Caring for stainless steel

Why is it important to clean stainless steel? Our guide on the care and maintenance of stainless steel shares some useful tips to consider.

Stainless steel is widely used in commercial kitchens due to it’s durable, foodsafe and easy to clean properties. Improper maintenance, however, can damage the stainless steel’s surface, resulting in corrosion. Fortunately preventing this is simple. Our guide on the care and maintenance of stainless steel shares some useful tips to consider.

Why does stainless steel corrode?

Stainless steel is a passive metal as it doesn’t actively corrode in the natural environment. This is due to stainless steel containing additives such as chromium or nickel. These additional metals form an invisible film protecting against corrosion.
When this film is damaged the stainless steel finish will start to degrade and discolour. There are three main reasons that the protective layer can become damaged.

  • Mechanical Abrasion such as steel wool, wire brushes or metal scrapers.
  • Water and food deposits left sitting on the surface will leave water spots and can break down the protective layer.
  • Chlorides found in water, food, table salt and many household and industrial cleaners.

Stainless Steel Corrosion

If not cleaned and treated correctly, stainless steels will stain and discolour due to surface deposits. Therefore, it is important that regular maintenance is conducted. 

“In order to achieve maximum corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal, the surface of the stainless steel must be kept clean. Provided the grade of stainless steel and the surface finish are correctly selected, and cleaning schedules carried out on a regular basis, good performance and long service life will result.” British Stainless Steel Association (BSSA)

Why is it important to clean and maintain stainless steel?

Regular maintenance of your equipment is one of the easiest ways to ensure it remains in the best condition. This means your product will also perform to its best, as well as extending its service life. Stainless steel cleaning is carried out to restore the original surface appearance, prevent corrosion and maintain hygienic and foodsafe conditions.

It is vital that thorough cleaning of catering and medical applications is practiced and maintained. The surface of stainless steel is smooth and pore-free, which doesn't harbour bacteria and provides an easy to clean surface.

How to clean stainless steel

Stainless steel is easy to clean and can be washed with soap, or a mild detergent, along with warm water. Once cleaned, a water rinse should be the next step, followed by drying with a soft, non-marking, cloth.

This is usually adequate for commercial catering equipment and by quickly cleaning up spills as and when they happen will help avoid deposit build up, making cleaning easier and reducing the damage to the stainless steel layer.

Thorough rinsing of any cleaning product will ensure a long lasting finish. To avoid any drying streaks the surface can be wiped with disposable wipes or using a blown air drier. To prevent water spotting if the water is hard, steel should be dried with a soft cloth.

What tools to use when cleaning stainless steel

Mechanical abrasion can scratch the surface of your product which can cause corrosion. Use the proper tools to clean the stainless steel on your products:

Do Use

Don't Use

  • Soft Cloths
  • Sponges
  • Plastic Scouring Pads
  • Wire Brushes
  • Steel Wool
  • Metal Scrapers

What cleaning products to use when cleaning stainless steel

As well as using the correct tools, using the correct cleaning chemicals is key.

Regular cleaning with warm soapy water will deal with most problems. For more stubborn stains look to use an alkaline, alkaline chlorinated or non-chlorinated cleaners.

Discolouration, heavy dirt or rust, which may resist normal cleaning methods, can be removed using a stainless steel cleaner followed by a clear water rinse.

If other cleaning products such as bleach, citrus-based cleaners or deliming agents must be used these should be diluted and the product surface rinsed thoroughly after cleaning. A clean dust and grit-free cloth should be used to avoid scratching too, while always consider the mildest cleaner where possible to avoid any complications, if the warm soapy water method is inadequate. 

Go with the grain

Like wood - stainless steel has a visible surface grain. It is important to polish and clean in the same direction as the grain.

The direction of the grain may change with different parts of the product such as handles etc that are made from separate pieces of steel.

Cleaning with the grain is especially important if you’re using anything more abrasive than a cloth. If you can’t see the grain then it’s best to play it safe and stick with a soft cloth. Even the finest cleaning powders can scratch a mill-rolled finish.

Treat your water

Depending on where you live you may have either hard or soft water. Hard water leaves deposits behind that will break down the protective surface of the stainless steel.

Where practical the best solution is to install a water filtration system to soften your water. Where this isn’t a viable option, it’s a good idea not to let water stand on your stainless steel surfaces for prolonged periods of time. 

Cleaning problems and solutions

Suggest Method

Routine cleaning / light soiling


Soap, detergent or dilute (1%) ammonia solution in warm clean water.

Apply with a clean sponge, soft cloth or soft-fibrebrush then rinse in clean water and dry

To avoid water marks, use clean rinsing water.

Drying marks may be avoided using an air blower or wiping with clean disposable wipes.


Satisfactory on most surfaces

Avoid the use of oily rags or greasy cloths.




Detergent and warm water, alternatively, hydrocarbon solvent


Proprietary spray-applied polishes available to clean and minimise remarking


Oil and grease marks


Hydrocarbon solvents (methylated spirit, isopropyl alcohol or acetone).

Cleaning agents should be approved for use under the relevant national environmental regulations and, in addition, prepared and used in accordance with the manufacturers or suppliers' health & safety instructions.

Solvents should not be used in enclosed areas.


Alkaline formulations are also available with surfactant additions.


Stubborn spots, stains and light discolouration.

Water marking.

Light rust staining


Mild, non-scratching creams and polishes. Apply with soft cloth or soft sponge and rinse off residues with clean water and dry.

To avoid water marks, use clean rinsing water.

Drying marks may be avoided using an air blower or wiping with clean disposable wipes.


Avoid cleaning pastes with abrasive additions.

Suitable cream cleansers are available with soft calcium carbonate additions, or with the addition of citric acid.

Do not use chloride solutions.


Localised rust stains caused by carbon steel contamination


Proprietary gels, or 10% phosphoric acid solution (followed by ammonia and water rinses), or oxalic acid solution (followed by water rinse).

To avoid water marks, use clean rinsing water.

Drying marks may be avoided using an air blower or wiping with clean disposable wipes.


Small areas may be treated with a rubbing block comprising fine abrasive in a hard rubber or plastic filler.

Carbon steel wool should not be used, nor should pads that have previously been used on carbon steel.

A test should be carried out to ensure that the original surface finish is not damaged.


NB: Where possible, after cleaning, rinse thoroughly with water and wipe dry.