What Is Bar Keepers Friend?

Learn what Bar Keepers Friend is—plus how to use it.

Bar keeper's friend canister placed on kitchen counter

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

One of the products found in almost every commercial kitchen and behind every bar is Bar Keepers Friend. The cleaning product contains ingredients that helps keep metal surfaces like stainless steel clean, polished, and rust-free. The secret to its performance and popularity? Oxalic acid.

First developed in 1882, a chemist discovered that cooking foods containing oxalic acid, like rhubarb, spinach, turnip greens, in a tarnished metal pan left the utensil clean and untarnished. He formulated a powdered cleaning product and sold it to barkeepers to polish the brass rails that surrounded the bar. The company has been in continuous operation since that time.

What Are the Ingredients in Bar Keepers Friend?

Bar Keepers Friend is sold in several formulas, as either a powder or creamy liquid. All of the products contain the same basic ingredients but in different strengths by weight. While Bar Keepers Friend is safe to use in kitchens and bathrooms when handled properly, it is not a disinfectant.


The ingredients of Bar Keepers Friend should not be mixed with other chemicals, including bleach or ammonia. The powdered formula should not be inhaled and should always be mixed with water or used on a wet surface. Caution should be taken because the products can cause skin or eye irritation and should never be ingested. Eye protection and the use of gloves are suggested for prolonged use.

The original Cleanser is sold in a powdered formula to remove grease and grime from nonporous surfaces, and to restore a shine to uncoated stainless steel and porcelain.

The Cookware Cleanser and Polish powdered formula includes more grease-cutting detergents and can be used on glass and ceramic casserole dishes, stainless steel utensils, and enamel-coated cast iron.

Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser is premixed with water and works well for vertical surfaces like glass shower doors. It contains less abrasive particles than the powdered formulas.

Ingredients list on back of Bar Keeper's Friend canister

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Use Bar Keepers Friend

Because Bar Keepers Friend contains an abrasive, powder formulas should always be used on a wet surface or made into a paste with water to prevent excessive scratches to surfaces. Simply wet the surface that is to be cleaned and sprinkle lightly with the powder. Then, gently rub the surface with a damp sponge or cloth. Apply additional powder as needed to remove grime.

Rinse the product from the surface you are cleaning within one minute of application to prevent damage to the surface. Because of the strength of the ingredients, leaving the product on a surface for too long can cause discoloration, pitting, and scratches. Dry and buff the surface with a soft cloth.


When cleaning stainless steel surfaces, rub in the direction of the grain of the metal. Brushed stainless steel sinks have faint lines or "grain" due to the manufacturing process. Always follow those lines to prevent additional scratches.

The Soft Cleanser can be used on a dry surface because it is already mixed with water. Follow the same steps to clean, rinse, and dry the surface.

Sponge dipped in bowl and dampened with Bar Keeper's Friend paste

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Surfaces You Can Clean With Bar Keepers Friend

Bar Keepers Friend is recommended for cleaning nonporous surfaces. However, because it contains an abrasive, before cleaning fiberglass, plastics, anodized aluminum, coated stainless steel, or brushed metal surfaces—including appliance exteriors—test it first on a small, inconspicuous area.

While Bar Keepers Friend is safe to use on some surfaces like oven interiors, it is not recommended for overall cleaning because of the difficulty of rinsing the entire space. Use it only for spot cleaning the following surfaces:

  • Stainless steel: countertops, cookware, sinks, appliances
  • Aluminum: cookware, bike frames
  • Glass: shower doors, oven doors, cookware, fireplace doors
  • Copper: sinks, cookware
  • Brass: figurines, hardware, musical instruments
  • Ceramic Tile and Cookware: flooring, showers, bakeware
  • Fiberglass: shower doors, pools, tubs
  • Chrome: faucets, car trim
  • Porcelain: toilets, tubs
  • Steel: garden tools, golf clubs
Copper lined sink scrubbed with Bar Keeper's Friend paste and sponge

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Surfaces You Should Never Clean With Bar Keepers Friend

Bar Keepers Friend is ineffective when cleaning porous surfaces like wood, fabric, leather, and concrete.

It can also cause damage, including scratches, pitting, and discoloration to some nonporous surfaces. Do not use Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser in any formulation on:

  • Gold: jewelry, decorative items
  • Goldplate: jewelry, flatware, trim on dishes, and glassware
  • Silverplate: flatware, dishes, and decorative items
  • Painted surfaces: walls, hand-painted dishes
  • Cast iron: cookware, grills, decorative items
  • Mirrors
  • Granite: countertops, floors
  • Marble: floors, countertops
Marble mortar and cast iron skillets in front of Bar Keeper's Friend

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners. Washington State Department of Health.