6 Cleaning Products You Should Never Use on Stainless Steel

published Apr 23, 2022
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A modern white kitchen with stone countertops and stainless steel appliances
Credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion

My mom never liked stainless steel appliances because, she complained, they’re high-maintenance. She’s not wrong. Stainless steel easily shows more dirt, fingerprints, and smudges compared to other finishes, which means you have to constantly clean and buff every inch. And yet so many people (my mom excluded!) have stainless steel in their kitchens. With that in mind, we do what we can to help: We’ve written about the best method for cleaning stainless steel, unconventional ideas for those times you’re in a pinch, and our favorite, no-fail products.

But knowing what not to do when cleaning stainless steel may be almost more important than understanding how to clean it. That’s because using the wrong products on stainless steel surfaces can cause damage — sometimes permanently. Here are six products you should never use on stainless steel.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Don’t use glass cleaners with ammonia.

While some people recommend using Windex to clean stubborn fingerprints from stainless steel surfaces, it’s really not a good idea — even if you rinse well. The cleaner contains ammonia, which is harsh enough to break the chromium oxide layer that forms the protective layer that makes stainless steel “stainless.” When this layer is compromised, water can linger on the surface and cause rust marks!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Skip steel wool pads.

Steel wool is far too harsh for stainless steel surfaces. The pads are abrasive and can leave scratches on stainless steel. In addition, steel wool can leave behind small particles that can actually rust on the surface.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Avoid bleach.

Bleach is a corrosive base and should never be used on stainless steel. Why? Because it will damage the protective finish and possibly lead to rusting and pitting, both of which mar the surface of your stainless steel appliances. But here’s something you might not know: Over time, bleach can also potentially discolor your appliances.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

4. Say no to hard water.

You know a surface is finicky if you have to be careful when using water on it! But if your water is hard, the mineral content will leave behind unsightly spots. So even when you’re using gentle, straightforward cleaning methods on your stainless steel, choose distilled or filtered water so you aren’t left with dirty-looking surfaces even after you’ve cleaned. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. Pass on any abrasive cleaner.

Abrasive cleaners will — you guessed it — damage the finish of your stainless steel and make it susceptible to scratches and rusting. If you need to clean existing rust marks, opt for a gentle abrasive cleaner like Bon Ami, Bar Keepers Friend, or even baking soda. Make sure to scrub in the direction of the grain and rinse well. Note that an abrasive scrub pad will similarly scratch your stainless steel, so choose a non-abrasive scrub pad or a microfiber cloth. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Rule out using oven cleaner.

Oven cleaner is extremely harsh and will definitely damage the finish of your stainless steel. Rather than resorting to such extreme measures, clean your stainless steel with a cleaner designed for stainless steel, or with a gentle DIY cleaner, like simple soap and water or an all-purpose cleaner followed by a buff and polish with a soft microfiber cloth

How do you clean your stainless steel appliances? Tell us in the comments below.