Learn the best ways to clean your stainless steel sink and make sure it retains its beauty for years to come.
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How to Care for Your Stainless Steel Sink

Learn the best ways to clean your stainless steel sink and keep it looking beautiful for years to come


Stainless steel is probably the most common material used for kitchen sinks, and for good reason! No material is perfect for every home and situation, but stainless steel manages to cover a huge range of applications and environments -- all at a very attractive price point. Stainless steel sinks are made from nickel bearing stainless steel. When the chromium in the stainless steel is exposed to oxygen an invisible layer of chromium oxide (Cr2O3) is formed. This layer is impervious to water and air giving the stainless steel exceptional corrosion resistant properties. More durable and forgiving than other more expensive options, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the value of a quality stainless steel sink.

Like any material though, stainless steel must be cared for properly to guarantee its longevity and appearance. Busy lives can lead us to clean with whatever cleaner happens to be under the sink, or whatever sounded good at the store: this is a losing strategy! Though it is true that most any cleaning product you use will provide some immediate gratification, the wrong chemicals on the wrong material can easily lead to permanent damage.

6 Reasons Why We Like Stainless Steel Sinks

  • Tough - Stainless steel is more durable than porcelain and cast iron, and more forgiving than composites. Stainless steel sinks won't chip, nick or crack. Thin stainless sinks can get dented, but "cheap" sinks of any other materials tend to have less life (longevity) than a "cheap" stainless steel sink.
  • Luster - Stainless steel will not rust, stain or fade, and the finish resists scratches. It keeps its luster longer while other materials will show their age.
  • Absorbs Shock - Stainless steel sinks on impact will "give" to cushion glasses and dishes against breakage.
  • Easier to Clean - Stainless steel retains its luster when cleaned with household cleanser and a soft towel. Healthcare facilities trust stainless steel sinks due in part to their sanitary surface.
  • Greater Capacity - Stainless steel has strength and flexibility that allows for deeper sink bowls. It has more overall usable space than porcelain or cast iron.
  • Complements Any Décor - Stainless steel sinks have clean lines and a cool texture that reflect surrounding colors and patterns. Also, it complements any décor long after trendy colors are out-of-style.

Usage Tips

  • It's not just cleaning products that can contain the wrong chemicals: some of our most-used foods can also stain or damage stainless steel if left to sit for too long. Salt and salty foods, vinegar, salad dressing, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise should all be wiped and rinsed off immediately.
  • Sink or basin mats, racks and grids aren't really as necessary in stainless steel as they might be in a porcelain sink (to avoid scratching and other damage), but if you want to use something, use a stainless steel rack or grid. Avoid mats -- they will trap moisture and food particles underneath, leading to discoloration and stains.
  • Don't leave steel or cast iron cookware in a stainless steel sink -- given enough time, surface rust will form and potentially stain the bowl.
  • Use antibacterial soap? There are plenty of reasons to stop, but perhaps none so immediate as the potential threat Triclosan poses to stainless steel. Found in Dial and other such soaps, this compound can corrode stainless steel when left to sit - a big problem when the soap dispenser likes to dribble after dispensing, or when the sink isn't rinsed after every use.

Chlorine and Abrasives

The most important thing to remember when cleaning a stainless steel sink is to avoid using products containing chlorine; the second most important thing to remember is to avoid using harsh abrasive cleaners or tools.

Chlorine (more specifically, as chloride) is found in a surprising number of soaps, detergents, cleaners and obviously, bleach. Chlorine will corrode stainless steel when used in excess and not thoroughly rinsed off - so you definitely don't want to fill a basin up with bleach-water for dishes, or sanitize the sink with that trusty bottle of Clorox. Occasional use of chloride cleaners can be fine provided the product is used quickly (negating its disinfecting ability) and thoroughly rinsed off, but we think it's best to play it safe: avoid using bleach or any cleaning products containing chlorine.

Abrasive cleaners like Comet and Ajax - as well as abrasive sponges and scouring pads (steel wool, copper, etc.) - will scratch stainless steel, marring its finish. With steel wool, tiny fibers can lodge their way into the sink and begin to rust, making things even worse. Use only cloth rags or soft sponges for regular cleaning, and nylon-bristled brushes for the stubborn stuff - scouring pads made exclusively for stainless steel are also available. Avoid abrasive cleaning products; regular cleaning with soap and water and occasional use of mild abrasives like baking soda or Bon Ami should prevent the need for anything stronger.

Routine Care

Pro Tip: Always go with the grain when cleaning stainless steel - this will make cleaning more effective and prevents scratching.

Regular Cleaning

  • As with most sinks, light, regular cleanings are absolutely essential. Make a habit of quickly scrubbing the sink with a bit of soapy water and a sponge/rag after meal prep or dishwashing - it takes less than a minute, and makes a big difference!
  • For deeper cleanings and to remove stuck-on debris, use a paste of baking soda or Bon Ami and water. Use cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide for an even stronger (but still mild enough) option. Whatever you use, always be sure to thoroughly rinse the sink when done!

Stains

  • It's called "stainless", but "stain-resistance" is a better term. If your water is high in iron, brown surface stains can form, giving the appearance of rust. In areas with hard or over-softened water, a white film may develop. Most water stains can easily be prevented by drying the sink after use.
  • When it's too late to prevent the stain, use ammonia diluted according to manufacturer specifications to get rid of whatever soapy water can't take care of. Ammonia is also great for removing fingerprints!
  • Watch out! While some ammonia-based cleaners are okay to use (like regular Windex), many contain other active ingredients and additives that could harm the sink. We recommend using diluted ammonia whenever possible.
  • For rust stains, make a paste of Bon Ami and water. Let it sit on the stain for 15-20 minutes, then carefully wipe it away with the grain. For stubborn rust, consider using Barkeeper's Friend -- the active ingredient is a weak acid (oxalic) that should remove the stain. Take care not to leave the acidic solution on the stain too long; it will eventually begin to etch the sink itself.

Sanitizing

Should you feel the need to sanitize your sink, you may be at a loss after reading the information above - how can you do it without bleach?? Fortunately, there are a few options.

  • The simplest is boiling water: fill the basin and let sit for several minutes. This is not a preferred method - the water doesn't maintain its germ-killing temperature for long enough to disinfect completely without regularly adding more - but it is quick, easy and satisfactory for most home users.
  • Vinegar can be used, but with caution: left to sit too long, it will damage stainless steel. We recommend mixing 4 cups vinegar with 1/4 cup salt, soaking thick paper towels or rags with the solution, and laying them directly on the sink surface. Let these sit for at least 10 minutes, then thoroughly rinse the sink.
  • Alternative idea! The above salt and vinegar technique can also be done using isopropyl rubbing alcohol instead. For a quick, sanitizing wipe-down, use an alcohol-soaked rag!
  • To most effectively sanitize stainless steel, look for an Iodophor sanitizer. Used primarily in the dairy and brewing industries, Iodophor is iodine-based and won't harm stainless steel. Sold as a concentrate, you'll need to dilute it per manufacturer directions. After thoroughly cleaning the sink, you can spray a liberal amount of diluted Iodophor over the entire surface area and let it sit for at least 2 minutes or until dry (rinsing is not necessary).

With regular attention and care, a stainless steel sink can last a lifetime. It makes sense to invest the little bit of time and money it takes to keep yours in prime shape: stainless steel can work in nearly any kitchen design and take a lot of abuse!


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