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5 Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel

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The distinctive shine of stainless steel is found everywhere you look -- from the kitchen sink to the pinnacle of the Chrysler Building. And no wonder: It's a high- performance marvel, an extremely durable material that does not corrode or rust. It doesn't stain easily, either, although it's not stain-proof. Low maintenance and distinctive luster make it popular for use in cookware, cutlery, hardware, and major appliances like refrigerators and stovetops, as well as surgical instruments and many industrial applications.

Stainless steel needs to be cleaned to look its best and to prevent corrosion. Oxygen from the atmosphere combines with the chromium in the stainless steel to form a passive chromium oxide film that protects the object from further corrosion. Any contamination on the surface by dirt or oils hampers this process and traps corrosive agents, reducing corrosion protection.

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Luckily, stainless steel is easy to clean using several inexpensive methods. Unlike some materials, it thrives with frequent cleaning. It's impossible to wear out stainless steel by cleaning it too much.

Read on to learn more about cleaning stainless steel, from the gentlest methods to the most aggressive.

It's true: Most of the time, stainless steel will come clean with warm water, with or without a gentle detergent. Simply rinse your stainless steel pots or cutlery in the sink and clean them with a gentle cloth. If you'd like, add a little of your favorite household detergent to make the job easier.

Sometimes water may contain mineral solids that can leave water spots on stainless steel, so wipe thoroughly with dry towels to keep your pots and pans or appliances looking their best.

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Be sure to use this cleaning method first before you move on to other solutions. You may find a little warm water and suds will do the trick, and you don't need to bother with harsher cleaning solutions.

Try using a mildly abrasive cleaner on tougher stains.
Try using a mildly abrasive cleaner on tougher stains.
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For tougher food stains on pots and pans or dirt and grime build-up on your kitchen sink, mild non-scratching abrasive powders may be in order for a thorough cleaning. Typical household cleaners like Comet or Ajax will do the trick, but you can find many specialty stainless steel cleaners at your neighborhood grocery store. This method works wonders if you have a stainless steel grill on your deck, where it may accumulate dirt and grime from exposure to the elements. Panini makers or waffle irons may also benefit from a thorough cleansing.

Use cleaning compounds with warm water, soft bristle brushes, or clean cloths for best results. Don't use carbon steel brush or steel wool, because they can leave particles embedded on the surface that might lead to rusting.

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After cleaning, always rinse with clean, hot water and enjoy the shine of your new-looking pots, pans, kitchen sink or appliance.

A very effective and frugal cleaner for your stainless steel appliances may be hiding in your pantry: vinegar. Simply fill a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar, spray on all your stainless steel surfaces, and wipe dry with a soft cloth.

This method works because the acetic acid in the vinegar cuts through the oil left behind by fingertips, rather than smearing it around like other cleaners. Some cooks use lemon juice, which has a similar effect.

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Vinegar works well to remove stains that result from heat and hard water, even on cutlery. To remove them, apply white vinegar with a soft cloth and rub gently. Dry thoroughly to prevent a film from forming.

Glass cleaner helps stainless steel maintain its shine.
Glass cleaner helps stainless steel maintain its shine.
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Stainless steel appliances need to be cleaned often to maintain their shiny luster. Fingerprints can be the most troublesome marks to remove from the surface of smooth-polished or bright-finish stainless steel, such as an oven, microwave or a refrigerator.

Fortunately, fingerprints can be easily removed with a glass cleaner like Windex. Simply apply the cleaner with a soft rag and follow with a thorough warm water rinse. Fingerprints may be annoying, but you can relax knowing that they don't impact the corrosion resistant properties of stainless steel.

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For especially stubborn fingerprints or surfaces, use a paste of sodium carbonate (soda ash) applied with a soft cloth. Be sure to rinse with warm water.

Sometimes, you may notice a sticky film on your stovetop, hood, or grill that appears when the stainless steel comes into contact with grease from cooking or other contaminants. While grease or other soils may not be corrosive, they may compromise the availability of the stainless steel surface to maintain passivity (the ability to prevent corrosion).

To clean, simply pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol onto a soft cloth and rub until the greasy spots disappear. As with the other methods, be sure to rinse off the alcohol with warm water and dry the stainless steel to make it gleam like new!

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Sources

  • DoItYourself.com. "Cleaning Stainless Steel FAQs." (Nov. 14, 2010)http://www.doityourself.com/stry/stainlesssteel.
  • Martha Stewart Living. "Cleaning Stainless Steel." April 2006. (Nov. 15, 2010)http://www.marthastewart.com/article/cleaning-stainless-steel?comments_page=1
  • The Specialty Steel Industry of North America. "The Care and Cleaning of Stainless Steel"(Nov. 14, 2010)http://www.ssina.com/download_a_file/cleaning.pdf.

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