We Tried 5 Methods to Clean Stainless Steel Kitchen Appliances — And the Winner Is Ridiculously Effective

updated Mar 24, 2023
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Graphic that says "The Best Way to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances" at the top. Large photo of a stainless steel refrigerator in a kitchen, and 5 photos down the side of different cleaning methods. 1. WD-40, 2. Bar Keeper's Friend, 3. Dish Soap, 4. Bon Ami, 5. Olive oil and white vinegar
Credit: Left: Simone Hogan/Shutterstock; Right: Joe Lingeman

Stainless steel kitchen appliances are a double-edged sword when it comes to their effect on the overall appearance of our spaces. When clean and polished, they can modernize the whole look of a kitchen. But when it’s smudged and dirty, it makes even the tidiest kitchens appear unkempt.

Naturally, I wanted to find the easiest method to get my stainless steel appliances looking as clean and polished as possible. (Because who doesn’t love a gleaming fridge?) The trick was figuring out exactly which method would be the most effective. 

How I Tested the Methods to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

After a lot of internet research, I finally settled on the top five stainless steel cleaning methods. Four were cleaning products: dish soap, Bon Ami, WD-40, and Bar Keepers Friend, and one was a cleaning combo of vinegar and olive oil. Then, I got to work and tried all five to see which one was the ultimate winner.

Now, I would love for my stainless steel appliances to look polished and sparkling at all times. Does this happen? Nope! I try to give my appliances a thorough cleaning once a week, but even this is a stretch. Ironically, that meant my stainless steel fridge and dishwasher were plenty dirty and perfect for testing. With fingerprints, drips, and dirty smudges, all of the usual messes were right there. So, to test the different methods, I divided the freezer portion of my fridge/freezer unit into five sections, used a different cleaning method in each section, and compared how well each one worked. 

The ratings: I rated my results on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the worst method overall and 5 being the best. Along with my ratings, I included notes on how the techniques worked and what I liked and disliked about each process and the results. 

Note: Be sure to always check your manufacturer’s instructions before cleaning any stainless steel appliance. Clean with the grain of the metal. And to avoid a fire hazard, when cleaning with oil, make sure your rags are completely clean before putting them in the dryer. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Stainless Steel Cleaning Method: Dish Soap + Water

  • Total time: 10 minutes
  • Rating: 2/5

The method: To test this method, I grabbed a mixing bowl and filled it about a third of the way with water. I added a few drops of plain ol’ dish soap and grabbed two rags — one cleaning rag and one microfiber cloth. I dipped the cleaning rag into the water and mixed it around, then lifted and squeezed the rag out so it wasn’t dripping. I wiped the stainless steel surface and then dried with the microfiber rag. 

How it went: The process was straightforward and easy, although not as easy as using a product that you can spray directly onto a surface. The solution cleaned the surface of the stainless steel really well, but as soon as it dried, streaks were visible. The stainless steel was clean, but it didn’t “look” clean. If you polish the surface with olive oil afterwards, they could be redeemed, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort because spraying with a vinegar solution is much easier (more on that later). 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Stainless Steel Cleaning Method: WD-40

  • Total time: 6 minutes 
  • Rating: 3/5

The method: To use WD-40 on my stainless steel fridge, I sprayed the lubricant on a microfiber cloth and buffed it into the surface of the fridge. I didn’t have the usual red straw nozzle on the bottle, so the product came out as a fine mist onto the cloth. 

How it went: Named for its “water displacement” properties, WD-40 is often used to drive out moisture, lubricate surfaces, and prevent rust, so I had high hopes this method would do well. While I liked that it was a one-step solution and it worked pretty well, I was turned off by how much the WD-40 spread in the air as I dampened the microfiber cloth. I felt like I had to hold my breath to avoid breathing it all in and definitely didn’t enjoy the fairly strong smell. It made my stainless steel clean and shiny, but it also left behind a film.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Stainless Steel Cleaning Method: Vinegar + Olive Oil 

  • Total time: 10 minutes
  • Rating: 4/5 

The method: First off, I love that this method uses two basic pantry items that I usually always have on hand. White vinegar contains 5% acetic acid, which has antimicrobial properties and is also great at cutting through grease and grime, so it’s perfect for cleaning kitchen surfaces like stovetops, tables, and counters. I’ve heard it also works wonders on stainless steel, so I I spritzed vinegar onto the surface of the fridge to clean it, and followed with a paper towel dabbed with a bit of olive oil. I cleaned and polished the fridge in the direction of the grain, and I only used a small amount of oil to avoid ending up with a slick film. 

How it went: This method works really well, and it’s basically free since you probably have everything you need on hand. It’s a two-step method, though both steps are super fast and effective. In the end, you can get a clean and polished fridge surface in minutes!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Stainless Steel Cleaning Method: Bon Ami

  • Total time: 12 minutes
  • Rating: 4.5/5

The method: Bon Ami, which means “good friend” in French, has been around since 1886 and is a great powder cleanser. To use it on my stainless steel appliances, I sprinkled a little into a small glass bowl with water to make a paste, and then used a cleaning sponge to apply it to the stainless steel surface and gently scrubbed it in. I rinsed out the sponge and wiped the surface off before buffing dry. 

How it went: Bon Ami worked great! It’s not as convenient to use as a spray cleaner or polish because you have the added steps of making a paste, rinsing, and drying, but it’s super effective. After rinsing and drying, there were no streaks, and Bon Ami worked like an absolute charm on rust spots.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Stainless Steel Cleaning Method: Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser

  • Total time: 12 minutes
  • Rating: 5/5

The method: This method of cleaning is one of my favorites because it’s so straightforward and effective. I simply poured Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser onto a cleaning sponge and used the rougher side of the sponge to scrub the stainless steel with the cleanser, going in the same direction as the grain. Next, I rinsed out the sponge and wiped down the surface to remove any residue. Finally, I buffed the area with a clean microfiber rag to polish it all up.

How it went: Although there are effectively three steps to this method, it works so well that I really don’t mind. Bar Keepers Friend makes stainless steel gleam! The thing I like best is that BKF removes rust marks that might be on your appliances. (This happens when the chromium oxide layer is compromised.) For all of those reasons, I declare Bar Keepers Friend the winner.

Do you have a favorite method for cleaning stainless steel appliances? Share your tips below.