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How to Clean Stainless Steel

How to Clean Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is everywhere in a commercial kitchen, and it's no wonder--it's such a durable, easy-to-clean material that comes in many different types, 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!

Types of 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 for superior durability and corrosion resistance

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

How to Clean Stainless Steel Equipment

Hand cleaning a stainless steel surface with a blue microfiber towel
It is important to properly clean stainless steel work tables, sinks, and other equipment regularly.

  1. Use the right cleaning tools: Soft cloths, microfiber, sponges, or plastic scouring pads are best. Avoid using anything 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, especially if you 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 commercial 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.
  4. Know how to sanitize stainless steel and disinfect: Noble's QuikSan is a ready-to-use sanitizer that won't damage stainless steel. Just remove any large food particles from the surface to be sanitized, then rinse these areas thoroughly with water, and spray the chemical on the affected surface. Wet the area for several minutes and allow it to drain and air dry. Do not rinse or wipe the sanitizer off of the cleaned surface.

  5. Minimize the impact of hard water: If you have hard water, having a water softening system is probably the best option. However, 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 Equipment Care

It's important to maintain and care for your stainless steel products to prevent rust and aging. If rust or damage occurs, this can lead to contamination of food products, illness, and structural issues within your stainless steel equipment. Keep these tips in mind when caring for stainless steel:

  • Keep your stainless steel items in an environment that doesn't promote corrosion. Avoid high temperatures, humidity, chloride-rich, and oxygen-depleted areas.
  • Prevent scratches. If indentations are made in the stainless steel, they could trap moisture and cause rust.
  • Clean and polish stainless steel regularly. Cleaning your equipment after each use eliminates the risk of build-up from burnt or dried foods, as well as provides a smooth surface for polishing. Polishing keeps the chromium oxide in tact so rust does not form.
  • How to Remove Rust from Stainless Steel Equipment

    Even with the proper cleaning and care, rust spots can occur over long periods of time. Follow the steps below to help restore your stainless steel products.

  • Determine the cause of corrosion. Whether it is due to mechanical abrasions, deposits, water, or chlorides/chemicals, it is necessary to determine what is causing the corrosion so you can correct your care and cleaning to avoid it in the future.
  • Use a scratchless pad, such as the 3M 2000, to remove the rust off the product. Do not apply any moisture or chemicals to the pad - just use the pad on the metal. Rub gently with the grain of the stainless steel.

    Pro Tip: Test out the pad in a small, hidden spot of stainless steel until you get the "feel" for the amount of pressure to apply.

  • Apply a cleaning paste or powder, such as Bar Keepers Friend all purpose cleaning powder, with a soft cloth or microfiber towel to the affected area.
  • Dampen a separate area of the towel and remove any excess paste or powder.
  • Be sure to frequently use a stainless steel safe polish like Spiffy Shine, to help remove any corrosive elements on the stainless steel and allow the passive layer to be restored. And remember, thoroughly wash any food-contact surfaces after using Spiffy Shine in your kitchen.
  • How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel Equipment

    While stainless steel is extremely durable, it isn't scratch-proof. Thankfully, fine, minor scratches are easy to buff out on brushed stainless steel appliances with products you probably already own!

    1. Start by cleaning the surface with a microfiber cloth and stainless steel polish to wipe away any dirt and debris.
    2. Use a non-abrasive cleaner and a soft sponge or scouring pad to buff out the scratch. For deeper scratches, use a coarser grit pad to remove the scratch and then switch to a smoother grit pad to blend in the affected area with the rest of the finish. Be sure to wipe only in the direction of the grain to avoid further damaging the surface. If using a powder, mix with a little water to form a paste before using.
    3. After the scratches and unwanted marks are removed, clean and polish the surface with stainless steel polishing cleaner.

    How to Clean Stainless Steel Flatware

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

    Gloved hands holding a tub of stainless steel flatware soaked in sanitizing solution
    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.

    How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware

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

    Hand scrubbing stainless steel pan with a yellow sponge in a sink full of soapy water
    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.

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