The Best Homemade Stainless Steel Cleaner

person wiping a stainless steel dishwasher

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Overview
  • Total Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Fed up with all the fingerprints and greasy smudges on your stainless steel appliances? Skip the store-bought stainless steel cleaners, and grab a bottle of vinegar from your pantry instead. It's all you need to keep your appliances looking shiny and new. Read on to learn how to create your own stainless steel cleaner for pennies and avoid buying expensive commercial cleaners.

Though it's tempting, never use your other go-to cleaning products on stainless steel, such as oven cleaners or chlorine-based cleaners. They are harsh and abrasive and can permanently damage your stainless steel. You also may have run across many other ways to clean stainless steel—including using furniture polish, flour, or glass cleaner, for example—and though there may be merit to these methods, they could be messy to use and require other precautions.

Warning

Never use abrasive sponges, scrubber pads, or steel wool on stainless steel because they can scratch the surface.

Why Vinegar Works

Vinegar contains a mild acid, called acetic acid. It cuts through the oil left behind by fingers, rather than smearing it around like a lot of other cleaners. Since vinegar can typically cut through grease and grime, you can save your elbow grease for another job.

Vinegar is inexpensive and contains no harsh chemicals, like many commercial cleaners do. Vinegar is used as an effective cleaner for stainless steel as well as for handling tough problems (such as odors) in your laundry because it offers the following benefits:

  • It sanitizes.
  • It cuts grease.
  • It's nonabrasive.
  • It's safe around children, pets, and food.

Though vinegar may not smell as nice as some commercial cleaners, don't worry—that scent won't stay around for long. The pungent smell is due to the acetic acid. The odor usually dissolves into the air within minutes. If the smell lingers after cleaning, you can always use a fan to further dissipate the vinegar odor or open a window for extra airflow.

Safety Considerations

As nice, effective, and inexpensive vinegar is to use as a stainless steel cleaner, you should still take a few precautions before putting it to use in your kitchen. For example, never use vinegar on stone, grout, or hardwood because its acidity can cause damage to those surfaces. Here are other important safety considerations when using vinegar:

  • Don't reuse empty cleaner bottles. Buy a new bottle to use for your vinegar spray. Vinegar is an acid, and you do not want to mix it with unknown chemicals from other products.
  • Label the spray bottle so everyone in your household knows what's inside.
  • Avoid getting vinegar near or in your eyes.
  • Do not let vinegar sit on your skin for prolonged periods.
  • Keep the vinegar out of reach of children. It is acidic and can burn or irritate a child's digestive system or skin.
  • Test vinegar on a small, inconspicuous area of stainless steel before using it on the entire surface.
Illustration for making stainless steel cleaner

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Spray bottle

Materials

  • White vinegar
  • Paper towels or soft cleaning cloth
  • Water

Instructions

  1. Spray the Vinegar

    Fill a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar. Then, spray it liberally on the stainless steel surface you want to clean.

    person using vinegar spray on stainless steel

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  2. Wipe the Surface

    Using a soft cleaning cloth or paper towel, wipe the vinegar on the surface until it's dry.

    Tip

    To avoid streaks while cleaning stainless steel, it's best to wipe with the direction of the grain and use a gentle touch.

    person wiping down a dishwasher

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  3. Rinse With Water

    Once you're satisfied that all the fingerprints and grime have been removed, go over the surface again with a water-dampened cloth. Stainless steel is naturally resistant to corrosion, so this step is a precaution to remove the acid in the vinegar so that there's no chance of it interacting with the metal over time. You can either spray water from a bottle or dampen the cloth directly with water.

    Warning

    If you have hard water with a concentration of minerals, it may leave spots or stains on your stainless steel. If that's the case, rinse with distilled or bottled water.