Stainless steel is a weather-proof and resilient material that is perfect for railings (especially exterior) as well as kitchen and bath projects. You don’t have to worry about it rusting and can enjoy years of hard-working beauty. With three young daughters, I’ve really loved having surfaces that stand up to their science and art projects! Even though this is one tough material, it still requires common-sense care. Luckily, it is really easy to maintain stainless steel.
What to Expect
Before we get into maintenance, it’s important to know what is normal for stainless steel. The number one characteristic that we advise our customers about is scratching. When stainless is used for a vertical surface, such as a backsplash, scratching is minimal since it receives little contact.
Horizontal surfaces such as countertops are a different matter, however. Yes, they will scratch. Yes, it will be difficult to accept the first few scratches since they will stand out on the otherwise pristine surface. When this happens, take a deep breath – soon you’ll make it through this awkward phase. The more you use your countertop, the more scratches you’ll accumulate and before you know it, they will form their own unique patina of interwoven scratches.
A second important characteristic of stainless is that it shows fingerprints and smudges. While scratches are a big deal on horizontal surfaces, fingerprints are the biggest issue with vertical surfaces. Fortunately, the most typical vertical application of stainless steel that we offer are backsplashes and those are far enough back that they’re out of reach of errant children their smudgy fingers. Even so, when I chose a backsplash to go behind my stove, I requested a special pattern be applied to disguise splatters and streaks. Patterns are excellent at hiding messes, though they are best suited to smaller areas where a bold pattern won’t be overwhelming.
It is easy and inexpensive to maintain stainless steel and can be done with environmentally friendly supplies. My go-to cleaner is a spray bottle of white vinegar diluted 50-50 with water. It’s super easy, safe for kids to use (hint, hint) and perfect for after-dinner wipe downs. If the mess includes grease, I pull out a spray bottle of diluted dish soap (it’s hard to beat Dawn). I spray the mess with the diluted soap, wipe it up and then follow up with some vinegar to remove soap residue.
Sometimes you really want to make your stainless shine. When you’re ready to give your stainless a deep cleaning, it’s time to pull out the specialty stainless steel cleaners. My favorite is the ever popular and widely available Barkeeper’s Friend. It has a little grit to it so be sure to wipe with the grain in the stainless steel. It gets off all manner of fingerprints, water spots, and dirt.
If you’re looking to add an additional luster to your stainless, Weiman Aerosol Stainless Steel Cleaner is a great choice because it adds a thin coat mineral oil. A word of warning, however – I find that once you use Weiman on a surface, it becomes a little harder to clean off smudges afterwards. For that reason, I recommend against using it on frequently used horizontal surfaces such as countertops and tables. I would reserve it for low-touch vertical surfaces. A dishwasher face or backsplash are good examples.
Stainless steel is a preferred material in areas that need to be sterile because it is non-porous and can be easily sanitized without rusting or being damaged by sanitizing chemicals. There are two easy ways to disinfect with commonly available supplies:
- Isopropyl alcohol/alcohol-based sanitizing wipes – Spray straight 70-85% alcohol on your surface or use a bleach-free sanitizing wipe and then allow the alcohol to completely evaporate.
- Diluted bleach solution – a diluted bleach mixture (1/3 cup to 1 gallon of water) can be used to for most stainless steel disinfection. After applying the bleach solution, leave it on for 5 minutes. Then, rinse it with clean water remove any residue that could harm your skin.
Stainless is strong and durable but rough treatment will cause problems.
- Do not use harsh chemicals. Watch out for cleaners with strong acids such as muriatic acid. Muriatic acid is often used to clean pool tile and if you have nearby railings, vapors and splashing can really damage them. Also watch out for cleaners with caustic chemicals such as undiluted bleach.
- Do not use steel wool. The iron will embed in the stainless steel and cause surface rusting … and a cleaning headache for you. Stainless steel wool is fantastic substitution.
- Do not use abrasive cleaners or scouring pads. They will scratch your stainless. If you choose to use them, rub with the grain of the stainless.
Mistakes happen and your stainless may get accidentally splashed with damaging chemicals. When that happens, it will allow surface rusting. Luckily, this can be fixed. To restore the stainless steel’s rust resistant properties, we recommend you use CitriSurf Stainless Steel Rust Remover and Passivator Cleaner. It has two formulations depending on whether your stainless is horizontal or vertical. For horizontal applications, CitriSurf 77 is fantastic. For vertical applications, where you need the cleaner to hang on the surface longer, you’ll want CitriSurf 2310. Follow the instructions and enjoy your restored stainless steel!
I hope you now have a better idea how to maintain stainless steel and keep it looking its best. As always, if you have any questions or need advice, call the experts at Hudson Custom Fabrication.