People have been looking for ways of easily and effectively cleaning their stainless steel appliances ever since manufacturers began using the shiny metal to finish kitchen appliances. Stainless steel is used on everything from refrigerators to toasters, and while the surface looks great when it is clean, stainless steel is notorious for proudly showing every smudge and fingerprint.

When looking for products to easily clean their stainless steel appliances, people have tried everything from plain soap and water to furniture polish to keep their appliances shiny. However, as one homeowner found out the hard way, using the two in combination doesn’t work, as the water will remove the furniture polish and leave an unsightly waxy buildup that is very difficult to remove.


Besides the fact that it looks all smooth and shiny, stainless steel has a nonporous surface that is highly effective in hindering the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria. This is why stainless steel is used almost exclusively in commercial kitchens, as it doesn’t easily map despite its daily beatings. However, this doesn’t mean rust and stains don’t happen.

For the past several years, appliance designers have argued over whether stainless steel will continue to be a popular choice in kitchens around the globe, or lose its popularity to easier-to-clean surfaces like glossy enameled-coated stoves and dishwashers with smooth finishes. While the designers debate the issue, millions of consumers persist in their choice to live with the smudge-prone, but very cool looking, stainless steel. Irrelevant of how much stainless steel you have in your home, here is what those in the know recommend to clean stainless steel appliances easily:

How Not to Clean Stainless

The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers emphasis to appliance owners the protective film on stainless steel surfaces must be protected. If the film becomes compromised from cleaning with something abrasive like a steel-wool pad, wire brush, is exposed to harsh cleansers that contain chlorides or is contacted by mineral-rich hard water for extended periods of time the surface will be damaged. Once the film has been compromised dirt and smudges will be much more visible and harder to remove.

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Getting Stains off the Stainless

For safely cleaning stainless steel surfaces you must begin with the proper tools. The Stainless Steel Development Associations of several different countries all recommend that stainless steel only is cleaned with a soft sponge or a microfiber cloth as a good first line of defense in protecting the surface finish. For really tough stains homeowners can use a plastic scouring pad and light pressure, but under no circumstances ever use a steel scouring pad to clean a stainless steel finish.

Go with the Flow

Always clean stainless steel surfaces that have a brushed or polished finish with the grain, meaning wiping the surface in the same directions as the lines etched into the metal. This will help prevent the pattern from taking on a haphazard look.

Stainless-Steel Cleaning Solutions

As far as selecting a cleaning product, the Stainless Steel Development Associations all recommend that you never use one commercially-prepared cleaning product with one of a different chemical makeup, as most cleaners do not blend well. There are also several different cleaning solutions that you can make from everyday household products, like vinegar and baking soda. Irrelevant of which cleaner you use, the key to keeping your stainless steel appliance fresh and shiny is to find a cleaner you like and stick with it, as the more you switch cleaners the more difficult it becomes to keep the surface looking good.

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For hard-water stains, in a stainless steel sink or drips on the fridge door from the ice dispenser, a stainless steel cleaner designed to remove mineral buildup. However, for regular cleaning the Stainless Steel Development Associations all emphasise that most cleaners contain chlorides, and as such recommend using one of the following solutions:

Baking soda mixed with water for removing coffee stains:

  • A 50-50 mix of white vinegar and water for removing limescale
  • Alcohol-based solvents for removing adhesives
  • A chloride-free glass cleaner for getting a polished, mirror-like shine
  • Commercially made paste or sprays that are specifically formulated for use on stainless steel surfaces

Other Useful Cleaning Tips

For a natural do-it-yourself approach to cleaning your stainless surfaces using only organic household items the Sustainable Living Coalition, located in Fairfield, Iowa, advises using a damp cloth with water and white vinegar and wiping the surface in the direction of the grain. For a brilliant shine, apply a little olive oil to a clean microfiber cloth and vigorously buff the surface with the grain. To clean a stainless sink the coalition suggests pouring straight club soda onto a microfiber cloth, scrub and then wipe dry.

Making it Shine

Many of the spray-on cleaners formulated specifically for cleaning ornamental stainless steel items, like sculptures, are also great for polishing up your stainless steel toaster and blender. However, since these sprays are silicone based, the cleaners will easily remove marks like fingerprints, but not prevent the smudges from reoccurring. The Stainless Steel Development Associations states the silicone can be easily washed off stainless surfaces with a mild dish detergent and water.

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Non-chloride polishing pastes formulated for stainless steel also work great at keeping stainless steel sparkling. These commercially produced pastes create a microscopic layer of wax on the surface that makes future cleaning a snap. Because the paste contains wax it is very resistant to soaps, so a single treatment can last for several weeks. If needed, the paste-type polishes can be easily removed using isopropyl alcohol on a dry microfiber cloth.

As a safety note commercially produced polishes used to clean decorative stainless-steel surfaces, like your refrigerator door and sink backsplash, shouldn’t be used to clean pots and pans or other surfaces that come into contact with food. This is because the ingredients in most cleaners and polishes are highly toxic if ingested. Finally, never use silver jewelry polish on stainless steel, as the ingredients are corrosive to steel surfaces.

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