If you spend any time in the kitchen, you should probably know how to clean stainless steel. Trust us, just because a material is called “stainless” doesn’t mean it can’t get dirty, and nothing makes a kitchen more unappetizing than appliances covered in smudges, grime, and other buildup.
For so many reasons, stainless-steel appliances—like microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers, and ovens—are a great choice for the kitchen. You may even have countertops, sinks, or cookware made from the material, so it’s smart to learn how to clean stainless-steel pans as well. Not only does stainless steel look modern and sleek, but it can also make a kitchen feel more luxurious. On the other hand, the downside of the material is that it can get dirty fairly easily.
To help keep all of your stainless-steel surfaces spotless, we tapped Tim Conn, president and co-founder of Image One, a commercial cleaning company, and Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, for their best hacks and cleaning tips.
“Stainless steel is like that sleek black car: beautiful when it’s clean and shiny, but often looks dull and dirty if it’s not properly maintained,” Conn says. Luckily, he explains, it’s easy to keep that showroom appeal if you know the proper techniques.
When it comes to stainless steel, not all messes are the same, meaning not all cleaning methods will be the same either. Smudges and hard water stains may come off pretty easily with a simple wipe down, whereas caked-on food or other more intense buildup may require a more serious product—and more elbow grease on your part. So make sure you know what you’re up against before grabbing all of your supplies.
It goes without saying that you’ll need some cleaning products in order to get clean stainless-steel appliances. Luckily you’ve got a few choices, both tried-and-true DIY solutions and reputable store-bought products.
For a simple DIY cleaning solution, you’ll need white vinegar, lemon juice, and tap water. “Fill a spray bottle with equal parts water and white vinegar,” Shimek explains. You can add a few drops of lemon juice to make the mixture smell better. After you’ve made your solution, be sure to grab some olive oil, dish liquid, and microfiber cloths because you’ll be using those too.
For really tough grime, like caked-on grease, you may need to explore different methods. Stock up on either a store-bought stainless-steel cleaner or some baking soda.
No matter what cleaning solution you choose, there are a few things you should always avoid. Don’t use steel wool, scouring powders, ammonia, or bleach on your kitchen appliances—they can all be just a little too intense and damage the finish. The same goes if you’re wondering how to clean a stainless-steel sink. “No matter how grimy your appliances are, these abrasive cleaning products will only make matters worse by leaving scratches behind,” Shimek says.
When cleaning stainless steel, there is one general rule: wipe along the direction of the grain. You’ll want to spray your vinegar and water solution onto the surface then wipe following the material’s grain. It’s usually fairly easy to spot the linear grain, but if your appliance is giving you a hard time, Shimek has a simple solution. “Try rubbing the appliance with a clean microfiber cloth both horizontally and vertically,” he says, “In doing so, you’ll then feel a resistance when the cloth runs in the opposite direction and will, of course, glide smoothly when placed in the correct direction.”