How to clean stainless steel appliances, sinks, counters & more.


By Minna Wang

If you have stainless steel kitchen appliances, sinks or counters in your home, you know how beautiful and sleek they can be. But keeping them looking that way? That requires a bit of maintenance. 

Hard water, fingerprints, dust and grime can ruin the look of your stainless steel appliances and stain the surfaces. But we have good news: cleaning stainless steel is pretty easy. Here are some simple tips to help you get your stainless steel appliances, sinks, and counters looking shiny and new. 

What you’ll need to brighten and clean stainless steel.

First, check your manufacturer’s guidelines on how to clean your stainless steel appliances. Some manufacturers may advise against using glass cleaners, bleach or ammonia because it may ruin the finish.

But in many cases, you can use the following to clean stainless steel:

  • Store-bought stainless steel cleaner 
  • Spray bottle
  • Soft microfiber cloth
  • Soft sponge
  • Stainless steel polish 

You can also use the following ingredients to make a DIY solution to tackle fingerprints, grease and stains:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap 
  • Olive oil or baby oil
  • Baking soda 
  • Stainless steel polish 

First, you'll need some type of stainless steel cleaner. This can be either a store-bought cleaner or a homemade solution (usually in a spray bottle so it's easy to apply). We also have some recipes for homemade solutions. These can usually be made with ingredients you already have around the house, like olive oil, baking soda, baby oil, club soda, and white vinegar.

Next, you'll need a soft cloth or sponge for scrubbing. In most cases, all you'll need to do is spray the surface and wipe it clean, but for tougher grime, you may need to do some scrubbing.

And finally, you'll need a microfiber cloth for polishing, along with a stainless steel polish if you want some extra shine. 

DIY stainless steel cleaner ideas.

If you don't have a stainless steel cleaner already or prefer to make your own, it's easy to mix something together from supplies you likely already have at home:

  • Clean water and a soft cloth. If there’s just a little bit of dirt or dust on your stainless steel, you may be able to clean it with just warm water and a soft microfiber cloth.
  • Dish soap and warm water: Most stainless steel surfaces can be cleaned with a simple solution of water and dish soap. Just add a few drops of dish soap to a bowl of warm water--or pour into a spray bottle for easy use--and use a soft cloth to scrub the surface.
  • White vinegar, baking soda and warm water: You can also make a homemade stainless steel cleaner by mixing equal parts warm water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. For tougher stains due to hard water, you can have baking soda on hand. 
  • Olive oil or baby oil: For additional polish, consider adding olive oil or baby oil. You can choose to add it directly to the homemade cleaner or layer it on at the end. To add it to the cleaner, mix 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup water, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a spray bottle, and shake well before each use. To do it separately, use a clean cloth to buff the surface with olive oil after you've cleaned.

Products you should not use on stainless steel.

There are a few products that you should avoid using on stainless steel, as they can damage the finish or leave behind fingerprints and smudges. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Don’t use steel wool or sandpaper. These can scratch the surface of your kitchen appliances as well.
  • Don’t use window cleaners and glass cleaners. These usually contain ammonia, which can dull the finish.
  • Don't use cleaners containing bleach. Harsh chemicals like bleach may ruin the finish.
  • Don't use vinegar on its own. Vinegar is acidic and can damage the finish on stainless steel. If you're creating a homemade stainless steel cleaner, make sure to dilute the vinegar with warm water.
  • Don't use abrasive cleaners. Abrasive cleaners (like scouring powders) can scratch the surface of stainless steel. Instead, opt for a gentler cleaner. 
  • Don’t use paper towels to clean and dry. Paper towels can leave behind lint and streaks. Instead, use a soft, lint-free cloth like a microfiber cloth.

How to clean stainless steel appliances and surfaces.

Stainless steel appliances are a common sight in kitchens and for good reason — they're durable, easy to clean and have a timeless look. However, keeping your stainless steel appliances and surfaces looking their best can require a bit of elbow grease. By following these simple cleaning tips, you can enjoy your stainless steel for years to come.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for cleaning your stainless steel:

Step 1: Locate the direction of the grain. 

Make sure you know which way you should wipe when cleaning and drying your stainless steel.

Step 2: Start with a soft cloth and warm water. 

Before moving on to your specialized cleaner or DIY solution, try to get rid of loose dirt, fingerprints, grease and light smudges with water and a soft cloth. Wet the cloth so that it’s damp, and gently wipe away the dirt in the direction of the grain. Then, use a dry microfiber cloth to dry the area.

Step 3: Try different cleaning solutions for tougher spots. 

In most cases, your store-bought stainless cleaner should be sufficient to remove fingerprints, grease, stains and other dirt. But perhaps you prefer DIY remedies? Depending on what you’re trying to remove, you can try these DIY cleaning solutions:

  • To remove stubborn grease: Use mild detergent/dish soap and water, white vinegar mixed with water, or a store-bought cleaner. Spray the solution on your microfiber cloth and wipe.
  • To remove limescale: Use a diluted vinegar and water solution. For example, pour ¼ cup of vinegar and ¾ cup of water into a spray bottle to use.
  • To remove coffee deposits, stains & discoloration: Mix baking powder and water together to make a paste. Let the paste sit on the surface. If the stain is really stubborn, try your vinegar-and-water solution. 

If you’re using a store-bought cleaner, always follow the directions on the package. Whatever type of cleaner you use, remember to wipe against the grain.

Step 4: Dry and buff the surface with a microfiber cloth.

This will help to prevent streaks and water spots. If you notice fingerprints or smudges, buff them out with a microfiber cloth. 

Step 5: Incorporate olive oil or polish when buffing.

For extra shine, use a bit of olive oil or baby oil on a soft cloth after you’re done cleaning. These oils may also help you remove smudges and fingerprints, and they act as protective coatings in between cleanings. Just remember to rub and buff in the direction of the grain to avoid scratching the surface. Then, wipe the surface dry with a soft cloth.

How to maintain stainless steel kitchen appliances.

It's easy to keep your stainless steel appliances clean and prevent rusting over time. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as these can damage the finish. Instead, opt for mild soap or detergent. 
  • Rinse completely after cleaning to remove any residue that could cause corrosion. 
  • Dry thoroughly to prevent water spots. 
  • Consider using a stainless steel polish or protector to help keep your appliances looking like new. A homemade solution like baby oil or olive oil also works wonders.

Cleaning tips for stainless steel sinks.

A stainless steel sink can add a touch of sophistication to any kitchen. But keeping it clean can be a bit of a challenge. Hard water spots, fingerprints and soap scum can quickly mar the surface, making it look dull and lifeless. 

Here are a few tips for keeping your stainless steel sink looking its best:

  • Clean it daily. Use a mild soap and warm water or stainless steel cleaner to clean the sink regularly. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as these can damage the surface. If you have hard water, you may need to clean the sink more often to prevent mineral deposits from building up.
  • Do a deep clean weekly. Use white vinegar, a baking soda paste and/or a stainless steel cleaner to do a deeper clean every week.
  • Dry it immediately after each use. After you use your sink (whether for washing dishes or hands and after deep cleaning it), rinse with clear water and dry it with a microfiber cloth immediately to prevent streaks and stains.

Tips for cleaning stainless steel counters.

Stainless steel counters are a practical and attractive choice for many kitchens. However, they can also be a bit of a hassle to keep clean. Here are some cleaning tips:

  • Wipe up spills immediately with a soft cloth, like a microfiber cloth. This will help prevent stains from setting in or water spots from forming.
  • Use warm water and mild soap to clean the counters on a daily basis. You can also use a commercial stainless steel cleaner if you prefer.
  • Give your counters a more thorough weekly cleaning by scrubbing them with a mixture of baking soda and water. This will help remove any stubborn stains or buildup.
  • To polish the counters, use a clean, dry cloth and rub in the direction of the grain. You can also use a commercial stainless steel polish if desired.

Mistakes to avoid while cleaning stainless steel.

While it's true that stainless steel is a tough, low-maintenance material, there are still a few things to keep in mind. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when cleaning stainless steel:

  • Not reading your owner’s manual. Whenever you’re cleaning something in (or outside) your home, make sure you check your owner’s manual for a list of products to use and avoid, instructions on how to clean and how often you should clean. If you can’t find a physical copy of your owner’s manual, search online for your manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Using harsh cleaners and chemicals. Many people mistakenly believe that they can clean stainless steel with harsh and abrasive cleaners such as ammonia, bleach, chloride, acetone, alcohol and more. And some people reach for scouring pads and brushes. However, these chemicals and materials can actually scratch the finish, ruin the protective coating and/or make the steel more susceptible to fingerprints and smudges. 
  • Applying too much pressure. Another common mistake is using too much pressure when cleaning. Remember, stainless steel is strong, but it's also fairly thin. So if you scrub too hard, you could end up leaving scratches or dents. The best way to avoid this is to use a soft cloth, be gentle and work in the direction of the grain. 
  • Wiping in the wrong direction. Again, it’s important to always wipe in the direction of the grain. This may mean wiping from left to right or in a downward direction.
  • Forgetting to dry. Don't forget to dry your stainless steel after cleaning. Water spots are unsightly and difficult to remove. So, take an extra minute to dry your surfaces with a soft cloth after cleaning them. 

Hire house cleaning services on Thumbtack.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, kitchen appliances might be beyond the realm of DIY. If you’re having a hard time staying on top of your cleaning tasks and your stainless steel appliances are suffering, it may be time to hire a house cleaning service. Professional house cleaners have the skills and experience to clean your appliances quickly and efficiently, removing built-up grime and restoring them to their original condition. 

If your appliances are starting to show scratches, dents or other signs of damage, it's also important to have them inspected by a top-rated technician — both for cosmetic damage and what may not be visible. In some cases, the damage can be repaired. However, if the damage is extensive, it may be necessary to replace the appliance. 

Whether you need a house cleaner or an appliance repair professional, use Thumbtack to begin your search. Find and compare local professionals, and start getting cost estimates today.


Does vinegar damage stainless steel?

Vinegar won’t damage your stainless steel as long as you dilute it first. Vinegar is acidic and can damage stainless steel if directly applied. When cleaning stainless steel, use white vinegar and dilute it with warm water so you have a 25-75 mixture that can safely be used to clean your stainless steel.

Can I use Windex on stainless steel?

Unless the owner’s manual approves it, avoid using Windex and other glass cleaners for stainless steel appliances, sinks and countertops. Glass cleaners usually contain ammonia, which can dull the finish on stainless steel.

How often should you clean stainless steel?

How often you need to clean your stainless steel will depend on how often it's used and how well you maintain it. For most people, cleaning stainless steel appliances once a week should be sufficient. Surfaces like counters, sinks and refrigerators that are used often can be lightly cleaned daily, either with a light cleaning solution or just a damp microfiber cloth.

Find local pros for your project

Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll show you pros right for the job, with prices.