Stainless steel has been the go-to finish or kitchen appliances for a good decade now, and its popularity is showing no signs of waning any time soon. And why not? It’s clean and modern-looking, and the metallic sheen is easy to blend with any decor, no matter how often you may want to redecorate. It’s hard to imagine it being knocked off the top spot on people’s wish lists any time soon.
If there’s a drawback to stainless steel appliances, however, it’s in the basic care and cleaning of these kitchen workhorses. Cleaning stainless steel appliances is a task that can seem never-ending, thanks to the finish’s unique ability to attract smudges and fingerprints. If you live with kids, you know this to be true: Just as soon as you finish cleaning stainless steel, it’s bound to get a little handprint on it within the week — if not the day.
To stay on top of it, you might be tempted to invest in specially formulated stainless steel cleaners. These work well, but they’ll get pricey in the long run — and they’re chemical cleaners that aren’t great for the environment. Fortunately, you probably have everything you need to keep your stainless steel sink and appliances looking great in your pantry already.Try these great tips for cleaning stainless steel with natural ingredients, and you’ll fall back in love with your kitchen again.
What Not to Do When Cleaning Stainless Steel Surfaces
First, do no harm. Stainless steel is incredibly durable, but that’s due in large part to its high chromium content. This forms a tough coating on the exterior of the metal where it has been oxidized, but a too-vigorous cleaning regimen can scratch or damage the surface. This will lead to unsightly blemishes at best and outright rust at worst. To protect your stainless steel refrigerator and other appliances, be sure to always avoid the following:
- Steel wool, scouring pads or other abrasive scrubbing materials (even the scouring side of a kitchen sponge can be too much).
- Chlorine bleach or chlorine-based cleaning products like certain mildew sprays.
- Oven cleaners and other cleaning solutions meant for the interior of your stainless steel range.
- Abrasive cleaners with gritty additives.
- Very hard water from the tap, which can leave mineral deposits and streaks.
Basic Fingerprint Removal
If you’re fighting the good fight against fingerprints and smudges, a daily wipe down is the best way to keep your appliances looking shiny and sharp. Instead of a paper towel, switch to a soft cloth for better buffing power. An old — but clean! — cloth diaper is a good choice, as is a microfiber cloth or chamois. Old T-shirts work great, too.
You can start by simply rubbing at the smudges to see if they lift without breaking out any of the big guns. As you wipe, be sure to run your clean cloth in the direction of the “grain” of the stainless steel. It will be tempting to go in circles in random patterns, but this is more likely to leave smears and could affect the sheen of the appliances overall. If you’re not sure how the grain runs, try looking at the appliance at an angle by standing almost next to it. This should illuminate tiny lines running either horizontally or vertically — usually along the longest stretch of the surface.
Unless you’ve polished your stainless steel to prevent smudges (more on this in a minute), it’s likely that you’ll need to dig a little deeper to get the fingerprints gone. Fingerprints are caused by the oils on our hands, along with some sweat and whatever thing your child last picked up on the playground. To cut through the natural oils and grease, try dampening your lint-free cloth with white vinegar and buffing anew. The gentle acidity should help remove smudges and smears while acting as a mild disinfectant. Buff with a dry cloth to avoid streaking, and you’re done.
Fingerprint Prevention and Polishing
If you’re tired of the daily wipe down — and really, this isn’t what you signed up for when you designed your kitchen, is it? — you can give your stainless steel a little extra love by providing a thin, protective coating of oil. No really — oil from hands in places you don’t want it is bad, but a nice, even layer all over will protect your stainless from hard water stains, lime build-up and all manner of handprints.
To polish your stainless steel, first wipe it down all over with white vinegar as described above. Buff out your smudges, go with the grain and give the whole thing a good once-over to make sure you’re dealing with a clean surface.
Next, dab your cloth in a little bit of olive oil and gently rub it into your stainless steel surfaces, once again making sure to move your cloth along the grain. Buff until you appliances are shiny — they shouldn’t feel greasy to the touch. This little bit of oil repels smudges and stains so you don’t have to clean nearly as often. Touch up as necessary with vinegar and oil to keep the good times rolling.
Note: Baby oil and mineral oil will also work, but if you’re at all concerned about using only food-grade ingredients to clean your kitchen, stick with non-yellowing olive oil instead.
Scrubbing Away Tougher Stains
Sometimes, you have more to worry about than just fingerprints on your stainless steel. If you have sticky spots, caked-on dirt or hard water stains, it’s probably going to take more than vinegar to get things clean again — but that’s still the best place to start.
Once you’ve scrubbed away loose dirt and debris, and you’ve done your best with white vinegar and a buffing cloth, you may need more scrubbing power. This is where baking soda comes in handy. Its powdery texture makes a very gentle abrasive that shouldn’t scratch your stainless steel. To use it, try making a paste by adding just enough water to the baking soda so that it sticks together. Apply to the dirty spots and begin to gently scrub with a cloth, going with the grain of the metal as much as possible. As your stain begins to flake away, wipe up debris with a paper towel and continue buffing with baking soda until the job is done.
For a little extra cleaning power, you can apply the baking soda paste and then dip your cloth into vinegar before scrubbing. This will create a foamy natural cleaner that helps to lift away stubborn grime.
When you’re done scrubbing, wipe away the bulk of the baking soda, then rinse. This can be done with vinegar if you plan to polish afterwards (as outlined above). It’s also possible to rinse with club soda. This is best done with a spray bottle and a clean cloth, working — you guessed it! — in the direction of the grain. Club soda is a great choice for avoiding water spots that can come from tap water, and some people recommend it for a little extra oomph when cleaning.
What About Soap and Water?
Soap and water is a somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to stainless steel. A bit of mild dish soap like Dawn will certainly cut through the grease and get things clean, but it can be hard to rinse effectively. A quick pass with a damp cloth usually won’t do it, and you’ll have to go over it several times to make sure you don’t leave behind a sticky soap film that will look dull and unsightly.
Rinsing can bring its own baggage, too. Stainless steel is susceptible to water marks, so you may see streaks or spots if warm water is allowed to air dry on your appliances. Of course, a stainless kitchen sink or countertops will often get wet, so you can experiment to see if it’s a problem with your water. If so stick with vinegar.
Pro Tip: You can take that baking soda paste to the next level as a DIY sink cleanser with a lemon. Once you’ve applied the baking soda paste to dirty spots, cut a lemon in half and use it to scrub away lime, scale and water marks. The acid in the lemon juice works wonders on faucets and drain covers, and you can grind the whole thing up in the garbage disposal and wash it down with hot water to disinfect your drain, too.
Keeping Your New Stainless Steel Happy
Now that you know how to keep your appliances clean, it’s much easier to enjoy them. With a quick trip to the grocery store, you can easily find everything you need to win the battle against fingerprints for good and protect your stainless steel from future smudges and corrosion. Cleaning your stainless steel kitchen with baking soda and other natural ingredients is simple to do, and it’s a healthy, inexpensive choice to make your cleaning routine really works.
What About Black Stainless Steel?
For more information on cleaning black stainless steel products, see our post How to Clean Black Stainless Steel – Care and Maintenance Tips.
Learn More about NewAir’s Black Stainless Steel Appliances:
In two different sizes, each black stainless steel wine or beverage cooler makes the perfect complement to any home.
- NewAir Black Stainless Steel Wine Cooler – 29-Bottle Dual Zone
- NewAir Black Stainless Steel Wine Cooler – 46-Bottle Dual Zone
- NewAir Black Stainless Steel Beverage Cooler – 96-Can
- NewAir Black Stainless Steel Beverage Cooler – 177-Can