How to Clean Stainless Steel

Buying Guide

Stainless steel is everywhere in a commercial kitchen, and it's no wonder--it's such a durable, easy-to-clean material, plus it looks great too. But it's not a totally maintenance-free item, and it can start to rust if not properly cared for. Fortunately, properly caring for your stainless steel flatware, cookware, work tables, sinks, and even stainless steel equipment is easy. Read on for the best way to clean stainless steel and keep your equipment, cookware, and flatware looking great for years to come!

What Is Stainless Steel?

Unlike iron or steel that readily corrodes, stainless steel contains additional metals like chromium and nickel. Don't confuse stainless steel with galvanized steel--galvanized steel is plain steel with a layer of zinc deposited on the surface.

While there are many different "series" (different compositions) of stainless steel, two of the most common ones you'll see in the food service industry are 400 series and 300 series.

  • 400 Series stainless steel contains chromium
  • 300 Series stainless steel contains both chromium and nickel

Without getting too technical, adding these metals in specific percentages to the steel itself change its makeup all the way down at the atomic level, and form an invisible film on the surface, which protects the metal against corrosion.

Because this film is only millionths of an inch thick, it can be damaged if abused. Three basic things can damage this protective layer and allow corrosion to take hold:

  1. Mechanical Abrasion--Anything that can scratch the steel's surface including steel wool, wire brushes, and scrapers
  2. Deposits & Water- -Hard water left sitting on the surface will leave water spots and can break down the layer of protection, as well as food deposits
  3. Chlorides--Found in water, food, table salt, but mainly found in many household and industrial cleaners

Care & Cleaning Tips for Work Tables, Sinks, and Equipment

Microfiber Cleaning Products
  1. Use the right cleaning tools: Soft cloths, microfiber, sponges, or plastic scouring pads are best. The microfiber buying guide shows the best cleaning methods and products to ensure your stainless steel maintains its appearance. Avoid using scrapers, wire brushes, steel wool, or anything else that might scratch the surface.
  2. Clean with the polish lines: Stainless steel usually has a "grain" that you can see running in one direction or another. If you can see the lines, it's always best to scrub or wipe parallel to them. This is especially important if you do have to use something more abrasive than a cloth or wiper.
  3. Use the right cleaning chemicals: The best cleaner for stainless steel will contain alkaline, alkaline chlorinated, or non-chloride chemicals. Noble Chemical offers a variety of stainless steel cleaners and polishes specifically designed for stainless steel.


    • Excel is a water-based aerosol cleaner / polish that won’t attract dirt like an oil-based cleaner can. It’s great for kitchen equipment!
    • Spiffy Shine is an oil-based liquid stainless steel cleaner. While it will give the most brilliant shine of these three products, it is not the best for use in your commercial kitchen. We don’t recommended it for use around heavy grease areas like near a fryer, because it will actually attract grease and dust. Also, you should thoroughly wash any food-contact surfaces after using it on them.

    They not only clean and shine, but also help enhance the protective film. It's also a good idea to clean and sanitize frequently, using chemicals at the required strength. Noble's QuikSan is a ready-to-use sanitizer that won't damage stainless steel and is great for sanitizing work tables, and other surfaces around your commercial kitchen. Cleaning stainless steel regularly also prevents dirt or spills from drying onto the surface so you won't have to work as hard to clean anyway!

    For other types of cleaners including citrus-based cleaners, bleach, and deliming agents, the key is to rinse them off thoroughly after use.

  4. Minimize the impact of hard water: If you have hard water, having a water softening system is probably the best option, but may not be practical in every situation. If you have hard water and aren't able to treat it throughout your entire facility, it's a good idea to not let water stand on your stainless steel surfaces for extended periods.

Stainless Steel Flatware Care

Stainless steel flatware will last longer and look better if you keep the following tips in mind:

Warewashing
  1. Remove all food remnants from your flatware as soon as possible.
  2. Presoak for approximately 20 minutes. Noble Chemical's Silva Soak Presoak Powder is a great choice for presoaking your stainless steel flatware. This concentrated powder (a little goes a long way) penetrates and saturates soils for more effective removal in your wash cycle.
    • Don't forget to change your soaking solution after a few cycles; otherwise chemicals and food particles will accumulate and reduce its effectiveness
  3. Like all stainless steel, hard water and detergents high in chlorides will eventually break down the protective film. As long as you follow proper presoaking and drying procedures and your dish machine is rinsing correctly, any high quality detergent and sanitizer should not harm your flatware.

Stainless Steel Cookware Care

Most of the general tips for stainless steel care also apply to stainless steel cookware. A few other points:

Scrubbers
  1. Direct contact with salt can cause pitting--always add salt to boiling water to dissolve it.
  2. Plastic, wooden or silicone/rubber utensils will minimize damage to the surface.
  3. Cookware will last longer if washed by hand with hot soapy water. Always scrub in the direction of the metal grain.
  4. Season cookware before the first use; repeat as often as needed.