Who knew it would be so difficult to clean stainless steel appliances, right? But a kitchen full of perfectly polished stainless makes for an impressive result that showcases your professional touch, so it’s worth getting right.
Stainless came into vogue when I was already cleaning homes for a living, and with a last name like Steel I assumed it would live up to the ‘industrial kitchen’ hype it was being promoted with.
Turns out it’s pretty finicky! It can be scratched if an abrasive is used to clean it. Fingerprints and drips are very visible… and tough to make in-visible. Even when it’s freshly cleaned, it might be a streaky mess.
I found that none of the advice in articles, videos, and online discussions worked consistently. My job involves cleaning many kitchens with multiple stainless steel appliances, and I was looking for a solution that worked well, efficiently, and every time.
I developed a 2-step approach that works perfectly; pretty much every time. It’s a bit unorthodox, so be sure to try it first in an inconspicuous spot; disclaimer blah blah blah.
The Root of the Problem
There are many grades of stainless steel, and they generally come with some type of waxy protectant seal applied at the factory. On top of that, there’s a good chance your customer has applied a waxy topcoat bought at the grocery store, or a thick polish, or maybe some mineral oil.
Bottom line: it’s the layers of seals and topcoats that are smearing, not the stainless steel itself. Plus, ‘waxy’ and water don’t mix, so when the inevitable drip of water rolls down the waxy finish, it causes a streak that can be tough to disguise.
Note: If you suspect it’s faux stainless steel, or doesn’t have a waxy finish, you might want to just clean the appliance and skip the polish.
The 2-Step Solution to Clean Stainless Steel
Hint: Cleaning the stainless is the final part of cleaning the appliance, whether it’s a range, microwave or refrigerator. I generally get the entire kitchen, including appliances, scrubbed clean before I go back through to make the stainless beautiful. Move through these steps one appliance at a time… if the cleaner or polish begins to dry out it gets harder to work with.
- A Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge (the blue Scotch-Brite is my favorite)
- Rubbing Alcohol (Try carrying a color-coded 3 oz travel bottle; you’ll only need a drizzle for this task.)
- A clean towel to buff the area dry immediately after cleaning (I use paper towels.)
- Weiman’s Stainless Steel Wipes; available at most stores with a cleaning aisle. (Be sure to keep the container well-sealed; they dry out easily and become worthless.) I carry 2 or 3 folded up in a sandwich sized zip-loc baggie in my caddy.
Keep in mind when you are getting a new customer started that if the stainless appliances have deep layers of past products tried, with streaks and mars that don’t want to budge, you’ll need to clean (see below) the entire panel every time to work through the layers; not just spot clean fingerprints, etc. It might take a few visits to get it where you want it before maintenance becomes easier.
And without further ado, the 2 steps are….
Step 1: The Cleaning: Dampen your scrub sponge with water and wring well, then apply a drizzle of rubbing alcohol to the textured side. First clean the touchpad if there is one, then clean and dry handles well. Getting to the stainless, always moving with the grain, lightly, lightly scrub areas with fingerprints, etc., then immediately buff dry. Do this, one by one, on all problem areas. (Don’t forget the door rims.)
The rubbing alcohol softens the waxy finish and allows you to redistribute it. There’s a bit of water in rubbing alcohol, so it’s best if you can wait a few minutes before polishing to be sure anything that can evaporate has. (The alcohol helps traces of water evaporate quickly.)
Step 2: The Polishing: Once cleaned, all appliances should look pretty good but with some streaks. With a fresh Weiman Stainless Steel Wipe, head to the fridge first; since it has the largest and most noticeable area. The wipe goes on thick but peters out fast, so distribute the polish against the grain (scandalous; I know!) in big swaths; one door or good-sized area at a time.
Then go back over that area to catch every square inch; this time polishing with the grain. The Weiman’s will darken the tone of the stainless wherever it has been (adequately) applied, so it’s easy to see if you’ve missed a spot. It should dry to a perfect consistency; no need to buff.
Next~ onto the dishwasher, where you might need a fresh wipe. Stainless steel dishwashers can be most challenging because the waxy door warms up when it’s running, and drips from the sink can really make a mark.
Then, you can use the petered-out wipes for the range and microwave, because the stainless comes in smaller strips on those appliances… just be careful not to get the wipe on glass or touchpads. (A paper towel with rubbing alcohol will remove smears on glass, though.)
Beautiful! Now, just be careful not to splash any wetness on any of those polished appliances when you mop the floor, and you’re a hero!