How to Remove Stains from Stainless Steel—Even Dark Water Stains

Rid your appliances of water stains and fingerprints with our expert tips for cleaning stainless steel.

In the world of kitchen appliances, nothing stands out more than sparkling stainless steel. The popular finish is striking, sleek, and looks great with nearly any kitchen color scheme. But then real life happens. Fingerprints, smudges, and the errant spill or splash can all dampen the clean stainless-steel sparkle. But the good news is that as quick as those surfaces get dirty, they look like new again with a few tricks for cleaning stainless steel appliances. Keep your appliances looking shiny and new with our proven tips for the best way to remove stains from stainless-steel appliances. We'll help you clean every inch of your stainless steel, including those hard-to-remove water spots.

modern kitchen with black and stainless steel
Helen Norman

Before Getting Started

Before you learn how to clean stainless-steel appliances, there are a few things you should know, starting with which tools and cleaners to use. For cleaning stainless steel as part of your routine kitchen cleaning, a simple microfiber cloth dampened with water will be sufficient. When it's time to do a more in-depth cleaning, keep rubbing alcohol, vinegar, baking soda, and even rubbing oil on hand.

It's also important to know what not to use when cleaning stainless steel appliances. Always avoid using abrasive cleaners or sponges on stainless-steel appliance surfaces, as they can permanently scratch the steel's surface. Skip the steel wool and chlorine-based cleaners, too. Some cleaning methods include using rubbing oil and essential oils. These products are great cleaning agents, but they're also flammable. Don't use them on your oven or other appliances that conduct heat.

white kitchen green tile backsplash
Adam Albright

How to Clean Stainless Steel

Daily care of your stainless steel appliances will make big cleaning less frequent.

What You Need

  • Wet microfiber cloth
  • Dry microfiber cloth
  • Polishing rag (optional)
  • Chlorine-free dish soap (optional)

Step 1: Wipe Down Appliance

For daily cleaning and removing water stains from stainless steel, a simple wipe with a microfiber cloth ($10 for ten, Bed Bath & Beyond) and water does the trick. Wet the cloth and wipe down the appliance.

Step 2: Dry and Polish Appliance

Wipe the surface again with another microfiber cloth to dry. By giving the appliance a once-over with a dry cloth, you'll remove any excess moisture that could become future water spots. For extra shine, use a polishing rag to buff the steel.

Step 3: Scrub with Soap, If Needed

You can also use a little dish soap if you feel like your stainless-steel surfaces are extra grimy. Pick a dish soap that doesn't contain chlorine and put a drop on a cloth. Dampen the cloth with water and wring out excess water. Wipe down the surface and follow up with another damp cloth (sans dish soap), and, finally, dry the surface with a clean, dry rag.

cleaning stainless-steel fridge with microfiber cloth

How to Clean Stainless Steel with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Sometimes the microfiber method needs a little support. Look no further than your kitchen pantry for a hardworking stainless-steel cleaning solution.

What You Need

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Damp towel
  • Dry cloth

Step 1: Boil Vinegar and Soak Towel

For removing tough stains on stainless-steel appliances, wet a thick, clean towel with distilled white vinegar that has been brought to a boil. (Use caution so you do not scald yourself when handling the liquid.)

Step 2: Soak and Wipe Dry

Place the damp towel on the spot and let it sit for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with baking soda, then scrub gently until the spot disappears. Wipe the area clean with water and dry with a clean cloth.

How to Remove Stains on Stainless Steel

If there's a stain that won't come out no matter how hard you scrub, consider buying a stain removal product made specifically for metals. These cleaners are particularly helpful when removing stainless-steel oxidation or rust. For serious blemishes, invest in a stainless-steel scratch-removal kit ($11, The Home Depot), which typically combines special polishes and fine-grade sandpaper to remove the problem.

Before using a commercial cleaner or a scratch-removal kit, read all of the instructions and follow the manufacturer's recommendations as you work. It's also a good idea to check out your appliance owner's manual for instructions specific to your make and model. Some stainless-steel appliances have special finishes that require more specific care options. You'll want to read up on the manufacturer's recommendations to ensure you are properly caring for your appliances.

How Often to Clean Stainless Steel

Old stains and water spots are harder to tackle. Prevent them with frequent appliance cleaning. We recommend committing to daily wipe-downs with a clean, soft cloth and hot water. Also, aim for weekly cleanings with an oil-based stainless-steel cleaner and polish ($7, Target). This regular routine will help reduce buildup and keep your stainless-steel appliances easy to clean.

Kitchen with stainless steel fridge and white cabinets
David Greer

More Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel

To protect your stainless-steel appliances, follow these must-know tips during daily wipedowns and deeper cleanings.

How to Get Rid of Fingerprints on Stainless Steel

Fingerprints on stainless steel are almost impossible to avoid, especially if you have little ones who like to touch everything in sight or budding chefs who pay no mind to the mess in the moment. Luckily, there's an easy solution to rid your stainless-steel appliances of fingerprints. Simply drop a little rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth and rub over the stains. The alcohol will zap the oily residue and grime left by a human hand.

Clean Stainless Steel with the Grain

Much like wood furniture, stainless steel has a grain. Always wipe with the grain to loosen and remove all the dirt from those little recesses. Going against the grain can result in less effective cleaning and may even scratch the steel. To find the appliance's grain direction, simply rub both vertically and horizontally with a soft cloth. If you feel a slight resistance, that means you're rubbing against the grain.

Add Shine to Stainless-Steel Appliances

Make your stainless steel extra shiny with a secret ingredient: lemon oil. Just put a few drops of the oil on a clean cloth and rub it into the surface. If you can't find lemon oil, you can use olive oil as a substitute. Aim to give your stainless-steel appliances this oil treatment once a month. And remember: Don't use this method on an oven or appliance surfaces that conduct heat.

Now that you know how to clean stainless-steel appliances, you don't have to dread fingerprints. With a little bit of simple routine cleaning, some minimal elbow grease, household ingredients (vinegar and baking soda straight from the pantry), and special care items for regular maintenance, you can ensure cleaning stainless-steel appliances is a breeze and sparkling surfaces can be a real-life thing, too!

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