Every wondered what are the different types of cleaners (chemicals) and non-chemical options for cleaning stainless steel? We break it down here in detail setting out the chemicals used to clean stainless steel followed by non-chemical options, household cleaners as well as some unusual options.
Stainless steel is a remarkable material.
Because it contains at least 10.5 percent chromium, it is capable of consistently featuring a “passive layer of chromium oxide,” according to Aperam. The reason why that is important is because the chromium layer effectively enables the stainless steel to “regenerate” itself if it ends up sustaining a scratch.
Stainless steel can last for a long time inside your home without looking worse for wear because it resists corrosion so well.
The luster and distinctive appearance of stainless steel also work to make it a fine addition to any home. If you want a stylish kitchen, you can’t go wrong with featuring stainless steel. Stainless steel won’t be able to maintain its great look without some help from you though.
Even though this steel alloy is resistant to corrosion, it can still be stained and scratched heavily if you aren’t careful or if you’re using the wrong cleaning materials.
Over the course of reading this article, you’ll be able to learn more about the different items that can be used for effectively cleaning stainless steel. We’ll also discuss which items you need to avoid using for the purposes of cleaning stainless steel.
Without further ado, let’s talk more about stainless steel cleaning products.
Related: Haus Naturals’ Stainless Steel Cleaner Review | Natural Stainless Steel Cleaners | Stainless Steel Cleaning Solutions and Applications | How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances Properly | How to Clean Stainless Steel Jewelry | How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware | How to clean a stainless steel sink | Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Kitchen Appliances
1. The Eco-Friendly Stainless Steel Cleaners
If you’re not a fan of using chemical-based cleaners to keep your stainless steel possessions looking their best, that’s perfectly acceptable. You can still choose from a wide variety of alternative cleaners that can handle that job.
For instance, you can also find commercial stainless steel cleaners on the market that rely more on natural and sustainable ingredients as opposed to chemicals. These eco-friendly stainless steel cleaners are also easy to find in many stores today.
When picking up these environmentally-friendly commercial cleaners, you’ll notice that they feature many of the same types of ingredients.
You will often find extracts of different plants inside these eco-friendly cleaners because they have proven to be quite effective when it comes to getting rid of the stains that often end up on stainless steel appliances.
Many of the ingredients used in these cleaners are also taken from corn, coconut, and other vegetable oils. Those oils are responsible for cleaning and conditioning the surfaces they are used on. Soybean extracts may also be included in these cleaners for the same reasons.
Manufacturers will also often turn to essential oils when putting together these eco-friendly cleaners. The essential oils don’t necessarily contribute much to how effective these items are for cleaning, but they do impart a pleasing aroma. You don’t have to worry about using these cleaners in your kitchen because they won’t leave behind noxious fumes.
2. The Chemical-Based Stainless Steel Cleaners
While chemical-based stainless steel cleaners are not quite as widely used today as they were in the not too distant past, many of them are still available for you to purchase. It’s hard to deny that they can indeed be quite convenient since they are already formulated and ready to go right from the moment of purchase.
Commercial chemical-based stainless cleaners can also come in very handy if you are dealing with some particularly difficult stains. For instance, a kitchen sink that has gone for too long without cleaning may necessitate the usage of the stronger chemical-based cleaners.
But have you ever wondered exactly what makes these chemical-based stainless steel cleaners so effective in the first place?
Dipropylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether
One of the ingredients in question is dipropylene glycol monomethyl ether, which is also known as DPM glycol ether.
Per Dow.com, the aforementioned chemical is a “clear, colorless liquid with a slight ether odor.” It’s often used as a coupling and/or coalescing agent. That property of DPM glycol ether allows it to work well as an ingredient in items such as latex and water reducible coatings.
This specific chemical is also versatile enough to remain effective in paint removers, herbicide stabilizers, and even cosmetics.
For the purposes of this article though, we are interested in how it helps clean stainless steel. It’s strong, but not overly so. You don’t have to worry about it dealing lasting damage to your stainless steel appliances.
Another ingredient you may find in chemical-based stainless cleaners is polydimethylsiloxane. It’s also sometimes referred to as PDMS.
According to the American Chemical Society, PDMS is regarded as the “simplest member of the silicone polymer family.”
You may have also encountered this chemical back when you were a kid as it was used in the popular toy known as Silly Putty. Today, you’re more likely to find it in sealants, lubricants, and of course, cleaners.
Hydrocarbon solvents known as petroleum distillates can also be used to enhance the effectiveness of chemical-based stainless steel cleaners. They excel at removing oil and grease from the surfaces they come into contact with.
Manufacturers also like using petroleum distillates because they are great for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.
Depending on what kind of chemical-based stainless steel cleaner you purchased, you may notice that it contains propane. Don’t be alarmed if the cleaner in question does indeed make use of propane.
If the cleaner you purchased is in an aerosol dispenser, the propane’s role is to help the cleaning solution exit the container and make it to the target surface properly each and every time.
Another advantage to getting softened water is you get cleaner and softer laundry. Hard water makes it hard for detergent to do its job, so you end up using more soap, otherwise your whites may start to look gray. At the same time, hard water makes it difficult to rinse off soap from laundry and dishes, and even on your body and hair when you bathe. You end up using more water or you will end up with stiff laundry and water spots on your tableware.
Household appliances like the laundry washer, dishwasher, coffeemaker and water heater will last longer if you use industrial water softeners. Mineral deposits from hard water build-up in appliances to form a hard scale which makes your appliances less efficient. Soft water will decrease appliance breakdown and even make them more energy-efficient.
3. DIY & Household Cleaner Options
Even though chemical-based and eco-friendly stainless steel cleaners maintain a strong presence in the market, many homeowners have come to realize that they don’t have to spend extra just to acquire products specially formulated for maintaining and beautifying their appliances.
Chances are that you already have different items lying around inside your home that can function pretty well as stainless steel cleaners. Let’s identify those different household items in this portion of the article.
What’s the most affordable stainless steel cleaner that you should be able to get anytime you want? The answer to that would be water.
To be clear, you don’t want to use only water if you’re planning to clean your cutlery, but if you just want to give the refrigerator door a nice polish, warm water applied with the right cloth can bring out that old shine pretty well.
One thing you should always keep in mind when using water to polish your stainless steel appliances is that you can’t allow it to dry on its own. The tap water flowing through faucets contains minerals that could leave unsightly marks on the stainless steel.
As long as you remember to wipe the water dry using a separate cloth, you should be fine.
Next to water, dish soap is probably the closest thing you’ll get to an all-purpose stainless steel cleaner, which makes plenty of sense when you think about it.
Dish soap is often used to remove those oils and other scraps of food that have hardened on the surfaces of different plates, pots, and pans. Those are the same kind of substances that tend to muck up the surfaces of stainless steel appliances in your kitchen.
You can also go ahead and use dish soap if you are looking to clean smaller items that make use of stainless steel. It’s a good item to reach for if you are planning to clean and polish pieces of stainless steel jewelry.
There are only two things you need to keep in mind whenever you are using dish soap for stainless steel. First off, make it a point to seek out the gentler variants on the market. You don’t want to end up damaging the stainless steel.
A little goes a long way too with regards to dish soap as a stainless steel cleaner. A few drops in a piece of cloth should prove to be more than enough.
Vinegar is a staple of those DIY home-cleaning videos. If you’ve never used it yourself for cleaning, you may be skeptical about vinegar’s cleaning capabilities. Rest assured though, this popular cooking ingredient is also a useful cleaner.
Different kinds of vinegar can be used as stainless steel cleaners, according to WikiHow. The best choices though are white and apple cider vinegar.
Vinegar works as a stainless steel cleaner because of its acidic content. This acidic liquid can permeate even stubborn stains and dislodge them with relative ease. Vinegar has emerged as such a good household aid that you will even find examples of it that are specially formulated for the purposes of cleaning.
Be careful though. Some stainless steel items are not strong enough to handle the acidity of vinegar. Check with the manual to see if the item you’re about to clean can indeed withstand vinegar.
Vinegar can also be diluted with some water if its acidity level has to be reduced.
Many people reach for club soda as a replacement for their favorite fizzy beverages. While it still offers that distinctive sensation, it doesn’t come with the same amount of liquid calories.
Club soda is not just water that contains some pressurized carbon dioxide. According to Pop Sugar, club soda also contains ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate. Those additional ingredients serve to make club soda a good stainless steel cleaner.
You can use this bubbly beverage if you want to clean and polish the stainless steel items you have at home.
Yet another kitchen goodie that can help you when you’re trying to improve the appearance of a stainless steel item is olive oil. You probably shouldn’t rely on olive oil for cleaning, but it is a good choice if you simply want to make the stainless steel surface shinier.
An olive oil polish does tend to turn out slightly darker, but it will still be quite lustrous.
By the way, if you are thinking about using olive oil on your stainless steel appliances, there’s no need to get those fancy extra virgin variants. A cheaper, but still quality variant of olive oil should do.
WD-40 is a staple of most workshops. The name actually stands for “Water Displacement, 40th Formula” per the product’s official website. A chemist named Norm Larsen was working on a formula that could address corrosion, and on his 40th attempt, he finally came up with the combination that is now contained in numerous WD-40 containers.
Ordinarily, this product is used to lubricate different kinds of metal pieces. It may also be used to provide a protective coating that wards off corrosion.
For cleaning stainless steel items, you will love using WD-40 because it eliminates bits of dirt and splotches of grease easily.
Though primarily used on wooden and leather surfaces, lemon polish can also work wonders on stainless steel items found around your home.
Just like some of the other items mentioned in this article, lemon polish is not necessarily the item you should get if your stainless steel possessions require a deep clean, but it’s perfectly useful for providing a shiny finish. Plus, that citrusy scent is not too bad itself.
Stainless steel oven, dishwasher, and refrigerator doors are examples of items that get handled numerous times over the course of any given day. As you would expect, being in contact so much with human hands means that those appliances can end up with all kinds of fingerprint stains.
To get rid of those annoying stains left behind by our hands, grab some glass cleaner and get to work. Glass cleaners are capable of quickly eliminating the smudges and stains that show up on windows. They will also do a good job when used on stainless steel surfaces.
Because of stainless steel’s unique composition, you can’t use just any type of cleaner on it. That outer layer that preserves the appearance of the stainless steel can be easily damaged.
The problem is that hardened stains will sometimes end up on the surface of the stainless steel. Those tougher stains can’t be removed easily by many household cleaners. In those cases, you will need to use baking soda.
Baking soda is just abrasive enough to work against stubborn stains, but at the same time, it won’t damage the outermost layer of the stainless steel.
To use baking soda correctly on stainless, you have to mix three parts of baking soda together with one part of water. The resulting paste produced by that mixture can be applied to the stainless steel surface for cleaning and polishing.
4. The Applicators
Since many of the household and commercial cleaners used on stainless steel are liquids, you will need an applicator for them. Not just any kind of applicator will do however.
If you don’t particularly care about preserving the pristine condition of the stainless steel surface, you can go ahead and make use of any applicator you prefer. That’s probably not the case with you though since you’ve already paid for the stainless steel.
To preserve the appearance of your stainless steel appliances whenever you’re cleaning them, make sure that you only use the applicators mentioned below.
Arguably the best applicator to use on stainless steel is the microfiber cloth.
It’s a great choice in two ways.
First, microfiber cloths have no trouble sticking to the tiniest dirt particles, as noted by Explain That Stuff. That means microfiber cloths possess a better chance of catching those elusive bits of dirt that may have been embedded into the stainless steel.
While it’s true that other applicators can also grab hold of those smaller particles, they don’t possess the other essential quality of microfiber.
You see, microfiber cloths are also very soft. They don’t pose a threat to the surface of the stainless steel. No matter how many times you use microfiber cloths on stainless steel, you won’t see scratches popping up.
As much as possible, try to use a microfiber cloth whenever you’re cleaning something made out of stainless steel.
Dish Towels/Wash Cloths
Even though, microfiber cloths are now easier to find, there may still be those occasions when the one you’ve been using is no longer in any condition to continue working. In a pinch, you may have to use something else to clean your stainless steel appliances.
So, what should you use if a microfiber cloth is unavailable at the moment?
Ordinary dish towels and wash cloths are good replacements for microfiber cleaners. They can’t boast the same deep cleaning capabilities as microfiber cloths, but they can still get the job done.
To ensure that the stainless surface won’t sustain any visible scratches, avoid using too much force when wiping with either a dish towel or a wash cloth.
5. The Heavy-Duty Cleaners
Some stains are tougher than others. You can spend hours scrubbing the stainless steel using a microfiber cloth and your preferred cleaning solution and still notice that there are stains visible on the surface.
Clearly, you need something stronger.
Depending on what specific stainless steel item you’re cleaning, there are different heavy-duty cleaners that may be able to help you out.
Picture this scenario: You left something on the stove, turned the heat to low so that it wouldn’t burn, but you ended up getting so preoccupied with your other task that the dish you were cooking turned out scorched anyway.
Now, you have a stainless steel pan covered in burnt oil and the overly caramelized sugars of whatever it was that you were cooking. It’s not a pretty sight to say the least and you may assume that your best bet is to just get a new pan.
Not so fast though.
You can still salvage that pan with the help of some cola.
Place the pan with the nasty stains on it back on the stove and turn on the burner. Next, pour some cola into the pan. You want enough cola in there to blanket the burnt bits.
Let the cola to simmer and then remove the pan from the heat. Take a spatula or a scraper and then try to push the burnt bits off of the stainless steel surface. You can then run the pan under some warm water to clean it further.
Cola contains just enough citric acid to break down those tough stains. It’s a sweet treat that can also be quite helpful during cleaning time.
Stainless Steel Brush
Tough stains don’t just show up on pots and pans. They can also turn up on grills and even the power tools in the garage.
Once again, the microfiber cloth may not be strong enough to handle cleaning those surfaces. You will need something tougher and the stainless steel brush fits the bill.
According to The Fabricator, you need to use a stainless steel brush on stainless steel items because you risk cross-contamination otherwise. Cross-contamination can cause the stainless steel to rust over and you obviously do not want to see that.
6. The Unusual Cleaners
Next up, let’s highlight some of the items that are surprisingly effective at improving the appearance of stainless steel. These are household items too, so they should be ready to go whenever your stainless steel possessions need a nice shine.
Given everything we’ve already discussed regarding how effective acid is at cleaning stainless steel, the inclusion of tomato sauce in this article should no longer come as a surprise even it may seem that way at first.
You usually add a splash of tomato sauce to dishes if you want to bring some color and acidity into the mix. Once again, that acidity is what we’re after here.
Tomato sauce can be used much in the same way as cola. You should first fill up the pan with the tomato sauce, leave it to simmer for a while, and then rinse the pan clean.
Alternatively, Webstaurant Store points out that you can also leave the tomato sauce in the pan overnight if you’re already tired. You won’t have to simmer the sauce if you’re going with this method. Just remember to rinse the pan clean when you wake up the next morning.
Tomato sauce is best to use on stainless steel pots and pans that have been discolored.
Technically speaking, flour is not good enough to clean stainless steel on its own, but it can fare well as a polishing product. Flour works best when it is sprinkled on sinks.
You first have to clean the kitchen sink as you normally would, and after it dries, you can sprinkle the flour all over it. Rub the flour into the sink using a wash cloth and you should end up with a shinier sink once you’re done.
7. The Items Never to Be Used on Stainless Steel
Let’s wrap things up by focusing on the items that you should avoid using when you’re cleaning stainless steel. If you insist on using the items included below, don’t be surprised if your stainless steel items look even worse after they were cleaned.
The number one enemy of stainless steel is anything abrasive. According to Do It Yourself, abrasive cleaners work by physically scratching off the stains that they encounter on the surface being worked on.
Scratching and stainless steel do not go together.
Examples of abrasive cleaners you must avoid using include salt, sandpaper, and steel wool pads. The most abrasive cleaner you can get away with using on stainless steel is baking soda. Anything rougher than that should be avoided.
When searching for a strong household cleaner, many people turn to bleach. This powerful cleaning agent is used often to restore the appearance of home fixtures that have become discolored because of age and continuous usage.
There are certainly scenarios in which bleach will prove useful, but it should be kept far away from stainless steel.
The chemicals found in bleach will only damage the stainless steel. You’ll be better off using something gentler.