Can Cleaning Stainless Steel be Painless?

Before we get into cleaning stainless steel, let’s take a look at what makes it ‘stainless’. Stainless steel is an iron alloy that has more than 10 percent chromium. It is this chromium that makes it stainless, but it will really capture fingerprints from the young and old alike. Part of the chromium is used in forming a hard oxide coating that gives it the protection from rusting. Remove this protective coat and stainless will rust.

Back in the early 70’s, I did time as a McDonald’s employee. I was initially a ‘grill man’ and worked my way up to assistant manager. I worked both in Pocatello, Idaho and Helena, Montana and both places had a lot of stainless steel and we were always cleaning stainless steel. We used plain old rubbing alcohol and a soft cloth.

In the 80’s, I worked as a bar tender, and of course, we had stainless. There, we primarily used club soda for cleaning stainless steel.

Around our house, we have a stainless microwave and some flatware and other utensils, but no sinks or other appliances. In most households, stainless steel is used for utensils, tableware, sinks, counter tops and small and large appliances.

It seems to me that there are really two aspects to maintaining good-looking stainless appliances, and they are first cleaning stainless steel and then the protecting it.

Cleaning can be accomplished in several ways: the cheapest is to use a little warm water, a soft cloth and some elbow grease. Then you can move up to a soapy water or a weak ammonia and warm water solution.

Stainless steel is durable, but can be sensitive to harsh cleaners. You don’t want to remove the protective coating. 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.

Do not use any abrasives. But, if you find that you really have to resort to that tactic when cleaning stainless steel, use baking soda. Apply a little to your cleaning cloth and use gently.

Do not use any cleaner with chlorine in it, as the chlorine will damage the finish on stainless. Especially, do not use bleach!

When you’re cleaning stainless steel, always go with the grain of the finish, just like you sand a piece of wood. If you use a circular cleaning pattern, it can cause problems.

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-colored discoloration.

Keep in mind when you're cleaning stainless steel, that if you have hard water, you will probably end up with water spots if you’re not very careful to do a good job of drying your appliance.

Now, if you have looked on the net, to any extent, for a solution to your stainless problems, you know that there are a lot of products and home-remedies out there. Everyone has it’s proponents and it’s detractors.

That might be due to the fact that, according to the Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA), there are over 50 stainless steel grades that were originally recognized by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

So if you have tried something for cleaning stainless steel and it didn’t work, here are some more suggestions. You might have to try all of them to find the one that works for you.

Mineral Oil. After thoroughly cleaning, give it a good rubbing of mineral oil. Follow up with a soft, dry cloth to polish. You can keep the cloth you wiped down with handy in a baggie for a quick swipe at fingerprints as they magically appear. Use mineral oil because it is food safe and will not go rancid like vegetable-based oils.

Olive Oil: Rub stainless steel sinks with olive oil to remove streaks. . Follow up with a soft, dry cloth to polish. The olive oil is safe to use around food prep areas.

Vinegar: To clean and polish stainless steel, simply moisten a cloth with undiluted white or cider vinegar and wipe clean. Follow up with a soft, dry cloth to polish. Can also be used to remove heat stains on stainless steel cutlery.

Club Soda: Remove streaks or heat stains from stainless steel by rubbing with club soda, then follow up with a soft, dry cloth.

To clean a stainless steel sink try making a paste from 3 parts cream of tartar to 1 part hydrogen peroxide. Use a damp cloth and rub gently into the sink surface, covering the entire thing. Let it dry, and then wipe it off with another damp cloth. Wipe it down with rubbing alcohol, then buff with a soft dry cloth.

Lemon Oil furniture polish works on stainless steel appliances. Put it on with a paper kitchen towel and wipe off the excess with a clean one. Since the furniture polish is probably not food grade, don’t use it in the food prep areas (sinks, counters, etc.).

WD-40 can be used in non-food areas. Spray on a cloth, not the appliance. After wiping down the appliance, buff with a soft dry cloth.

Baby Oil; just use a small amount on a soft cloth, rub onto the appliance and rub off excess with a clean cloth.

Orange Glo (for wood furniture) is oil based so it leaves a nice shine and smells great too. Use a small amount on a soft cloth, rub onto the appliance and rub off excess with a clean cloth. Since the furniture polish is probably not food grade, don’t use it in the food prep areas (sinks, counters, etc.).

Endust works better than any stainless steel or kitchen cleaners I've tried. I spray it on and wipe off with a microfiber cloth.

Windex is used it on stainless. Takes off grease, fingerprints, and no oily residue.

Safflower Oil; Use a small amount on a soft cloth, rub onto the appliance and rub off excess with a clean cloth. Since it is food grade, you can use it in the food prep areas (sinks, counters, etc.).

Microfiber. Use a damp microfiber cloth to clean with and a dry one to buff with. Minimal cost and no chemicals.

As you can see, there are a lot of options, just in the home remedy area. There are also a ton of commercial products out there, but I would recommend trying the cheaper home remedies first.

If you buy a commercial product and it doesn’t work on your appliance, you have just wasted your hard-earned money. If the baby oil doesn’t work, there are other things that it can be used for; like the baby.

If you have any other solutions to this common problem, let me know and I’ll share it with everyone.

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