When your new stainless steel fridge, dishwasher, oven or other appliance first arrives, its pristine gleam instantly brightens up your kitchen. The same goes for a new sink and even cookware. But by week two or three, the luster on these items may be starting to dull, thanks to little fingers, water spots, grease splatters and just plain old wear and tear. Luckily, there are easy ways to restore the glow to your stainless steel kitchen items no matter how old or well-loved they may be.
Using a cleaner formulated specifically for stainless steel — like Good Housekeeping Seal star Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaning Wipes — is a quick fix, especially around appliance door handles and controls. But it is possible to make your stainless steel kitchen items sparkle again with cleaning products you may already have on hand. Follow these tried-and-tested tips from Carolyn Forté, Executive Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab for how to clean all types of stainless steel, including sinks and cookware, and how to remove streaks and add shine.
Note: For any new stainless steel appliance, always consult the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations. Not all finishes are the same. Some have special protective coatings that may need special treatment, so it’s always best before trying any cleaning product to confirm it’s what the manufacturer recommends, especially when your appliance is still under warranty.
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How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances
Despite how quickly it gets marred, stainless steel is surprisingly easy to clean, especially if you wipe it with a cleaner and microfiber cloth made specifically for this finish. Stainless steel appliance cleaners are formulated to dissolve grease without scratching and many leave behind a protective coating to help deter future fingerprints. Microfiber cloths lift and trap dirt and grease and do a better job zapping streaks more quickly than plain cloths or sponges do. Apply a little extra elbow grease when you come to any oily smears or stubborn fingerprints.
If you don’t have any stainless steel appliance cleaner on hand, there are other at-home alternatives you can use for a quick spiff up. But, never, ever use cleaners or scrubbers designed solely for stainless steel sinks or cookware on appliances. They can be too abrasive and scratch the finish.
Stainless Steel Appliance Cleaning Don’ts
- Avoid abrasive scouring powders, scrubbers, bleach and ammonia to keep from damaging the appliance’s finish.
- Never wipe stainless steel against the metal’s grain. Always wipe with the grain to prevent streaking.
- Try not to allow your stainless steel appliances to air dry after cleaning. Buffing them with a clean microfiber cloth minimizes streaks and spots and restores the shine.
DIY Spot Cleaners for Stainless Steel Appliances
- Dish Soap: Mix 1 teaspoon of a good grease-cutting dish detergent, like GH Seal star Dawn, and 1 quart of hot tap water. Dip a microfiber cloth into the solution and rub the marks, going with the metal’s grain. Rinse with clean hot water only and dry immediately with a clean cloth. This technique can also be used to remove any buildup left behind by other cleaning products.
- Mineral Oil: To quickly erase and deter fingerprints, apply a very, very light coating and buff very well to avoid any tacky buildup. Whatever you do, stay away from food-based oils, including vegetable and olive oil, as they can turn rancid.
- Window cleaner: Spray a dry cloth with an ammonia-free and vinegar-free glass cleaner, like Safely Glass Cleaner, and then wipe the surface clean. Buff with a clean dry cloth.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Sinks and Cookware
Unlike with appliances, it’s perfectly okay to scrub stainless steel sinks and pots in a circular motion and with a mildly abrasive cleanser, like Brillo Cameo Cleaner and a scrub pad. In fact, it helps remove stuck-on bits of food, clean away heat marks on cookware, hide scratches and give them a warm, glowing patina. Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly for the best shine.
How to Get Streaks off Stainless Steel Appliances
While you can use dish soap or mineral oil to remove pesky marks and smudges, the easiest way to bring back your appliance’s natural shine is by using cleaners formulated specifically for stainless steel. On top of that, look for a cleaner with a protectant to help repel soil and fingerprints. That way you may not have to clean your appliances as frequently.
Regardless of what kind of stainless steel cleaner you’re using, make sure to apply it according to package directions and wipe in the direction of the metal’s grain. Streaks are usually the result of wiping against the grain or in a circular motion, using the wrong or a dirty cloth, not using enough cleaner to dissolve greasy film or not buffing thoroughly enough after cleaning. For added shine, buff the entire surface well afterward with a clean microfiber cloth.
How to Clean Rust off Stainless Steel Appliances
If the protective finish on your appliance has been damaged and you notice little rust spots starting to form, dip a damp cloth in a little baking soda and rub lightly to remove the rust. Wipe clean, apply a stainless steel polish to the area and buff to blend.
Does Vinegar Damage Stainless Steel?
Using vinegar to clean stainless steel sinks is okay, but we don’t recommend cleaning your stainless steel appliances with it. Stainless steel sinks and cookware can withstand a bit more muscle from acidic or mildly abrasive cleansers often needed to scour away food particles and hard water stains and buff out scratches. Stainless steel appliances have different and more delicate finishes that can be damaged by acids like vinegar. When in doubt, checking your appliance makers’ website for cleaning instructions and spot testing your chosen cleaning method on a small, hidden corner of your appliance is always a good idea.
Amanda Garrity is a lifestyle writer and editor with over seven years of experience, including five years on staff at Good Housekeeping, where she covered all things home and holiday, including the latest interior design trends, inspiring DIY ideas and gift guides for any (and every) occasion. She also has a soft spot for feel-good TV, so you can catch her writing about popular shows like Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias, Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart and more.
Jodhaira (she/her) is a product reviews analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Home Care & Cleaning Lab, where she tests and writes about home appliances, cleaning products and cleaning tips. Prior to joining GH in 2021, she graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelor’s degree in forensic science and spent two years as an analyst in an environmental lab in Queens.