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Inside: Do smudged-up stainless steel appliances drive you nuts? Learn how to clean stainless steel appliances quickly and easily with this one simple method (and learn how to keep them clean for longer than just 5 precious minutes).
Stainless steel appliances are hardy, attractive, and durable, which makes them such a popular choice for kitchen appliances. However, if you have stainless steel in your kitchen it can also leave you wondering how to clean stainless steel appliances without wrecking them.
(They may be durable, but they certainly aren’t bulletproof. Or corrosion-proof. Or smudge-proof. Or fingerprint-proof.)
I’ve tried MANY different methods to clean my stainless steel appliances, and this one has proven itself to be the best way to clean, and KEEP them clean (which is important for this busy mama, because I just don’t have time to spend an hour polishing my kitchen appliances every week), time and time again.
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3 Things You Need to Clean Your Stainless Steel Appliances
- Perk paper towel
- Baby oil
(Then be sure to follow the step-by-step guide EXACTLY as they’re laid out below for the best results.)
When it comes to cleaning stainless steel appliances, I always use Perk paper towels. They’re strong enough that I don’t have to worry about them ripping or leaving little pieces behind when I’m cleaning. Plus, they don’t leave any of that dreaded lint on the freshly-cleaned surfaces.
The Perk paper towels work perfectly to give me that spotless finished product look I’m after. (More on that below. First…)
It wasn’t until my husband and I moved into our most recent house that I really had to learn how to care for stainless steel appliances in the kitchen because up until now, I didn’t have any stainless steel to upkeep.
But now, with a stainless refrigerator, oven, over-the-range microwave AND dishwasher, there’s a whole lot stainless steel to worry about keeping clean.
I’ve tried many different cleaning products and homemade cleaning solutions to find the best stainless steel cleaner, and I was surprised to learn that the best cleaner for stainless steel isn’t as much of a “cleaner” at all. It’s more of a “wipe & polish” technique that works better than anything else I’ve come across.
How do You Clean Stainless Steel Appliances Naturally?
You’re busy and I know you don’t have hours of time to spend experimenting with different stainless steel cleaners to find the one that works the best.
And, you want to keep your kitchen as chemical-free as possible, so you’re wondering if there’s a way to clean stainless steel appliances naturally…
…the good news is, there is.
And it’s the only way I clean mine.
Most people will tell you to just go out and buy the big name brand stainless steel cleaners, but I’ve found that those cleaners, on top of being filled with chemicals, don’t clean as well as the simple 3-step solution I’ve found.
Before we get to the best way how to clean stainless steel appliances naturally, we’re going to go over a few big no-nos for when it comes to cleaning stainless steel.
(Because the last thing you want is to cause unintentional damage to your luxurious appliances.)
What Not to do When Cleaning Stainless Steel
If you have stainless steel in your kitchen you’re fully aware of how quickly smudges, fingerprints, and scuffs can appear on the surface.
While stainless steel looks great when it’s well kept, it can look awful if it doesn’t get cleaned often.
If you have littles running around your house, you know especially how hard it can be to clean stainless steel, never mind to keep it clean with little hands always grabbing handles, touching the smooth surfaces, and leaving food trails everywhere they go.
This can make it especially tempting to dive under your sink and grab your all-purpose cleaner to clean off your stainless steel since it seems like the quickest, easiest option, although doing this is NOT great for the health of the steel.
Though it’s durable, there are some things that will set your stainless steel appliances on a fast-track to ruined.
Here’s what you should never do when cleaning kitchen appliances:
- Never use steel wool or hard bristles
Stainless steel can scratch easily, and if you use steel wool or scrub brushes to try and clean a smudge or stain away, you will just end up causing damage to the appliance. This is because most stainless steel appliances come with a protective film on them, and scrubbing at the appliance will break the film which will make the steel more susceptible to rusting, corrosion, and other damage.
(Instead of hard bristles and scrub brushes, all you need is something soft and lint-free, like this, to do the job.)
- Don’t use bleach or abrasive cleaners
Bleach can cause staining and damage to stainless steel, so as tempting as it may be, be sure to steer clear of it. Also, avoid any cleaners that contain bleach or chloride.
- Don’t clean with hard water
If your tap water is hard (meaning it has a high mineral content), it will leave hard-water stains on the surfaces that you’re cleaning. You can avoid these stains by boiling the water prior to use, then be sure to give the water enough time to cool down before using it.
- Don’t use anything filled with chemicals
Remember that your appliances are in the kitchen – where you store, prep, and eat food – so you’ll want to keep the chemicals you use to a minimum. In addition, if the film on the stainless steel has been punctured anywhere, the chemicals will eat away at the steel and cause damage.
Now that we’ve gone over the quick list of don’ts for cleaning stainless steel, let’s move on to how to clean stainless steel naturally and effectively.
What is the Best Cleaner For Stainless Steel Appliances?
Water + baby oil + paper towel = stainless steel perfection.
(But there’s more to it than that.)
Before we go over the steps on exactly how to clean anything off of any of your stainless steel appliances, including how to clean fingerprints off stainless steel refrigerator, we’ll quickly go over the supplies that you’re going to need.
- Paper towel (I’ve found the best results with this specific brand)
- Baby oil
Three simple things are all you need to flawlessly clean every and any stainless steel surface in your kitchen.
Seriously, I’ve used this solution on the worst of the worst, and the not-so-bad, and every surface comes out shining like new (and smelling amazing) in the end. I’ve even used this stainless steel cleaner method on more than my appliances, including our toaster, spice rack (which, before using this, I was NEVER able to get shiny), and stovetop kettle.
It’s worth noting that using paper towel (I use this specific brand of paper towel because its softness and lack of lint render the best results) for cleaning and polishing stainless steel appliances works far better than using rags since rags, even my favorite microfiber rags, leave lint and streaks.
When working with stainless steel, we want to get a lint-free, streak-free finish, and when working with oil, we all know how easy it is to smudge and how difficult it can be to get a perfect finished product with no lines in it. The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is by using Perk paper towels.
Before You Begin…
Find the grain
When people hear “work with the grain” they often think of wood or leather. But as surprising as it may be, stainless steel also has a grain, and whether you work with the grain or against the grain will truly determine how clean and shiny your appliance ends up being.
So, take a look at each of your appliances (different appliances may have grains going in different directions) and determine which way the grain runs.
Does it run vertically, or horizontally?
You can see by looking at my dirty stainless steel fridge that the grain runs horizontally.
Noting the way the grain runs is important because as you wipe the appliances down and polish them up, you need to work with the grain.
All of my appliances, for instance, have a horizontal grain – so when I clean them I always wipe horizontally.
Working against the grain won’t ruin your appliances, but you won’t get as deep of a clean since you will merely wipe over the surface, rather than deep into the crevices of the steel to get all the dirt wiped away.
Now that you have everything you need to bring some serious shine to your grime-ridden appliances, and you know the direction that each appliance’s grain runs, let’s get to work.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances
1. Dampen a paper towel with warm water
Grab a medium-sized piece of paper towel (I personally choose to use these paper towels since I don’t need to worry about them ripping apart when I wet them with water) and pour some warm water onto it. The key here is to just dampen the paper towel, not drench it.
You don’t want so much water on the towel that when you wipe the appliance water drips down.
I like to pour water over my piece of paper towel then squeeze it out so it’s no longer dripping and is just damp.
2. Wipe the appliance
Choose the appliance that you will start with, then wipe it down from top to bottom being sure every inch has been wiped with the wet paper towel.
If you find the paper towel is drying out, apply some more water to it. If it is getting too dirty, grab a fresh piece and continue wiping. (Be sure to wipe the appliance down in the same direction as the grain goes.)
*It’s important to note here that this step of wiping the appliance with water is not going to remove fingerprints and smudge marks – all we are doing right now is removing any loose dirt and grime from the appliance so that we have a clean slate to work with. The shining, polishing, and making-it-look-brand-new come in step #4.
3. Dry the appliance
Next, you’re going to want to dry the appliance with a small piece of paper towel. (Which is another reason why I opt for Perk paper towels, since they don’t just come in the large sheets – I’m able to choose the exact size I want to use.)
Even if there isn’t any noticeable water on the appliance, you don’t want to skip this step or else the next step won’t work (and it’s the most important one).
4. Apply baby oil
This is where it all starts to come together… and where it starts looking good. Apply a couple drops of baby oil to a fresh piece of paper towel and gently wipe your stainless steel appliance with baby oil, wiping in the same direction that the grain runs.
Start by doing one coat over the entire appliance and working in small sections to wipe away stubborn smudges and fingerprints. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect just yet, you still may see lines in the oil; that’s okay – for now, focus on wiping smudges and marks out.
Add more baby oil to the paper towel as needed.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect right now. For now you’re just removing the fingerprints and marks, next we’ll do the finishing touches.
This step always amazes me. How a smudge-ridden refrigerator can go from looking gross to looking like it’s brand-spankin’-new in a matter of a couple seconds.
5. Crumple the paper towel to polish
Once you’ve got the smudges worked out of the appliance, grab one more piece of paper towel and this time add just a tiny amount of baby oil to it, unless there is already a lot of baby oil on the appliance, then don’t put anything on the piece of paper towel this time.
Take the new paper towel and crumple it up in your hand so it’s comfortable to hold.
The key here is to crumple, not fold. Folding will cause streaks, crumpling allows the paper towel to fit right into the grooves of the steel.
Then, start at the top of your appliance and wipe your way all the way across (or all the way to the bottom, depending on the direction of the grain) to create one continuous wipe.
If you wipe in small sections, it will create visible lines. This is why, in this step, you want to wipe all the way across in one go.
Do this over the entire appliance.
Then stand back.
And admire your work.
Your stainless steel appliance should now be completely free of water steaks, fingerprints, smudges, and crumbs.
It looks brand new and it smells like a baby’s (clean) bottom.
Isn’t it lovely?
This has been the BEST way that I have found to clean stainless steel appliances. It’s easy, I only need 3 things to get the job done, and it delivers amazing results every. single. time.
The biggest and most important factor, I find, in getting that straight-from-the-store look back in your appliances is to use paper towels. I’ve tried using cloths and find the outcome just isn’t the same; paper towels are the perfect consistency and softness to flawlessly clean and polish stainless steel appliances. I recently started using Perk paper towels and I’ve been very happy with them.
Important Things to Note When Cleaning Stainless Steel Appliances With Baby Oil:
- Crumple, don’t fold. Remember to crumple the paper towel in your hand, don’t fold it into a small square to hold (this is what I used to do). Folding it creates aggressive edges on the paper towel which leave streaks in the baby oil coating. Crumpling the paper towel allows it to flow evenly.
- Work with the grain. Working with the grain will give your appliance a smooth, flawless finish, and it will allow the water and oil to seep deep into the crevices of the steel, whereas if you work against the grain, you’ll simply be brushing over the surface, not actually getting into the crevices.
- Use paper towel. I have used several different types of paper towel, and I’ve found that this specific brand works really well. It’s strong, and it’s incredibly soft, so it doesn’t leave lines in the oil.
- Use baby oil. Some people will suggest polishing your appliance with olive oil, but I have found baby oil to work the best as olive oil can go rancid and it doesn’t smell as good.
If you use these tips and follow the steps laid out above, cleaning stainless steel appliances will go from being one of your most-dreaded chores to something you actually enjoy doing – because it makes your kitchen look SO much cleaner and tidier, and it brings an amazing smell to your house.
Common Questions About How to Clean Stainless Steel + Answers For You
Below we’ll go over some of the most pressing questions people tend to have when it comes to cleaning stainless steel appliances, like:
- Why just water and baby oil?
- What about other cleaners?
- Can I use vinegar to clean stainless steel?
- Can I use Windex to clean stainless steel?
- Do stainless steel appliances rust?
- How to clean stainless steel with baking soda
Why Just Water and Baby Oil?
Stainless steel appliances come with a coating on them that makes them rust-resistant, bacteria-resistant, and more difficult to damage.
Which is why I choose to use just water for cleaning my appliances, that way I don’t have to worry about wearing through that protective coating and shortening the life of my appliances.
I have found baby oil to work the best in getting rid of fingerprints and smudges, and it also makes the appliances more resistant to smudges – meaning, they won’t smudge up as fast after you’ve cleaned them.
(Because there’s nothing worse than spending an hour tediously cleaning and polishing your appliance until it shines only to have a little one walk up and rest their hand on it… leaving a giant smudge.)
To put this in perspective, I cleaned my appliances just over a month ago using this method, and they still looked great. I had to INTENTIONALLY smudge up the refrigerator (and I wasn’t able to just smudge it up, I had to use some dish soap – which I don’t like to do – to wipe the oil coating off of my appliances so that I was ABLE to smudge them up for this article) so that I was able to give real-life pictures and examples of how to clean it. THAT is how awesome this stainless steel cleaning & polishing method is.
What About Other Cleaners?
Some people recommend cleaning stainless steel appliances with either vinegar, stainless steel cleaners, dish soap, or other cleaning substances.
So, why do I use just water?
I find that my appliances don’t get dirty enough to justify using actual cleaning agents on.
I’ve always been able to remove dirt, grime, food particles, and anything else from the surface by simply wiping it down with water (and then removing dark spots by polishing with baby oil).
And, stainless steel appliances are naturally made to be bacteria-resistant, so I don’t have to worry about them collecting and growing bacteria, which makes me even more confident that a simple wipe-down with water will suffice.
Stainless steel appliances also come with a coating on them that makes the rust-resistant, so I believe that the more products and chemicals that get used on the stainless steel, the quicker that coating is going to wear off and make my appliances more susceptible to rusting, corroding, and other damage.
I also choose to use baby oil instead of other oils because baby oil is chemical-free, so I don’t have to worry about using it around food, and I don’t worry about it getting on little hands since it’s used on their body, anyway.
However, if you find that your stainless steel surfaces truly are dirty, or you are worried about bacteria growing on them, you certainly can use either vinegar or dish soap to wash the surfaces before applying baby oil.
There are some warnings when it comes to cleaning with vinegar, though…
Can I Use Vinegar to Clean Stainless Steel?
Many people find themselves wondering this, which leads us to a follow-up question, “Does vinegar damage stainless steel?”
There are many articles that will tell you to go ahead and use vinegar to clean your stainless steel appliances…
…but they don’t tell you about the precautionary measures you need to take so that you don’t damage the stainless steel.
Because, YES, vinegar can damage stainless steel, but there is one thing you can do to prevent damage while cleaning with it.
Vinegar is incredibly acidic, and that much acidity can corrode stainless steel over time, which is definitely something you do not want to happen. So, to prevent this, you’ll want to be sure to dilute your vinegar with water before using it to clean any stainless steel.
Yes – you can use vinegar to clean stainless steel. BUT, you need to dilute the vinegar with water, and always wipe the vinegar off the surface with a water rinse.
Never use vinegar to clean stainless steel without following up with a rinse. Always, always, always wipe the stainless steel with a damp paper towel with just water after you’ve wiped the appliance down with diluted vinegar.
If you want your stainless steel appliances to last many years looking like new, never use straight vinegar to clean the surface. Dilute the vinegar at least 1 – 1 with water for the best results, and wipe the surface with plain water after you’re done.
Can You Use Windex on Stainless Steel Appliances?
Windex is a very commonly-used stainless steel cleaner since it works so well for getting rid of smudges and fingerprints.
Windex shouldn’t damage your stainless steel, however, I still stand behind the belief that the fewer chemicals you can use on your stainless steel, the better.
If you choose to clean stainless steel with Windex, spray a few spritzes onto a strong piece of paper towel (this is no time to have your paper towel falling apart and leaving residue behind. I recommend using these ones) and rub the cleaner into the stainless steel, once again working with the grain.
Once you’ve finished, be sure to rinse the appliance off with a paper towel damped with water (never leave chemicals sitting on the stainless steel).
Stainless steel is an awesome kind of appliance to have in your kitchen – you just want to make sure you take good care of it.
The name can be misleading, many people believe their stainless steel appliances are bulletproof – or stainless, at the very least – and can handle anything. But they can’t – there are certain things that will cause them to corrode over time (vinegar), things that will damage them (steel wool or hard bristles)… and they can even rust (yes – rust).
Many people wonder:
Does Stainless Steel Rust?
Stainless steel is rust-resistant, but unfortunately, it’s not rustproof.
Over time, if stainless steel hasn’t been given the proper care, it can rust.
But there are some things you can do to learn how to keep stainless steel from rusting and keep it in tip-top condition for many, many years.
Stainless steel produces a layer of chromium oxide that prevents it from rusting, but some things, standing water included, can prevent the stainless steel from producing that chromium oxide layer, which makes the steel more susceptible to rust. (As well as other damage.)
You can prevent your stainless steel appliances from rusting by cleaning them regularly and wiping up any pooling water.
If your appliance does start to rust, you can remove most rust spots and stains with Bar Keeper’s Friend powder.
Wipe the rust spot with water, apply Bar Keeper’s Friend powder to your damp paper towel, then rub in a circular motion to remove the rust stains.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances with Baking Soda
Baking soda can be used to clean your stainless steel as the powder has a very small amount of abrasiveness, but as long as you rub it gently, it shouldn’t be abrasive enough to damage the stainless steel.
The key to cleaning stainless steel appliances with baking soda is to be gentle. Don’t scrub too hard or you could cause damage to the oxide coating that protects your stainless steel from damaging and rusting.
If you’ve tried cleaning your stainless steel with water, dish soap, and vinegar and there are still spots that just won’t come out (remember – don’t worry about getting fingerprints out when you wipe – that’s the oil’s job and it comes later; the wiping is simply getting dirt and loose debris off the surface, as well as substances that are more stuck-on), you can try using a baking soda paste to clean your stainless steel appliances.
Add a small amount of baking soda to a bowl, then add just enough water to make a thick paste.
Apply the paste onto your paper towel (again, you don’t want to use a rag as they tend to leave lint and don’t spread substances out as evenly as paper towels do) and rub onto the stainless steel in the same direction as the grain of the steel.
Once you’ve scrubbed the grime away, dampen a piece of paper towel and wipe the surface of the appliance to rinse away all of the baking soda.
Finish your cleaning by applying a small amount of baby oil to a piece of crumpled paper towel and polish the surface of the appliance, again working with the grain.
So there you have it – the top tips for how to keep stainless steel clean, appliances and all.
I would love to know, what do you do to keep your stainless steel appliances clean? Have you found something that works exceptionally well? Feel free to share it with us below.