The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Stainless Steel Appliances

Updated on December 15, 2022 by Joseph D. Nielson

Table of Contents

Gleaming, spotless stainless steel appliances reflect light in a modern kitchen.

Stainless steel appliances have become the norm in many households, especially in kitchens. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, stainless steel now accounts for roughly half of all kitchen appliances (up from just 20% a decade ago). And the trend shows no signs of subsiding any time soon.

Looking at stainless steel appliances, it’s easy to understand why they’re so popular. They’re sleek, sophisticated, durable, bacteria-resistant and (mostly) corrosion-resistant. Best of all, they go with virtually every color and style.

But, as with all the best things in life, stainless steel appliances require care and love to keep going. Left untended, stainless steel appliances can quickly lose their luster, sheen and even functionality. Even the most fastidious home cooks will accidentally smudge or spatter their stainless steel appliances at some point. And if you have kids running around the house (whose fingerprints get on everything!), your stainless steel appliances don’t stand a chance of staying clean.

But that’s okay. Appliances are meant to get dirty. All you have to do is take a deep breath, catch your reflection in the stainless steel panelling, and tell yourself, “I’ve got this.”

Armed with a bit of know-how and some common household cleaning items, you can restore your stainless steel appliances to their original sheen and cleanliness. In this ultimate guide, we explore several ways to clean your stainless steel appliances for a shinier, happier kitchen.

What Is Stainless Steel, Exactly?

Stainless steel dates back about 300 years, when enterprising French and British scientists noticed that certain chromium alloys did a fantastic job resisting oxidation. Up until that point, oxidation and rusting were real problems in the household appliance industry. Cast iron appliances and cookware did a fantastic job conducting heat, but they often rusted in the presence of open air.

These scientists discovered that by mixing their alloys with chromium (a recently discovered element), they could create a material resistant to oxidation and rusting. They called it “rustless steel.”

It wasn’t until the early 1900s, when a cutlery manufacturer wanted to highlight the material’s ability to resist food stains, that it got its current name: stainless steel. As most homeowners know, this name is a bit of a misnomer, since stainless steel absolutely can stain – from water, grease, acidity and more.

Common Stainless Steel Appliances: Kitchen Appliances and More

Not sure whether an appliance is stainless steel or not? If it’s in your kitchen, and you can see your reflection in it, chances are that it’s stainless steel! (Even if your appliances aren’t reflective, they may still be stainless steel, as matte, black-finished stainless steel has upturned in popularity recently).

Before we discuss how to clean stainless steel, perhaps it’s best to define our scope. When we talk about how to clean stainless steel appliances, we’re generally referring to one of the following common stainless steel appliances:

  • Refrigerators
  • Stoves
  • Sinks
  • Microwaves
  • Dishwashers
  • Range hoods

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You might also have a stainless steel automatic espresso machine, coffee grinder, stand mixer and more. The tips below work for any stainless steel product, regardless of size or function.

A modern kitchen with light wooden shelves and stainless steel appliances

What to Avoid When Cleaning Stainless Steel

We need to make one last note before we delve into cleaning methods. You’ll notice in the sections below that we list several approved methods for cleaning your stainless steel. That’s because stainless steel takes well to most types of cleaning products and methods. Nevertheless, there are certain products and procedures that you should never apply to stainless steel.

Here are the “don’ts” of stainless steel cleaning:

  • Abrasives: Put away that steel wool, those Scotch Brites and scouring pads. Don’t use anything that can potentially scratch the finish of your stainless steel.
  • Working against the grain: Avoid buffing or scrubbing stainless steel “against the grain.” You’ll notice a grain on your stainless steel appliances that moves vertically, horizontally or (less commonly) concentrically. Try to follow those grains.
  • Air drying: It’s best practice to cloth-dry your stainless steel. Air drying results in streaks and splotches.
  • Hard tap water: Hard water can stain stainless steel (ironic, right?) or leave a chalky residue. It’s not the end of the world if you have to use hard water, but we prefer distilled water.
  • The Chloride family: The chloride family includes bleach, ammonia, or any chemical cleaners with chlorine, fluorine, iodine or bromine. These harsh corrosives will blemish, or outright destroy, your stainless steel appliances.
  • Oven Cleaners: Oven cleaners are often far too abrasive for exterior stainless steel use. Save them for interior use by referencing our electric oven grill element cleaning guide.
  • How about Vinegar? A lot of people ask us how to clean stainless steel appliances with vinegar. A couple of resources online warn against vinegar use, but in our testing (backed by science), vinegar doesn’t mar stainless steel. Quite the opposite – it’s an effective cleaner when paired with oil.

Now that you know what not to do, let’s tackle how to clean even the most stubborn stainless steel stains.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

If you’re a home cleaner who likes options, you’re in luck. There are so many ways to get an effective shine on your stainless steel products. In this main section, we explore eight of our favorite cleaning methods.

What You’ll Need

We recommend using at least two of the methods outlined below – one for cleaning, and another for buffing. Regardless of which methods you choose, you will need the following items:

  • A spray bottle for the cleaner of your choice
  • A few microfiber cloths separated according to function. You will use two of these cloths for cleaning (one to clean, one to dry), reserving another cloth for buffing.
  • A bowl for mixing baking soda-based cleaners

That’s it! Compared to some of our other ultimate cleaning guides, the shopping list here is pretty straightforward. And there’s a good chance you have one or more suitable cleaning products in your home already, so you are all set.

Here are the top eight methods for cleaning your stainless steel.

Mild Detergent

Mild dish detergent is perhaps the most convenient way to clean stainless steel appliances. You already have the dish soap out while doing dishes or cleaning gaps between your counter and stove – you might as well give your appliances some love while you’re at it!

Dilute a teaspoon of mild dish detergent in some distilled water. Wet a microfiber cloth with the mixture and, working with the steel grain, gently clean the surfaces of your stainless steel appliances. Rinse your cloth with more distilled water and give the surfaces another cleanse. Finally, use a dry microfiber cloth to dry away any excess water.

Club Soda in a Spray Bottle

Many people want to know how to clean stainless steel appliances naturally, without the help of detergents or chemical cleaners. One of the best ways we’ve found uses soda water.

Pour a newly opened soda water into a spray bottle. (Use distilled canned or bottled soda, as opposed to Soda Stream, which is made with your potentially hard tap water). Spritz your stainless steel appliances with the soda water and allow the bubbles to work their magic for a minute. Wipe away the water with a microfiber cloth, using a second cloth if necessary to get the surface completely dry.

Window Cleaner

Window cleaners like Windex work a breeze on stainless steel because they leave no streaks and contain no harsh abrasives. Along with stainless steel cleaner (see below), Windex is probably the best way to clean stainless steel appliances without streaking.

Instead of spraying the cleaner directly onto the surfaces, spray your microfiber cloth. Working with the grain, wipe the surfaces of your stainless steel appliances. Window cleaning products tend to dry very quickly, so you probably won’t need a dry cloth – but keep an extra microfiber cloth on hand just in case!

Close-up photograph of a stainless steel oven panel and handle

Dedicated Stainless Steel Cleaner

The methods above work perfectly well if you want to clean your appliances now, with products you already have in your home. But if you have a little time and a couple of dollars to spend at the hardware store, we recommend choosing a product specifically made for stainless steel cleaning.

Bar Keepers Friend, Weiman, Method, Zep and Therapy all make fantastic stainless steel cleaners. Follow the individual directions on the bottle for proper use.

Vinegar and Oil

Let’s discuss how to clean stainless steel appliances naturally. Vinegar and oil don’t just make a great salad dressing; they are also an effective combo on stainless steel. The vinegar cleans the stainless steel, while the oil adds a just-like-new shine to the surface.

Spray vinegar directly onto the stainless steel appliances and wipe with a microfiber cloth, working (as usual) with the grain. Wipe until the appliance is dry. Next, dab a second microfiber cloth in oil (mineral oil works best, but olive oil will do in a pinch) and polish the surfaces with the grain. If you see streaks, keep working! Eventually, your appliance will be streak-free and shiny.  

As mentioned, some people caution against using vinegar. If you want to play it safe, check with your user manual first, or test the vinegar on a small (hidden) corner of the appliance before spraying the entire thing.

Tackle the Stubborn Bits with Baking Soda and Distilled Water

Next, let’s explore how to clean stainless steel appliances with baking soda and water – nothing more! Baking soda works as a gentle scrubbing agent without being abrasive, so it’s perfect for stubborn messes in the kitchen – cleaning kitchen wall tiles, scrubbing the fridge, cleaning stove tops and, of course, buffing stainless steel.

In your mixing bowl, combine baking soda with enough distilled water to make a paste. Smear the paste onto any area with caked-on grease or baked-on food, and gently rub the mixture in with a microfiber cloth. Keep working at it until you’ve buffed out all those stubborn bits. Wipe off any remaining baking soda with a clean microfiber cloth.

Baby Oil and Elbow Grease: How to Shine and Clean Stainless Steel Appliances Without Streaks

After you finish cleaning your stainless steel appliances, you can turn your attention to shining them.

The best way to shine and clean stainless steel appliances without streaking is by using a microfiber cloth, some elbow grease, and some actual grease in the form of baby oil, lemon oil or commercial cleaner.

Apply a dab of baby oil (or lemon oil or commercial cleaner) to a microfiber cloth and wipe – you guessed it! – with the grain. Home DIYers swear by baby oil for a streak-free sheen on their stainless steel appliances.

Bar Keepers Friend: How to Clean Rust Off Stainless Steel Appliances

Stainless steel appliances shouldn’t rust if they’re kept in an enclosed kitchen. However, if your appliances do rust for any reason, you still have a good option for restoration.

Whenever we see rust in the kitchen, we immediately reach for Bar Keepers Friend. True to its name, Bar Keepers Friend has been the go-to cleaner at commercial bars and restaurants for a long time. It’s well-renowned in the cooking world for its ability to restore even the most “unsalvageable” cookware items. And it works a charm on stainless steel appliances too.

The company makes a few different product styles (powders, sprays, formula, etc.), so we can’t give exact instructions. Instead, follow the instructions on the label to remove any rust, grime or built-up calcium deposits.

Final Words

At Fresh Home Guide, we get a lot of questions about stainless steel. “Do you know how to clean stainless steel refrigerator doors?” “What is the best cleaner for stainless steel appliances?” and “Does anyone there know how to clean stainless steel appliances with vinegar?”

In this article, we figured we would kill all of those birds with a single stone. The main takeaway here is that you have several options for cleaning your stainless steel products. You can use detergent, baking soda, mineral oil, vinegar (usually), baby oil or a commercial cleaner. As long as you work with a microfiber cloth and move with the grain rather than against it, you should do just fine.

There’s nothing finer than a sparkling, gleaming kitchen! We hope this guide will help you add the shine back to your stainless steel appliances

Joseph and Family
About Joseph D. Nielson

Former journalist and editor for various press groups, I now dedicate my time to reviewing products for the home and family life. When I get time to myself, I enjoy rock climbing, taking my dirt bike for a rip, and most importantly providing my family with the best home possible!