How to remove rust from stainless steel.


By Evan Crowther

Stainless steel is a sleek, modern-looking option for appliances and countertops. When you buy something made of stainless steel, its name may give the impression that it’s impervious to rust. But the truth is stainless steel appliances and surfaces can sometimes rust.

Fortunately, the corrosion process is reversible. If you've been wondering, "How can I remove rust from stainless steel?" we have the answer. We’ll walk you through the stainless steel cleaning process and offer some important prevention methods. 

Understanding rust on stainless steel.

Before we show you how to clean rust off of stainless steel, let’s first explore what causes it to rust in the first place.

What causes rust on stainless steel?

So, how is it that stainless steel can rust? The truth is that stainless steel is still mostly steel, which rusts with exposure to water or humid air in a process called oxidation. It’s more apt to say stainless steel is “stain-resistant.”

Stainless steel is an alloy of steel made with a metal called chromium. The chemical reaction between chromium and oxygen creates a protective layer of chromium oxide. As a result, the surface is less susceptible to oxidation.

However, if this protective layer becomes damaged, the alloy underneath can start to rust. Things that can damage stainless steel’s protective outer layer include:

  • Abrasive tools like steel wool and wire brushes
  • Some harsh cleaning chemicals
  • Scratches or other damage from handling

When cleaning stainless steel, it's important to be gentle and avoid harsh chemicals and tools.

Why is it important to remove rust from stainless steel? 

Aside from tarnishing its visual appeal, rust can contaminate stainless steel and spread. Left unchecked, the rust will cover more of the surface and degrade it.

However, the chromium oxide layer that makes stainless steel resist corrosion is self-repairing. With proper cleaning, the damaged layer has the remarkable ability to “heal” itself.

Is rust on stainless steel permanent? 

While stainless steel isn’t impervious to rust, you can remove rust from the surface. After you clean it, the protective chromium oxide layer will “heal” itself.

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Homemade rust removers for stainless steel.

baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice for rust removalYou have some options for removing rust from stainless steel. Here are a few homemade rust removers for stainless steel surfaces:

Baking soda method.

Baking soda is a versatile ingredient that can be found in most kitchens. To remove rust from stainless steel, create a paste. Here's how:

  1. Make a paste of equal parts baking soda and water.
  2. Apply the mixture to rusted areas with a soft cloth.
  3. Rub the rust away, following the grain direction of the stainless steel finish.
  4. Use a new cloth to rinse the area with clean water.

White vinegar rub.

Vinegar is known for its acidic properties, which makes it effective in removing rust stains:

  1. Wet a sponge or cloth with white vinegar.
  2. Use the wet cloth to wipe away the rust, following the grain of the finish.
  3. Dry the area with a clean cloth.

Lemon juice and baking soda.

You may have heard of using lemon juice and salt to clean rust off of clothes. However, salt can be too abrasive for use on stainless steel. We recommend using a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda:

  1. Mix equal parts baking soda and lemon juice.
  2. Use a sponge or cloth to wipe off the rust with the mixture.
  3. For more extensive rusting, leave the mixture on the affected area for half an hour before cleaning.
  4. Wipe away the mixture with clean water.

Preventing rust on stainless steel.

cleaning stainless steel hood in kitchenWhile it’s possible to remove rust with a deep clean, it’s easier to prevent rust before it starts. Here are a few tips for rust prevention:

Proper cleaning and maintenance.

Be sure not to use anything that can damage the outer layer of your stainless steel, such as abrasive tools or strong chemicals. Instead, use gentle cleansers like a solution of dish soap and water. Check your user manual before selecting a cleaning item.

Protective coatings and finishes.

A protective stainless steel finish can help prevent smudging and scratching. You can also use a polish recommended by your appliance manufacturer for additional protection.

Humidity and moisture control.

Apart from installing a dehumidifier, there isn’t much you can do to prevent moisture and humidity in certain areas of your home. Polishing your appliance or using a moisture-resistant finish is the best way to prevent humidity from rusting your appliances.

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Hire a cleaning service near you.

While removing rust from stainless steel is a relatively simple DIY project, you might prefer to leave it to the professionals. A professional house cleaner will have the tools and cleaners to care for your stainless steel surfaces. 

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Does WD-40 remove rust from stainless steel?

WD-40 claims it can remove rust stains from stainless steel surfaces. For use in kitchens and laundry rooms, it even comes in a low-odor version. Leave a small amount of WD-40 on the rusted area for a few minutes, then scrub the rust off with a soft scrub brush. 

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