How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

As the stainless steel appliance trend has aged, the question has changed from, "Where do I buy stainless steel appliances?," to, "How do I clean stainless steel?" Many of them are now learning the secrets of cleaning steel long known by foodservice professionals, who have been using and cleaning stainless steel appliances for generations.

Whether you are among that cadre of residential chefs or are new to commercial kitchens and need some go-to cleaning hacks, read on to learn some of the tricks we have picked up in talking to professionals. First, let's visit some rookie mistakes so you can avoid cleaning up after your efforts to clean.

Stainless Steel Cleaning Mistakes

  • Never use bleach. Bleach and cleaning compounds that include it will cause surface corrosion on the metal, which can make the stainless steel appear to be - wait for it - stained. This mistake is easy to make, since diluted bleach and bleach cleaners are among the best ways to sanitize kitchen surfaces to prevent foodborne illnesses.
  • Do not use abrasive cleaners or scrubbers. Steel wool, stiff-bristle brushes, and other hard scrubbers, along with abrasive cleaning compounds can all scratch, mar, and dull the metal.
  • Avoid scrubbing against the grain. Stainless steel used to make restaurant equipment and home appliances is typically given very small striations across its surface that create what's called a "brushed finish." That texture helps hide some small marks like fingerprints, but can itself become noticeably marred by scrubbing against the surface grain.

How to Properly Clean Stainless Steel

While cleaning stainless steel may seem like a bit of a challenge or hassle, it's actually fairly simple and requires materials you likely already have in your kitchen.

What You Need

  1. Cleaning cloths: The best choice is microfiber cleaning cloths because they are not coarse, provide the closest thing to a streak-free clean possible, and can also be used to polish glass. You will need two to four, depending on which cleaner you opt to use. Important note: Never wash a microfiber cloth in a load of laundry that gets a dose of fabric softener, as those compounds can coat the fabric and inhibit its ability to absorb liquids.
    • Our recommendation: While KaTom offers about a dozen microfiber cloths that would be great for the job, our customers' favorite based on reviews is the Rubbermaid FGQ63006BL00 cleaning cloth.
  2. A cleaner: There are specialized cleaners for stainless steel that leave it with a bright shine. If you do not have any on hand or try not to use chemicals in cleaning, there are other common alternatives, including dish soap, white vinegar, and glass cleaner.
  3. A spray bottle (if using vinegar): If you opt for this natural cleaner, you will need a way to mist it onto the surface of the metal. Simply fill the spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar and you are ready to clean.
  4. A bucket: It is critical that, unless you use the John Boos cleaner that is designed to stay on the metal, you will need to remove cleaner from the steel. To do that, you will need a second cleaning cloth and a bucket of warm, clean water.
    • Our recommendation: The San Jamar Kleen Pail caddy has a 4-quart capacity and a holder for spray bottles to make moving from one appliance to another easier. If you are a fan of multitasking tools, you can opt for the San Jamar KP500, which includes the Kleen Pail with the bottle holder and a 24-ounce spray bottle.
  5. Oil: You will only need this if you intend to go the extra step of polishing the metal. We recommend that you do, not because it makes the steel shine but because it helps keep the metal in better shape between cleanings. Mineral oil is a great choice for this, though a dab of food-grade oils already in the kitchen also works.
    • Our recommendation: Though sold as a sharpening stone lubricant, Victorinox 41996 is simply a specially formulated mineral oil. That's the pint size, but there's also a 1-quart bottle.

How to Use a Stainless Steel Cleaner or Glass Cleaner

This is probably the easiest option for cleaning stainless steel, since there are only three steps.

To prepare: Gather three microfiber cloths, your cleaner, and a bucket. Fill the bucket with clean, warm water.

  1. Use a microfiber cloth and a bucket of warm water to clean off stuck-on food and debris. If necessary, use a dry cloth to remove remaining moisture from the metal.
  2. Spray a light, even layer of cleaner across the surface of the metal, then use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to clean and polish the steel, wiping with the grain.
  3. Apply a very small amount of oil to a clean, dry microfiber cloth and spread the oil across the entire surface of the metal with the grain.

How to Clean Stainless Steel with Vinegar

This option is great because it uses an ingredient available in most commercial kitchens and is entirely food safe, so you can clean stainless steel appliances while prep work and cooking go on around you without the worry of contaminating food.

To prepare: Gather four microfiber cleaning cloths, white vinegar, a spray bottle, and a bucket. Fill the bucket with warm water and the spray bottle with vinegar. Tip: If the threads match and you only plan to use the vinegar for cleaning, you can take the top off the spray bottle and screw it onto the top of the vinegar bottle.

  1. If the metal is heavily soiled, use a microfiber cloth and a bucket of warm water to complete a preliminary cleaning.
  2. If necessary, use a dry cloth to remove remaining moisture from the metal.
  3. Spray a light, even layer of undiluted vinegar across the surface of the metal, then use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to clean the steel, wiping with the grain.
  4. Empty the bucket, then refill it with clean, warm water and use a microfiber cloth dipped in it to thoroughly remove the vinegar from the metal. Using a clean, dry microfiber cloth, immediately wipe any remaining moisture off the metal.
  5. Apply a very small amount of oil to a clean, dry microfiber cloth and spread the oil across the entire surface of the metal with the grain.

How to Clean Stainless Steel with Dish Soap

  1. Wet a microfiber cloth in the bucket, wring most of the water out, and apply a small amount of dish soap to it. Rub the cloth against itself to spread the detergent.
  2. Use the cloth to wipe the metal in the direction of the grain, scrubbing in that same way to remove any heavy residue.
  3. Empty the bucket, rinse it and the cloth out thoroughly, then refill the bucket with clean, warm water. Wet the cloth and wring out most of the water, then use it to thoroughly clean soap residue off the metal.
  4. Using a clean, dry microfiber cloth, immediately wipe any remaining moisture off the metal.
  5. Apply a very small amount of oil to a clean, dry microfiber cloth and spread the oil across the entire surface of the metal with the grain.