Cleaning Stainless Steel Naturally: 7 Simple Methods
By Marilee Nelson |
Stainless steel is popular in most American homes and kitchens.
It’s also beloved among the health- and toxin-conscious as a healthier cookware and plastic alternative for water bottles, lunch boxes, thermoses, and more.
The only downside to stainless steel is it can get streaks and smudges and requires regular cleaning.
This leads most people to seek expensive, chemical-based cleaners to keep their stainless steel appliances looking new.
However, there are better, inexpensive and more non-toxic ways to keep your stainless steel appliances, pots, pans, water bottles, and everything else sparkly clean.
In this article, we share seven ways to clean stainless steel naturally using non-toxic cleaners and everyday household items.
How Often to Clean Stainless Steel
We’ll answer this question in the context of stainless steel appliances, which aren’t typically cleaned as often as pots and pans or water bottles, for example.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure to keep your stainless steel appliances in showroom condition.
Therefore, a daily wipe down following the grain (like wood, stainless steel has a grain if you look closely)with a simple damp microfiber cloth, followed by drying with a dry cloth (to prevent watermarks), is your best defense against tougher stains and dullness.
Then, once per week or as needed, use one of these methods for a deeper clean and to restore shine.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Naturally
Stainless steel has many incredible qualities: it’s sleek, durable, and responds incredibly well to natural cleaners.
Before sharing our seven favorite ways to clean stainless steel naturally, here are a few general tips:
- If you have hard water, use distilled or ionized water to avoid staining or damaging stainless steel.
- Microfibers or other lint-free rags are your best tool for wiping and polishing stainless steel.*
- Always wipe in the direction of the grain.
- Avoid using abrasive cleaning tools, like steel wool or rough sponges.
- If you’re worried one of these methods could damage your stainless steel or its finish, check your User’s Manual or contact the manufacturer.
*Note: If you use microfiber cloths, make sure to wash them in Guppyfriend bags to avoid microplastic pollution that harms our waterways and aquatic life. In tests, the bag captured 99 percent of fibers released in the washing process.
Here are seven natural ways to clean your stainless steel appliances, pots and pans, water bottles, and more.
1. Branch Basics
Branch Basics All-Purpose, Bathroom, and Streak-Free dilutions plus Oxygen Boost do a fantastic job cleaning and shining all types of stainless steel.
Here’s how to use Branch Basics to clean stainless steel appliances, countertops, pots & pans, and more.
For Stainless Steel Appliances:
- Spray either Streak-free or All-Purpose to test which works best for your stainless steel.
- Then spray on and wipe off, following the grain, with a microfiber cloth.
- Note: Some stainless steel appliances clean up best with our concentrate. Apply with a microfiber and wipe.
For Stainless Steel Countertops:
- Spray All Purpose and wipe with a microfiber to remove a bit of food, debris, and germs.
- If more streak-free shine is desired, follow up with a spray of Streak-Free or a damp microfiber cloth dipped in water.
For Handwashing Stainless Steel Water Bottles, sippy cups, mugs, etc.
- Use Branch Basics All Purpose or Bathroom directly on the stainless steel or in a soapy water basin.
- Due to their dilutions, All-Purpose is generally best for direct-spraying dishes and Bathroom for washing in a sink or basin.
- Wash and dry like normal.
- Drying with a microfiber cloth vs. air drying will help prevent water spots and add shine.
For Burnt Pots & Pans
- Spray with All-Purpose, then sprinkle half a scoop of Oxygen Boost on the bottom of the pot or pan.
- Cover with warm water and let soak for at least 15 minutes or overnight
- Scrub clean—it’s that easy!
Check out dilution ratios to learn how to create an All-Purpose, Bathroom, or Streak-Free Cleaner using the Branch Basics Concentrate.
2. Microfiber Towel + Water
As previously mentioned, a simple damp microfiber cloth is the best everyday cleaning method for stainless steel appliances.
Ideally, you’d use distilled or ionized water, but filtered water often works just as well to achieve a streak-free shine.
Simply wipe down your appliances with a damp cloth and dry them with a dry cloth to prevent water spots (if desired).
Follow up with any other natural methods for tougher messes or stains.
3. White Vinegar or White Vinegar + Olive Oil
Although we wouldn’t recommend cooking with it, distilled white vinegar is one of the best all-natural DIY cleaners available.
Here are three ways to use distilled white vinegar on stainless steel.
#1: Dilute with water and use as a spray on appliances, sinks, countertops, and other items
- Mix equal parts of distilled white vinegar and water (distilled if you have hard water) in a spray bottle.
- Spray* directly on stainless steel and wipe with a microfiber cloth.
#2: Use distilled white vinegar and olive oil for extra shine on appliances, sinks, and countertops
- Follow the directions from the previous step.
- Dip a microfiber or soft clean cloth into some olive oil.
- Rub in the direction of the grain to create a lustrous shine.
#3: Mix distilled white vinegar with water to clean and restore stainless steel cutlery and utensils
- Combine 1 part distilled white vinegar with 7-8 parts water.
- Let sit for 15-20 minutes.
- Hand wash, rinse, and dry.
*Note: Caution should be used when using vinegar (especially if sprayed) as it contains acetic acid which is an eye and lung irritant. Make sure to avoid breathing the fumes and provide good ventilation to clear acetic acid from the air. Babies, children, and people with chronic illness should not be present when vinegar is being sprayed and used for cleaning.
Discover more ways to use non-toxic vinegar in DIY cleaning products in 12 Ways To Use Vinegar In Your Home.
4. Baking Soda + Hot Water
Combine baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, with water to tackle water spots or stubborn stains on stainless steel.
Note: Baking soda is a very mild abrasive, making it gentle enough for stainless steel.
- Combine baking soda with enough hot water to make a paste.
- Apply to the spot or stain using your hands.
- Let dwell for 10-20 minutes.
- Buff clean using a non-scratch brush or soft toothbrush.
- Follow up with a wipe-down using a damp microfiber, streak-free, or vinegar spray.
Learn more ways to use baking soda as a non-toxic cleaner, brightener, and stain-remover: 12 Uses for Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) Around The House.
5. Pan Scrapers
Aggressive scouring is a surefire way to scratch and damage your stainless steel.
Instead, use a simple plastic pan scraper to remove stuck-on messes.
Follow up with any of these basic cleaning methods (Branch Basics, vinegar, club soda, etc.)
6. Club Soda
Club Soda is a legendary stain remover for clothing and upholstery. It also works wonders on cleaning and shining stainless steel.
To use, dip a microfiber in club soda, wring, and wipe, or fill a bottle with club soda, spray, and wipe.
This excellent everyday cleaner and shiner also works well on water spots and stains.
Typically, we’d only recommend white flour for feeding sourdough starters or making play dough.
However, plain all-purpose flour is excellent for shining stains on stainless steel sinks, pots, pans, and bowls.
We do not recommend this method for appliances due to the mess factor.
To use flour to polish stainless steel:
- Clean your sink, pots, pans, stainless steel bowls, etc. thoroughly to remove debris, grease, etc.
- Next, sprinkle some flour into the sink, pot, etc.
- You don’t need too much flour, which could clog your drain, just a sprinkle will do.
- Rub the flour in a circular motion using a soft cloth.
- Rinse well with water and dry.
Which is the Best Method For Tough Stains?
The best defense against tough stains is to clean them up ASAP.
When that’s not possible, we turn to the baking soda paste method to remove tough stains on stainless steel appliances and the Branch Basics method for burnt-on food.
What Should You NOT Use On Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel may be tough, but the wrong cleaning products can damage it.
Here are the top cleaners to avoid using on stainless steel:
- Abrasive cleaning tools such as steel wool
- Ammonia or glass cleaners containing ammonia
- Bleach or products containing bleach or chlorine
- Hard water
- Harsh abrasive cleaners
- Oven cleaner
- Knives or other stainless steel scrapers
Some experts will tell you to avoid using water on stainless steel.
We disagree. Although hard water should not be used on stainless steel, a damp microfiber soaked in distilled or filtered water is a wonderful everyday cleaning tool.
Just wipe the area dry to avoid watermarks.
How to Restore Stainless Steel
Do you have a stainless steel appliance or product that’s seen better days?
If so, you can likely restore it using one of these methods.
Note: These methods are meant for uncoated stainless steel and could worsen matters if used on coated stainless appliances. Check with the manufacturer about the best non-toxic options for coated stainless steel.
Here are some ideas to try (and remember, always work with the grain):
- For stubborn stains on appliances, try the baking soda hot water method. It’s okay to repeat it.
- For pans with burnt-on food or burned spots, try the Branch Basics method outlined in section one.
- You can also try boiling a few tablespoons of baking soda directly in the pan, wait until it cools, then scrub it clean.
- Avoid using cooking sprays in stainless steel pans, which can cause staining.
- For cloudy stainless steel, which is usually the result of hard water or abrasive cleaners:
- Cover the appliance in a cloth soaked with distilled white vinegar (this may take several cloths for large appliances. Clip magnets help keep the cloth on.)
- Let dwell for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove and wipe clean.
- Repeat if necessary.
- If it still looks cloudy, try gently buffing it with a baking soda paste.
- Follow up with a buffing using olive oil (wash the cloth thoroughly before placing it in the washer/dryer as oily cloths are a fire hazard).
- For minor scratches, a baking soda scour should do the trick.
- Larger scratches are one circumstance in which an abrasive pad or sponge may be necessary. Pour some olive oil on the abrasive sponge or pad, and scrub away the scratches.
If these methods don’t work and/or you have coated stainless steel, you may need a professional restoration service.
However, if they plan on using chemicals, ask them to perform the service outside your home (appliances can be moved to porches or well-ventilated garages, for example, and worked on there).
Make Your Appliances Shine With Branch Basics
Stainless steel is an asset to a healthy and chic home.
However, it requires regular cleaning and maintenance, including:
- Daily wiping down and drying.
- Quick removal of stains or spills.
- Deeper cleaning weekly and shining as desired.
And remember to never use ammonia, bleach, abrasive cleaners, and hard water on stainless steel.
Interested in trying Branch Basics for your stainless steel appliances, sinks, countertops, cookware, and more?
Click here to browse our starter kits and discover more non-toxic cleaning hacks in:
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.