Spring Cleaning Volume 1: How to clean stainless steel

I’m doing a little series on the blog this week, on tips and tricks I’ve used to clean household items.

Today’s tip is how to clean stainless steel.

When we first bought Heardmont, our dated kitchen came complete with lovely old white appliances.

After work one day, not six months after we closed on the house, I noticed our refrigerator seemed to be running unusually long and making a lot of noise.  I walked into the kitchen and saw a puddle of water on the floor, opened the fridge, and realized it was blowing hot air into both the fridge and freezer sections!

We weren’t smart about calling repairmen back then, so we came to the conclusion that it needed to be replaced.  On trip to Lowe’s that weekend, we scored a beautiful stainless fridge and a stainless dishwasher to match (cause who can resist a sale?).

Who would have known they would be such a pain to keep clean?!  Here’s what our fridge looked like this weekend.  The sad part was this was AFTER I’d cleaned it only a couple of days before!

Smudgy, smudgy.

Now, it’s important to note that our fridge and dishwasher are both real stainless steel on the front, not “stainless look.”  I’m not sure how my cleaning methods would work on “stainless look” appliances, so beware.

Not sure if yours are real stainless?  Here’s the quick way to tell.  If a magnet sticks to the front of it, it’s not real stainless.  You can’t see it in this photo, but all our Christmas cards, save-the-dates, and reminders are magnet-ed to the side of the fridge since they wouldn’t stick to the front!

Here’s our dishwasher, pre-cleaning.

Truth be told, I’ve never had a good way to clean these.  I’m a fan of using common household products instead of ones especially made for different surfaces, and all of my ordinary cleaners were falling short.

I’d tried:

  • Olive oil (Heard on HGTV that this was a great way to keep that stainless gleaming)
  • 409/ Other glass cleaner (Googled it and found rave reviews)
  • Soap and water

I knew to avoid:

  • Abrasive cleaners (steel wool, wire brushes, etc)
  • Anything with chlorine or bleach in it (too harsh!)

On a trip to Lowe’s this weekend, we had just about decided it was time to give in and buy some of those Stainless Steel Wipes, when a fellow customer overheard us discussing this steel cleaner vs that steel cleaner.  Turns out she worked for a company that made stainless steel drums, so she knew all the tricks.  The best cleaning trick of all??


We thanked her and ran home to try it out.  Sure enough, when we looked at the back of our can, we saw a whole slew of uses for this stuff, including “Cleans most surfaces of grease, grime, tar, adhesives, gum, tape, crayon, scuff marks, and water deposits.”  Who knew?

The process was simple. Here’s how we did it:

1. Working in sections, I sprayed the WD-40 directly on the front of the appliance.
2. Using a paper towel, I wiped and buffed the spray off until all we were left with was a beautiful shine.

Ready to see the results?  Here they are!

It might be hard to tell just how clean they got from those photos, so here are a few closeups.

Not bad for a free solution to our smudgy stainless, huh?  I know the true test will be seeing how long the shine lasts, but so far so good!

Have any of you ever tried to clean with WD-40?  Any other tricks to keep your stainless sparkling?

OR were you smart when you bought your appliances and opted for the easier to keep clean stainless-look, white, or black?  I’d love to hear all about ’em!

Linking to: Fair Weather Forum at Centsational Girl

The DIY Show Off

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37 Responses to Spring Cleaning Volume 1: How to clean stainless steel

  1. WD-40?! Who knew. We don’t have stainless appliances though, but my toaster, kettle, etc. have stainless that I can never get smudge free. I’ll try it, thanks!

  2. Casey says:

    wow that’s awesome M! I did try the olive oil trick that you told me about, and it works really good too, until a little puppy comes along and licks the fridge!!

    • Meredith says:

      Haha – they can’t resist it, can they? Molly never could either. She actually licked both things I cleaned this weekend – our fridge and my wedding rings! I think she was trying to get my attention. Trouble maker. 🙂

  3. Casey says:

    oh and those stainless steel wipes are a complete rip-off. Don’t waste your money!!

  4. Morgan says:

    That’s so crazy! I would never have thought to try that! Thanks for the tip. =]

  5. Cheryl says:

    this might sound weird to use this, but here it goes.
    years ago i worked at Mickey D’s and you know there is lotsa stainless there. we were taught to use something called barkeepers friend. it kinda looks like a powdered cleanser. we were taught to make a paste with it and rub it on and let it sit for five minutes and then take a damp cloth and wipe all the paste away. always made the stainless look great when we were done.

    • Meredith says:

      Wow, you know Cheryl, I think I have actually heard of that before and I just never remembered it. Are the instructions to make the paste on the back of the bottle? I guess since it was a McDonalds Barkeepers Friend would have to be pretty food-safe, right?

      Good info! I’ll have to file that one away in case we run out of WD-40 one day!

      • terry says:

        I love, love, love Barkeepers Friend, BUT do not use on your stainless appliances! My stainless pots and pans are over 20 years old and still look new, my porcelain sink and stainless sink also thanks to powdered BKF. McDonalds would use on countertops or sinks which are a different material than doors, ok? Wd40 is great for those! I’ve been selling appliances at Home Depot for over 13 years and always recommend WD-40.

  6. Anne says:

    Great tip. I am going to try that today.

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  8. Carolyn Gallo says:

    Thanks for sharing this!!!

  9. Pam says:

    Thanks so much for this information! I recently bought new stainless appliances and have been so upset about the water spots on my dishwasher. I am so excited to try the WD-40! 🙂

  10. Sharon Bowman says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I have also tried all of the cleaning tips that you tried and achieved the same results. Ugh!!! I am so excited to find that there is a way to clean my stainless steel. I did try the wipes and I wasn’t impressed with them either.

  11. bjmoore says:

    Just discovered a new product that works great for cleaning the refrigerator, stove & front of dishwasher. The soap & water definitely don’t work! “Stainless Steel Cleaner” by Rubbermaid comes in a spray; spray directly onto appliance or onto soft cloth, wiping with the “grain”.

    I’ve used “Bar Keepers’ Friend for the bottoms of copper pots&pans, and for the stainless steel sink, but I’m not sure I’d want to use it on the shiny front of the fridge…think it might scratch?

    Good Luck.

    • Meredith says:

      Thanks for the tip on the Rubbermaid spray! Also very good to keep in mind that certain products might scratch. I always test new cleaners on an inconspicuous spot first. 🙂

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  15. sherri says:

    Nice tip. My mom uses wd 40 to clean her shower enclosure doors. I find the odor a bit off putting. When we purchased our stainless appliances form Lowes we asked what they used to clean them. They turned us on to a product by Pledge’s “commercial line’ in a pleasing orange scent. Works great.

  16. Sib says:

    It is a urban myth that ” If a magnet sticks to the front of it, it’s not real stainless”.

    Stainless steel is composed of several different grades of metals, some with more nickel, some with more chromium. Some are magnetic some are not.

    Actually whether or not a appliance is magnetic does not matter as the stainless panel can be wrapped around a metal or plastic frame also.

  17. Arcie says:

    I just found your blog thru a link to your striped shower curtain from somewhere (no idea where I came from!) I love your blog and am a new follower. Had to comment here…I had no idea that magnets won’t stick to some appliances. We just moved to a new town and ordered delivery the first night. The delivery guy gave us a magnet with their number so I went to put it on the fridge and it fell right off, then I tried it on the microwave and oven doors to test, also fell right off. The next time we ordered he offered me a magnet and I said ‘no thank you, they don’t even stick!’ I am so ashamed.

  18. Wendy says:

    I’ve also found that Mrs. Meyer’s clean day for stainless is pretty awesome for SS and smells great, too!

  19. Heather says:

    Beware Bar Keeper’s Friend. I use this to get my stainless steel sink nice and bright and get rid of that yellow-ish tint that shows up after a while, however it has permanently scratched the front of my fridge. You have to be very careful to make sure you use enough water when wiping or it is too abrasive. I use e-cloths everyday to cut down on using chemical cleaners so frequently. The Glass & Polishing e-cloth is AMAZING. I use it just slightly damp and it leaves my stainless steel and granite counter tops perfectly steak-free. You can get them at Bed, Bath & Beyond, among other places, but I found mine at Marshalls for under $5.

  20. Rich says:

    I cleaned my fridge last month too! I should probably do it again soon. Those kids of mine mess up all my hard work.

  21. Wanda says:

    Barkeepers Friend comes in a liquid paste form!

  22. Stacey says:

    I would be carefull about using a paper towel on Stainless Steel, because it will scratch it. I only use microfiber on mine. The wd40 looks great, but if it leaves it a little greasy, it will attract dust.

  23. scott says:

    thanks. i will definitely try this.
    just moved into a new house with stainless steel fridge (magnet won’t stick). there were smudges so i cleaned with soap and water. looked awful. cleaned with windex. looked awful. cleaned with water. looked awful. next up, wd-40! 🙂

  24. Terrie says:

    I have used WD40 for years on my stainless sink, refrigerator even bathroom fixtures. The best! But I found another use…I have the old formica kitchen counter tops. I spray them with WD40 and rub in with a soft cloth. They actually shine! I do this whenever the shine status fading, about every 2 weeks or so. Try it!

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  27. Mel says:

    Magic eraser also works well on smudges.

  28. Danny says:

    WD40 is flammable and probably poisonous. Keep it away from ur kitchen….

  29. Beth says:

    Thank you, thank you!! I spend every day cleaning my stainless and complain out loud every day. The handles, the area around the door, on my stove, refrigerator and my dishwasher. I can’t wait until tomorrow morning and I can try this trick. If I could just get a couple days of clean instead of just a few hours I would be happy. My appliances look so beautiful for the first hour after I’ve cleaned them and then……..

  30. Samantha Slattery says:

    Pledge also works awesome on stainless. Make sure not to use paper towels or could scratch. Use a nice soft cloth.

  31. Allan Cougle says:

    Looks good!! My only question is how does the WD40 residue look after a few days or weeks?

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