How to Use Vinegar as an Effective Stainless Steel Cleaner

person wiping a stainless steel dishwasher

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5

Are you fed up with all the fingerprints and greasy smudges on your stainless steel appliances? Skip the store-bought products and use distilled white vinegar as a homemade stainless steel cleaner. It's all you need to keep your stainless steel appliances, countertops, and sink looking great.

How Often to Clean Stainless Steel

Since most stainless steel is used in the kitchen or outdoor food preparation areas, it should be cleaned after every use. Frequent cleaning will sanitize the surfaces and prevent the build-up of grease or grime that can be more difficult to remove later. A quick wipe-down daily will keep stainless steel surfaces at their best.

Before You Begin

When cleaning stainless steel, do not use any product like oven cleaner, scouring powders, or chlorine-based cleaners. They are harsh, abrasive, and can permanently damage your stainless steel. Avoid abrasive sponges, scrubbing pads, or steel wool because they can permanently scratch the surface of stainless steel.

Distilled white vinegar contains acetic acid that cuts through grease, grime, and oils rather than smearing them around like a lot of other cleaners. If you do not like the smell of vinegar, you can create your own scented vinegar. However, the pungent smell dissipates in just a few minutes. If the scent lingers after cleaning, you can always use a fan to further dissipate the vinegar odor or open a window for extra airflow.

Using Vinegar as a Stainless Steel Cleaner

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 2 spray bottles

Materials

  • 1 bottle distilled white vinegar
  • 3 microfiber cloths
  • 1 bottle water
  • 2 labels
  • 1 box of baking soda
  • 1 bottle of vegetable oil

Instructions

How to Make a Vinegar-Based Stainless Steel Cleaner

  1. Prepare the Spray Bottles

    Fill a new spray bottle with undiluted distilled white vinegar and label it clearly. Fill a second bottle with plain water and label it, as well.

  2. Spray the Vinegar

    Starting at the top of the stainless steel appliance, spray the vinegar liberally on the surface. For countertops, start at one side and work across the counter.

    person using vinegar spray on stainless steel

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  3. Wipe the Surface

    Starting at the top of the appliance and following the grain of the stainless steel, use a soft, microfiber cloth to wipe away fingerprints, smudges, and grime.

    Tip

    If there are stuck-on food bits that simply won't budge, sprinkle some dry baking soda on the cloth to act as a gentle abrasive. To remove the food, rub the baking soda gently on the surface following the direction of the stainless steel grain (no circles!).

    person wiping down a dishwasher

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  4. 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, but 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 live in an area with hard water with a high concentration of minerals, tap water can leave spots or streaks on your stainless steel. Use distilled or bottled water for rinsing.

    Wiping down the stainless steel with water

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

  5. Dry Thoroughly

    The final step is crucial for streak-free stainless steel. Dry the surface completely with a lint-free microfiber cloth. Again, follow the grain and buff gently.

    Tip

    To restore the shine to freshly cleaned stainless steel, put a couple of drops of vegetable oil on a soft cloth. Wipe in the direction of the grain and allow the surface to air-dry.

Tips for Using Vinegar as a Stainless Steel Cleaner

As effective and inexpensive as 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.
  • 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.
Originally written by
Erin Huffstetler
Erin Huffstetler is a frugal living expert who has been writing for over 10 years about easy ways to save money at home. She's covered money-saving advice and tricks for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Forbes, among others. She is the owner of "My Frugal Home," a money-saving, frugal living how-to guide.
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  1. Acetic acid. Virginia Department of Health.