How do I clean discolored stainless steel?

Updated March 23, 2017

Modern homes have appliances with stainless-steel fronts, stainless pots for cooking, a stainless sink and usually stainless flatware for the table. Stainless is the metal of choice for commercial food equipment as well. Stainless has proven to be durable and attractive for years, but it takes some cleaning, particularly pieces that have been in contact with food. A soap-and-water wash does not clean the stains on stainless. You can keep stainless shiny with proven cleaning solutions.

Use white vinegar for cleaning stainless, whether cleaning the sink or a stainless pot that has cooked beans. This is the cleaner recommended by the University of Arkansas Extension Service. Place the vinegar on a sponge or soft cloth and rub the stainless. Wash with detergent and water and rinse clean. White vinegar is also the solution suggested by Vassar College.

Clean stainless surfaces with baking soda. Baking soda is a mild abrasive that works well on stainless. Rub in the direction of the stainless grain, using a cloth. Mrs. Clean suggests that the baking soda will remove stuck-on food from stainless too.

Wipe stainless with baby oil or olive oil, recommends Mrs. Clean. This will clean and shine stainless surfaces like refrigerator fronts and ovens. Quest Metal the Towle website suggest using club soda to make these surfaces shine and remove discolourations.

Use a stainless steel or metal cleaner. Johnson Wax makes Brite Stainless Steel Cleaner, and Regent's E-Z Shine works on stainless and other metals.

Try some lesser-known methods. Rogers University reports that lighter fluid will remove rust from stainless steel, and that water spots will come off with rubbing alcohol. Hob cleaners seem to work on stainless steel, also, and they are not abrasive.


Stainless steel is easy to scratch and will dull with the use of steel wool and abrasives.

Things You'll Need

  • White vinegar
  • Cloth or sponge
  • Detergent
  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • Baby oil or olive oil
  • Club soda
  • Stainless steel cleaner or metal cleaner
  • Lighter fluid
  • Rubbing alcohol
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About the Author

Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.