How to Remove Stains from Stainless Steel, According to Cleaning Experts

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You love your toaster/food processor/KitchenAid mixer. But those pesky fingerprint marks and ugly brown spots on them? Not so much. If you’re wondering how to remove stainless steel stains, we’ve got you covered. We spoke to a few cleaning experts for the scoop—er, scrub—on how to best clean and care for your stainless-steel appliances. (Psst…these tricks also work to keep your cutlery in top-notch shape.)

“Stainless steel is a very hardy material,” notes Kate Jakubas, a metallurgist and founder of Meliora Cleaning Products. “It has a naturally occurring protective coating on the surface of it that will self-heal if scratched. All you need to do is keep it clean and let it dry. Scratches on stainless steel do not affect its performance, but if you want to keep the finish shiny, use the least abrasive products and tools you can to avoid scuffing them.”

Meet the Experts

  • Kate Jakubas is a metallurgist and the founder of Meliora Cleaning Products, a company that creates eco-friendly, vegan household cleaning products.
  • Carol Mehas is the founder of arbOUR, a company that creates natural, effective cleaning products from Soapbark.
  • Angela Lee is the content manager at Hellamaid, a top-rated, award-winning cleaning company in Ontario, Canada that specializes in residential properties.

1. Oxygen-Bleach Cleaner

“The best method for cleaning a stainless pan is to first soak it in an oxygen bleach product with warm water,” Jakubas says. “You can soak the entire pan in the sink or a large container or fill the pan up and let it sit if you are only cleaning the inside of the pan. The oxygen brightener loosens dirt and grime by oxidizing the carbon-based materials that are stuck to the pan.”

For best results, Jakubas advises an overnight soak before gently scrubbing away any residue with a sponge. If you find that the stain is persistent, repeat the process or go in with a wool pad for a little more oomph.

2. Vinegar

One of the easiest and most effective ways to polish stainless steel is to use vinegar. (Angela Lee, content manager at Hellamaid, a cleaning company based in Ontario, recommends white vinegar.) Pour it directly onto the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing. When you scrub, make sure to do it in the direction of the steel’s “grain” (TK line about how to ID the direction of the grain). Finish the process by rinsing with warm water.

3. Baking Soda and Dish Soap

Carol Mehas, founder of natural cleaning product company arbOUR, notes that baking soda is nature’s “softest abrasive” that will also absorb grease and grime. To clean your stainless steel, first soak it in hot, soapy water before scrubbing away what you can. The soap will work to break down oil.

For stubborn stains, coat the surface with baking soda and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Follow up by gently wiping the stains with a wet, soft sponge. For an even deeper clean, try mixing equal parts baking soda and soap into a paste before applying it to the surface of your pan or appliance. “The puttylike mixture won’t destroy the surface. Just keep your wiping gentle and repeat until it’s shining,” Mehas says.  

4. Non-Abrasive Stainless-Steel Cleaner or Polisher

Of course, you can also use specific products to buff away the stain. Lee recommends Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser and Polish, noting that it contains a mild abrasive that can tackle tough stains without scratching the metal. “You can make a paste out of the stainless-steel cleaner by adding water to it, and for particularly stubborn stains, apply the paste directly to the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub it off gently,” she advises. (We also like Sprayway Stainless Steel Cleaner to nix fingerprints.)

Once your stainless steel is sparkling, Lee says to finish the job with a stainless-steel polish. Products such as Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish will help your appliances retain their luster, while helping to prevent future stains and protect the surface from rust and corrosion.

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