We Tried 5 Stainless Steel Cleaning Methods and the Winner is Affordable and Ridiculously Effective

published Mar 25, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman, Shutterstock, Design: Apartment Therapy

Stainless steel kitchen appliances are a double-edged sword when it comes to how they affect the overall appearance of our kitchens. When clean and polished, stainless steel can uplift the whole look of a kitchen. But when it’s smudged and dirty, it makes even a tidy kitchen appear unkempt. So, naturally, I wanted to find the easiest method to get my stainless steel kitchen appliances looking clean and polished. (Because who doesn’t love a gleaming fridge?) The trick was figuring out exactly which methods were the most effective. 

After a bit of internet research, I finally settled on the top five: Bon Ami, WD-40, vinegar and olive oil, dish soap, and Bar Keepers Friend. Then, I got to work and tried all five — let’s see which one was the ultimate winner!

How I Tested the Methods to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances

I must admit, in my own kitchen, I would love for every single one of my stainless steel appliances to look polished and sparkling at all times. Does this happen? Never! I try to give my appliances a thorough cleaning once a week, but even this is sometimes a stretch. The truth is, my stainless steel fridge and dishwasher — where I conducted my cleaning tests — were plenty dirty. With fingerprints, drips, and dirty smudges, all of the usual messes were right there. To test the different methods, I divided the freezer portion of my fridge/freezer unit into five sections. I used a different cleaning method in each section, comparing 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 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 followed the method with olive oil polish, it 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 grabbed a microfiber cloth, sprayed the WD-40 on the 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. 

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. I felt like I had to hold my breath to avoid breathing it all in. I also didn’t enjoy the fairly strong smell! It made my stainless steel clean and shiny, but I did notice that the WD-40 also left 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 very convenient 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. I spritzed vinegar onto the surface of the fridge to clean it. Then, I followed it with a paper towel dabbed with a bit of olive oil. Right away, I polished the fridge in the direction of the grain, and I was sure to use only a small amount of oil so I didn’t end up with an oily film. 

How it went: This method works really well, and it’s pretty inexpensive since you probably have everything you need on hand. It’s a two-step method, but both steps are super fast and effective. In the end, you easily 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, is a great powdered cleanser. It’s been around since 1886! To use it on my stainless steel appliances, I sprinkled a little into a small glass bowl and added water to make a paste. I used a cleaning sponge to apply it to the stainless steel surface and gently scrubbed it in. Then, 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 is super effective. Even after rinsing and drying, there were no streaks, and Bon Ami works like an absolute charm on rust spots.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Stainless Steel Cleaning Method: Bar Keepers Friend

  • 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 avoid residue from the dried Bar Keepers Friend. 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 Bar Keepers Friend removes rust marks that might be on your appliances. (This happens when the chromium oxide layer is compromised.) For all of those reasons, I declared Bar Keepers Friend the winner!