How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

published Jan 25, 2020
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Credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion

No matter how many chores you have to tackle, there are a few cleaning tasks that should always make it onto your to-do list. A big one you might be overlooking? The weekly cleaning and maintenance of your stainless steel appliances, says Michael Silva-Nash, EVP of Molly Maid of Greater Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas, a Neighborly company. 

These items are not only like magnets for greasy fingerprints, but they can also harbor lots of germs and bacteria—especially during flu season, says Silva-Nash.

While it can be a challenging task, here’s what you need to know to get the job done quickly and effectively: 

4 Stainless Steel Cleaning Tips to Know Before You Start

Though you might be tempted to grab a bottle of cleaning solution, give your appliances a quick swipe, and call it a day, the wrong technique can actually damage some of your home’s most expensive machines.

1. Check the manual

When in doubt, there’s one big rule: To maintain the integrity and appearance of your stainless steel appliances, always check the owner’s manual first, says Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. Digging into this literature is the only way to be 100 percent sure you’re cleaning your appliances the way they were intended to be cleaned. 

2. Use commercial cleaners sparingly

Stainless steel “cleaners” are generally polishers, not cleaners, says Silva-Nash. They effectively polish and shine, but don’t actually clean the surfaces of these appliances, he explains. “Imagine adding pomade or hair spray before actually cleaning off your hair. It’s just layer upon layer of debris, dirt, and food crumbs.” 

Instead, use water and a little bit of soap to actually clean and wash the surface, says Silva-Nash. Then use a little bit of oil or polish, if desired. 

3. Choose a soft cloth

When cleaning stainless steel, always use a clean, soft cloth, says Shimek. Microfiber is ideal, since it won’t leave lint behind. Never use steel wool or a scouring pad on stainless steel, as this can scratch the surface, adds Shimek. 

4. Always wipe in the direction of the grain

When you look at your stainless steel, you’ll notice faint lines, or what looks like a slight texture to the surface. Like wood, this is called the grain. To prevent scratching and enhance shine, experts recommend always cleaning in the direction of the grain. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

You don’t need anything fancy to clean your stainless steel appliances. Just a little bit of water and dish soap coupled with a microfiber cloth will do the trick. 

When it comes to cleaning these appliances, it’s more about the technique. Here’s how to nail it: 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

1. Mix water and dish soap

In a small spray bottle, mix warm water and a few drops of dish soap or mild cleaner like castile soap. 

2. Spray the surface of your stainless steel appliance

Mist your appliance with a light coating of the soap mixture.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Wipe clean

Using a soft microfiber cloth, wipe off the soap mixture in the direction of the grain. This should remove any initial debris from your appliance and start to shine it up a bit.

4. Grab some oil

If desired, once the surface is clean, dip your cloth (you can use the same one) into a bit of mineral oil, or even coconut or olive oil, to enhance shine. You don’t need a lot—in fact, less is more in this case, says Silva-Nash. Dip with a delicate hand; you can always go back for more.

5. Wipe with the oil

With your oiled-up cloth, wipe in the direction of the grain across the entire surface. You should start to see any remaining marks disappear to reveal shiny new stainless steel.

Credit: Cat Meschia

Is it safe to use vinegar on my stainless steel appliances?

Though vinegar is a wonderful cleaning agent for many items in the home, stainless steel isn’t one of them.

You should never use anything acidic on stainless steel, cautions Silva-Nash. “Anything acidic will trip the shine off of your appliance, and possibly make it vulnerable to more damage.”

Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. If there is chalky limescale inside the appliance (a common problem with dishwashers), you can use diluted vinegar to clear the buildup, says Shirley Langridge, an appliance cleaning expert. And for very dirty and greasy appliances that aren’t focal points of your kitchen, such as stainless steel grill grates, you can use a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, she says. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Can I use Windex on my stainless steel appliances?

Remember: Many commercial products are better polishers than cleaners. The same philosophy of “shine” vs “clean” applies to Windex, says Silva-Nash. Although it may be “safe” to use for shining purposes, this product doesn’t necessarily remove buildup or effectively clean stainless steel. (But it will help your oven door glass twinkle!)