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How to Clean a Stainless Steel Sink

Updated
No more unsightly stains.

Despite its name, stainless steel isn’t immune to becoming dirty or being affected by other issues such as rust. Without proper maintenance, even the best stainless steel sink can become unsightly.

Thankfully, cleaning your sink is quick and simple, and will ensure it stays beautiful for longer. If you are cleaning stainless steel for the first time, you might be unsure which cleaners and tools you can use safely.

In this article, we will explore how to clean a stainless steel sink. We will also look at how to deal with rust and scratches, and how to prevent stains from forming in the first place.


Preventing Stains on Stainless Steel Sinks

Perhaps surprisingly, the surface of a stainless steel sink can be very susceptible to stains. These stains can appear quickly and without warning, hiding the gleam of your kitchen sink.

Regular cleaning and following some other advice should help prevent this smudging and discoloration. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep it dry: Water spots are the most common stains in sinks — they are usually caused when water is left in the bowl and evaporates, leaving behind its dirt and mineral content. After each use, use a dry cloth to remove any leftover water droplets. This should prevent the vast majority of water spots from forming.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals: Strong chemical cleaners, such as oven cleaners and bleach, can leave unsightly stains on the surface of your sink. Avoid using them to clean your sink or flush its drain.
  • Remove acidic food: Don’t leave acidic foods, such as pickles or mayonnaise, in the sink for long periods. Try to remove them as soon as possible.
  • Regular cleaning: A daily clean with white vinegar will effectively remove smears from your stainless steel sink. As it is a natural cleaner, you won’t need to worry about it damaging your sink.
  • Use a sink protector: You should consider buying a stainless steel sink protector. This will prevent contact with the bottom of the sink, which will also protect it against scratches and dents. You should avoid using a rubber mat, as these often create hard-to-remove stains.

How to Clean a Stainless Steel Sink

Before you clean your stainless steel sink, it is important to be well prepared. Here are the key items you will need to make sure the process goes smoothly:

  • Your preferred cleaner. Cleaners approved for use on stainless steel include Bar Keeper’s Friend, Bon-Ami, and WD-40
  • Double-sided sponge
  • Clean cloths for drying
  • Rubber gloves (optional but recommended)

1. Rinse The Sink

Open your hot faucet and rinse the sink with warm water. You only need to make it wet and remove any loose residue.

2. Apply Cleaner

Grab your chosen cleaner. Bon-Ami and Bar Keeper’s Favorite should be applied with warm water and a sponge. Wet the sponge and apply the cleaner, then begin scrubbing your sink.

If the texture of the sink has lines, follow them to maintain the original aesthetic. If the surface has no noticeable lines to follow, still try to choose a direction to prevent it from looking messy after you clean it.

Some finishes require a vertical or horizontal direction, while others are better if you clean in a circular motion. If your sink has an owner’s manual, it might tell you how to clean it, or you can search for your sink online to find an answer.

Wear Gloves

If you don’t want your hands to come into contact with a cleaner, wear protective gloves. If you have sensitive skin or are using a chemical cleaner, you should always protect your hands while cleaning (1).

3. Rinse with Water

As most cleaners contain at least some chloride, you must rinse your sink thoroughly after cleaning it. Run a faucet and rinse away any soap residue, then ensure that you also wash your hands properly.

4. Dry Off

Once the cleaner is gone and you have drained your sink, grab a clean towel or cloth and use it to wipe away any remaining water droplets. As the water dries in your sink, it can leave spots behind, especially if you live in an area with hard water. Drying your sink is a quick job that can make a significant difference in how clean it looks.

How to Remove Rust from Stainless Steel

Rust can also appear on stainless steel, but surface rust can be dealt with before it becomes a significant problem. To remove rust from your sink, you will need:

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Old toothbrush
  • Paper towels
  • Clean cloth

1. Mix Baking Soda and Water

Mix one tablespoon of baking soda with two cups of water to create a homemade cleaning solution.

2. Apply Mix

Take the old toothbrush and dip it into the solution, then use it to scrub the rust stains. The baking soda should gently lift the rust away from the stainless steel.

3. Rinse and Wipe

Rinse your sink with water from the faucet. If you use a wet paper towel to wipe the spots, you should see the orange rust on the white paper. After rinsing the sink, dry it with a clean cloth.

Removing Hard Water Stains from Stainless Steel

Although hard water stains can appear on stainless steel, they are easily removed. You will only require

  • White vinegar
  • Clean cloths

1. Saturate Cloth

Apply white vinegar to your cloth. To reduce how much vinegar you use, you can mix it with an equal amount of water. Despite being acidic, vinegar is mild enough that it can be used on stainless steel, but it will effectively break apart deposits.

2. Scrub the Stains

Using a dry part of your cloth, or another one, scrub the area where you have applied the vinegar. Move in small but vigorous motions. If you encounter any stubborn stains, you can apply more vinegar and repeat the process.

3. Rinse with Water

Soak a cloth in warm water, wring it out and use it to wipe your sink. Do this until you have removed all of the vinegar. Then, grab a clean, dry cloth or towel and use it to remove any residual water.

How to Remove Scratches

To minimize the effects of scratches on a stainless steel sink, you can use the following tools:

  • Non-abrasive cleaner or compound — Bar Keeper’s Favorite, Perfect-It Rubbing Compound, or whitening toothpaste are good options
  • Water
  • Microfiber cloth

1. Mix Compound

Most of these cleaners are sold in powder form, so they will need to be mixed with water before you can use them. Try to create a paste — this is best achieved by taking a tablespoon of cleaning powder and gradually adding drops of water to it. Aim for a consistency like toothpaste.

If you aren’t using a powder cleaner, you can move straight onto the next step.

2. Apply to Sink

Use a clean cloth to apply some of the cleaner or paste. Work in the same direction as the grain of your sink’s surface by rubbing back and forth. Keep adding more of the cleaning solution until the scratch is gone.

3. Rinse

Clean your cloth or wet a fresh one, then wring it out and wipe your sink to remove the cleaning solution. Use a dry cloth to remove any remaining water before checking the scratch again.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Sinks Naturally

1. Club Soda

Club soda is an excellent way to clean your sink and restore its shine without risking any damage. You simply need to plug the drain and then pour enough club soda into the sink to cover the bottom.

Then, grab a soft cloth and scrub the sink. Try to follow the grain of the sink’s surface. Once you are satisfied, drain the soda, then dry the sink with a fresh soft cloth to prevent water spots.

2. Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the cheapest and most reliable natural cleaners, and you might already have some in your kitchen. It is just abrasive enough to remove residue and stains without risking any damage to the surface.

Make your baking soda into a paste by mixing it with water. Use, for example, two spoonfuls of baking soda with a few drops of water. Add the water gradually as you can always add more later.

Apply the paste to your sink, especially around the crevices of the drain, and leave it to work for a couple of minutes.

Once the soda has had long enough to work, rinse it off using warm water or white vinegar — vinegar is better as it also disinfects the sink. When you add the vinegar, it will fizz, further cleaning the sink. Finish by drying the surface with a clean cloth or rag.

3. Lemon or Orange Peel

You can save the peels from your lemons and oranges and use them on your sink. For minor cleaning, simply take a peel and use it to rub the surface. The skin will deodorize the sink and restore its shine.

Methods for Restoring Shine

1. All-Purpose Flour

All-purpose flour might seem an unlikely material for polishing your sink but it provides surprisingly good results. Simply add a few tablespoons of flour to your basin and rub it in with a clean cloth. Apply light pressure, but you don’t need to break a sweat.

When you’re done, rinse it with warm water and dry it with a towel.

2. Olive Oil or Baby Oil

Applying a small amount of olive oil or baby oil to your sink can help restore its shine. This is best done after you have already cleaned it using one of the previous methods.

Add a small amount of oil to a clean, dry rag or cloth. Use it to rub your sink until you have evenly distributed the oil and your sink sparkles.

What to Avoid When Cleaning Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a durable material but you should be careful when cleaning it. Here are some of the common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Don’t use metal tools: Avoid using wire brushes or steel wool. These can scratch the surface of stainless steel and even embed iron particles, which can cause rust stains. Use standard sponges instead.
  • Remove rags and cloths: Don’t leave anything to dry in the sink. Items such as soap cleaners, towels, sponges, and rags can dull the sink’s surface. Worse, they can also transfer bacteria and mold.
  • Rinse thoroughly: Due to the chloride content in most cleaners, it is important to rinse your sink thoroughly after cleaning it.
  • Avoid hard sponges: Use soft, scratch-free sponges such as ScotchBrite to remove stubborn dirt deposits.
  • Remove steel and cast iron cookware: Don’t leave steel or cast iron cookware in your sink for long periods. Combined with water or moisture, they can create rust and stains in your sink.
  • Not a cutting board: It can be tempting but don’t use your sink as a cutting board. Knives and other sharp objects can cause permanent scratches on the surface.

FAQs

Why Is My Stainless-Steel Sink Dull?

There are several reasons why your stainless-steel sink may appear dull or discolored. One possible cause is the presence of water spots, which occur when minerals such as calcium and magnesium are left behind on the sink’s surface after washing.

These water spots can be removed by scrubbing the surface with vinegar and baking soda. Another potential culprit is improper cleaning methods and products, which may not effectively remove grease, dirt, or other residues that build up over time.

To avoid this problem, using only mild soaps and gentle cleaning techniques is important when caring for your stainless-steel sink.

Lastly, a build-up of grease in your drains may also contribute to a dull appearance in your sink, so it’s important to regularly clean out any deposits that accumulate in your pipes and drains.

How Do You Fix Discolored Stainless Steel?

Discolored stainless steel can be a bit of a challenge to fix. The most important thing is to determine the cause of the discoloration, which will help you select the right course of action.

One common cause is exposure to harsh chemicals or prolonged contact with moisture, which can cause rust and other types of corrosion.

In these cases, it is usually best to start by cleaning and scrubbing the surface thoroughly and then applying a thick coating of protective sealant or polish.

Other potential causes of discoloration include periods of high heat, which can cause thermal expansion, and contact with non-stainless-steel objects like other kitchenware or knives.

In these cases, the reapplication of protective coatings and careful handling often provide the most effective solutions for restoring your stainless-steel surfaces to their pure white luster.

Whatever the root cause, it’s important to promptly address any discoloration in your stainless steel before it has a chance to spread and become more difficult to fix.

Can You Use a Bar Keepers Friend on Stainless Steel?

Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser can be used on stainless steel because it’s non-abrasive. One of its ingredients is oxalic acid, helping remove hard water calcium deposits.

This product’s formula is gentle enough to use on stainless steel and other delicate materials such as porcelain, chrome, and copper. However, some types of stainless steel can be more susceptible to surface scratches than others, so be careful with the tools you use to clean it.

Can You Use a Magic Eraser on Stainless Steel?

As advertised, Magic Eraser is a good product to use on stainless steel. With proper care, you can polish the stainless-steel surface of your sink, resulting in a streak-free surface.

What Should You Not Use on Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is an extremely durable and versatile material, but it can be susceptible to damage if not properly maintained.

Because its surface is highly resistant to corrosion, you might think that stainless steel can withstand just about any kind of treatment. However, this is not the case.

You should never use certain products or ingredients on stainless steel, including abrasive cleaners or acidic agents.

For example, certain cleaning products can leave streaks or dull patches on the surface of stainless steel, while others may cause pitting or other types of damage to the metal.

Additionally, exposure to acids like vinegar or lemon juice can cause a reaction with the protective coating on the surface of stainless steel and degrade its quality over time.

How Do You Clean Stainless Steel Without Streaks?

There are several different methods that you can use to clean stainless steel without leaving behind streaks. One of the most effective approaches is to combine water with white vinegar in equal parts and then pour this solution onto a soft, lint-free cloth.

Gently wipe down your stainless-steel surface with this cloth, repeating these steps until all dirt or grime has been removed.

You may also want to try using a specially formulated stainless-steel cleaner, such as one that is ammonia-based. These cleaners are designed to cut through grease and grime without leaving behind films or residue.

Finally, it’s important to remember that even though you might be cleaning stainless steel without streaks, there may still be minor marks on the surface depending on how the material was produced.

What Is the Best Product to Clean a Stainless-Steel Sink?

Many experts believe baking soda is the best product to use if you want to clean a stainless-steel sink. The abrasive nature of baking soda is strong enough to help you get rid of hard water deposits and gentle enough to prevent scratching the material’s surface.


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About the Author

Sylvia Jones

Sylvia Jones is a hands-on, DIY aficionado from Indiana. She is passionate about home improvement, gardening, and environmental conservation. In her spare time, you can find Sylvia getting involved in home improvement projects around the house with her husband, or spending quality time out in the yard.