8 Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel That’ll Restore Its Sparkle

Sharon Brandwein
Written by Sharon Brandwein
Updated February 10, 2022
A kitchen with stainless steel countertops
Photo: Robert Daly / OJO Images / Getty Images

Keeping your stainless steel appliances in tip-top shape is easier than you think

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Stainless steel appliances are considered an upgrade in new home purchases, and for many people, they’re also an upgrade in life. (Yes, being an adult is quite interesting.) These appliances are beautiful and elegant, but surface dirt, sticky fingers, and uncooperative ketchup bottles can quickly detract from that beauty. 

And while it may be hard (but not impossible) to remove scratches from stainless steel appliances, cleaning them is relatively easy. To be honest, you’d be surprised how far a little warm water and a microfiber rag will get you. Learn nine helpful tips for cleaning stainless steel. 

1. Use the Right Cleaners 

When you’re dealing with stuck-on messes and oily residue on your stainless steel appliances, it can be tempting to break out the big guns—don’t do that. Although “steel” is in the name, you can damage your appliances when you try to go big or go home. Bleach and scrubs are absolute no-nos. 

More often than not, plain warm water is enough to clean your stainless steel appliances. However, if you want a little more cleaning power, try using a few household and pantry staples to get the job done. 

Vinegar and olive oil make an excellent cleaner. Not only does it cut through tough messes, but it also sanitizes your appliances, and it imparts a nice shine to boot; dish soap and baby oil work in much the same way. For both cleaning methods, use a microfiber rag and start with the cleaning agent of your choosing (vinegar or dish soap). 

Once your appliances are clean, follow up with a clean microfiber rag dipped in either olive oil or baby oil and start buffing. 

2. Keep Hard Water Away From Your Appliances 

If you live in an area with hard water, you may not want to use warm water to clean your appliances. Mineral deposits found in hard water are notorious for leaving spots or stains on your appliances. If you are determined to use water, opt for distilled water instead or use one of the cleaning solutions and methods outlined above. 

3. Use a Gentle Touch 

In addition to using the right cleaners, it should come as no surprise that you need to use the right tools and cleaning supplies when cleaning stainless steel. Stay away from abrasive sponges, and in the name of all that is good in the world, please don’t use steel wool. 

In an effort to clean your stainless steel, you will damage it beyond repair. Microfiber towels are all you need, and as an added bonus, they won’t leave behind any lint or dust. 

4. Don’t Let Dirt and Grime Sit

A woman in protective gloves cleaning a stainless steel stove
Photo: kirstyokeeffe / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

We get it; life is busy. When you’re juggling dinner prep, homework help, and an impromptu Zoom call in one evening, cleaning (anything) is probably the last thing on your mind and your to-do list. But when the ketchup bottle hits the floor and splashes onto the fridge, it’s best not to let it sit. Even if it’s just a quick wipe with a damp paper towel, it’s better than nothing. 

There are no hard and fast rules for how often you should clean a stainless steel appliance. For most people, fingerprints are really what determines how often they clean their stainless steel. 

If you have a busy kitchen and you hate the look of smudgy fingerprints, you’ll probably clean your appliances more often. If you’re lucky enough to have fingerprint-resistant appliances, you can probably go a little longer between cleanings. 

Your best bet is to keep an eye on things from day to day and week to week. If it looks grimy or hazy, it might be time for a cleaning.

5. Go With the Grain

Like wood, stainless steel has a grain. And like wood, you need to go with the grain when cleaning for the best results. This isn’t the place to reinvent the wheel. Going against the grain or wiping your stainless steel appliances in a circular motion will only leave you with streaks—and appliances that look anything but clean. 

6. Use Glass Cleaner to Remove Fingerprints

Glass cleaner is a good all-around stainless steel cleaner. It tackles stubborn fingerprints with ease, and it won’t damage your appliances. It’s worth noting that most glass cleaners contain ammonia, and while that may seem harsh, care guides provided by the Stainless Steel Industry of North America indicate that it’s totally safe. 

7. Reach for Some Olive Oil 

Olive oil is your secret weapon for removing and preventing fingerprints, smudges, and marks on your stainless steel appliances. And if that weren’t plenty, it beautifully restores their luster as well. 

8. Give It a Final Rinse 

Regardless of the method you choose to clean your stainless steel, it's best to give the appliance a final rinse with warm water. 

And since we’re on the subject of water, it’s also best not to let your stainless steel appliances air-dry. Doing so can lead to streaks and water spots, which will make your appliances look dirty. So, when you’re done cleaning your appliances, use a dry microfiber towel to give it a once-over.  

Cleaning Your Stainless Steel Sink 

When stainless steel sinks get particularly gunky, your first inclination might be to reach for steel wool—try to resist. Sinks are pretty tough, but aggressive scrubbing can cause tiny cuts and cracks that can rust over time. 

The best way to clean your stainless steel sink is to liberally sprinkle some baking soda in there and “scrub” the surface with the soft side of your sponge (even the abrasive side of your sponge can be too harsh). 

Kitchen sinks can really take a licking day after day. When you couple the clinking and clanking of dishes being tossed into them with food and food residues, your stainless steel sink probably looks anything but fabulous. 

To keep your stainless steel sink looking brand new or to breathe new life into your old sink, it’s olive oil to the rescue again. The good news is it’s as easy as applying a layer of olive oil all around after you’ve cleaned it. Just add a few drops of olive oil to a microfiber cloth and buff away. 

If cleaning your stainless steel appliances is something you’d rather not add to your lengthy list of DIY projects, you can always hire a house cleaner in your area to do it for you. 

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