, or it will evaporate too quickly to clean and leave streaks. If you can’t find rubbing alcohol in your local store’s first aid section, you can substitute an equal amount of cheap vodka instead.

Instructions:

  1. Remove water spots and buildup: Use an old toothbrush or the corner of a microfiber cloth, a little water, and some baking soda to remove hard water spots and mineral buildup on stainless steel. You’ll want to use just enough water to get the area damp without rinsing away the baking soda. Scrub lightly, reapplying more baking soda as needed, until the spot is gone. Rinse well with plain water.
  2. Clean the surface: Use soap and warm water to wash the surface. Be sure to use a microfiber cloth for this since its texture gets into the “pores” and grain of stainless steel to remove grime you don’t see. Rub in circles to lift residue and grease. Get another microfiber cloth damp and wipe away the soapy residue.
  3. Restore shine: Combine equal parts of rubbing alcohol and mineral oil in a spray bottle. Shake well, then spray the stainless steel surface. Use the soft, lint-free cloth to buff the surface until it’s dry, wiping along the grain and not in circles. (Turn off pilot lights before applying to stovetops. Do not use near open flames.)

For best results, give your stainless steel surfaces a light daily cleaning to keep them grease-free. Then use the homemade stainless steel cleaner every week or two to revitalize their shine and add a protective layer that helps keep them streak-free.

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2 Comments

  1. NorCalGal says:

    Hi Katie,
    Now I can’t wait to try it. I also wanted to let you know the fam is now hwht believers too.
    We love your recipes for cleaning products, mainly because they are superior to store bought in their cleaning capabilities. And easy to make.
    I must confess…Santa brought me a roomba and I work him like a dog every day.
    The fam in no particular order: 2 dogs 1 bossy fluffy cat 2 mess maker kids 15years apart for full mess affect and a genius of an engineer hub who can’t see the crumb trail he leaves behind from frosted flakes.
    But my floors have never been cleaner! (still use the Rainbow vac once a week for dust on bookshelves etc.) Any ideas how to make rooms last? I’m reading 3 years max. To conclude my regularly used rainbow is from 1986 and going strong. I’m not gonna get that outta roomba, am I?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      What a nice comment to wake up to! I’m so glad your family likes my cleaning recipes. Isn’t it wonderful knowing you aren’t using things that are bad for the kids, both four- and two-footed?

      That roomba will make it so easy to keep up with the crumbs and furballs. To help it last longer, be sure you empty it after each use. While you do, inspect the wheels and roller brush for hairs or debris and remove any you find. Wash the reusable filters every week or two and let them air dry 24 hours before reinstalling them. Replace non-reusable filters on schedule, too. How often they need to be replaced depends on the manufacturer and model, but at least every season.

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