This Surprising Pantry Ingredient Is the Secret to Shining Up Stainless Steel in a Pinch

published Sep 2, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Andrew Bui

Stainless steel is a popular kitchen finish, for good reason: It’s inexpensive, durable, and easy to clean and sanitize. The issue is that stainless steel easily shows fingerprint smudges, water marks, and various splatters. Polishing it definitely helps — gleaming steel can sparkle, whereas dull stainless surfaces can look dirty.

You can certainly buy specific products for cleaning and polishing stainless steel, and we’ve even used flour to get gleaming steel. But I recently came across a totally unorthodox tip for getting the job done. It comes from one of my aunts, a former deli worker: “I have a great tip for polishing stainless steel,” she told me. “We actually used to do it with pickle juice!”

Credit: Rochelle Bilow
Giving pickle juice a shot!

Yes, pickle juice! My aunt, who worked at a deli as a young adult, explained that after cleaning and sanitizing all of the stainless steel surfaces, they would polish them with a clean rag and pickle juice! “Standard procedure,” she explained, recalling that the pickle juice protocol was actually a part of her training. This makes sense, when you think about it. Vinegar is often used as an effective cleaning agent, and it’s also the number-one ingredient in pickle juice. So why use pickle juice instead of vinegar? Was it better? Did it add extra shine? I wanted to know!

Let’s answer that first question. Why? Delis, including the one my aunt worked at, always have lots of pickle jars hanging around. So this was just a smart, cost-effective way to get a job done using a plentifully available resource. 

I wanted to try this for myself, to see if pickle juice could stand up to my overworked stainless steel sink. Before I got to work, I consulted Jessica Ek, from the American Cleaning Institute, for some advice. She confirms that my aunt’s order of events was spot-on: “When polishing stainless steel, always clean it first.” Clean, then polish. Got it.

Ek points out that bread-and-butter pickles definitely wouldn’t work, due to the sugar in the brine. But dill pickle juice? She seems hopeful: “The main ingredient is vinegar, which can help cut grease and remove things like fingerprints. Vinegar evaporates fairly quickly and stainless steel isn’t absorbent, so I’m guessing the [pickle] smell would dissipate.”

With that in mind, I gave it a try! I cleaned my sink with Bon Ami, then dried it completely. Afterwards, I spooned a little dill pickle juice onto a clean, lint-free rag and buffed up the surface. Because I know you’re wondering: My kitchen did smell faintly of pickles. It did also shine things up a bit! I won’t get in the habit of this because pickle juice contains flavoring agents, like spices (and some varieties even come with turmeric for enhanced color). Repeated applications of turmeric-spiked vinegar could leave your appliances with a yellow hue. But if I’m ever in a pinch (or a pickle, hehe) and I’m out of vinegar (because, maybe I’ve used it all for other cleaning jobs), I’ll remember that pickle juice is a perfectly good substitute!

Read more: How To Clean Stainless Steel Appliances with Vinegar and Oil

Have you ever heard of using pickle juice as a stainless steel polish? Tell us in the comments below.