No matter how dysfunctional most families are, we’re all generally capable of resisting the urge to harm or murder our loved ones on a daily basis. At least not physically, of course, because I’m sure the damage has already been done psychologically during those formative years and most of adolescence. You can blame it on the mommy or daddy issues–lord knows JJ Abrams’ films do–but everybody you meet will carry a little mark or stain to their personality like that of a stainless steel kitchen appliance. Yes, folks. That was a fairly elaborate segue from family matters to an otherwise unrelated topic of cleaning your stainless steel household items, but there’s definitely more to the comparison than a simple transitional device.
At home, everybody comes into contact and interacts with stainless steel kitchen appliances, if there are stainless steel appliances in your home. Some people will leave behind more residue than others because they are exposed to and interact with an appliance on a heavier basis. This residue can be in the form of finger prints on the stainless steel paneling; a person could rub off some dirt or oil from their hand on to a handle; or a small spill or hard water stain could develop on the front or side of a unit. If quickly cleaned, it might not be a major issue, but, when left over time, the dirt, grease, grime, and water spots can build up on a stainless steel surface, making it look anything but stainless. The people in our lives can have a similar effect on us with each interaction leaving its own small, but manageable mark. It’s only when those marks collect and build up over time that they obscure what’s originally underneath and become difficult to remove.
The Problem with Stainless Steel Cleaners
Store bought stainless steel cleaners no doubt do a great job at cleaning stainless steel appliances because that’s what they’re chemically engineered to do. You either spray it on or rub it over the dirty item and it’s looking almost brand new in about ten minutes, or a little longer depending on how dirty it is. The only problem with many of these store bought cleaners is that they’re loaded with chemicals, some of which are terrible for your health and produce strong odors.
Even basic cleaners like ammonia and chlorine can be hazardous to your health in direct contact or cause a nauseating smell. There’s also the additional worry of combing different cleaning chemicals and accidentally producing a poisonous compound such as combining ammonia and bleach to create chlorine gas, which can burn lungs when inhaled; it was also used during World War I.
How Clean is the Cleaner?
Looking at the safety data sheet for Sprayway Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish in glorious PDF format, you’ll notice a lot of different chemicals are involved in creating the cleaner. One such chemical is methal acetate, which is used as a solvent in many cleaners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC), methal acetate may not be completely toxic, but heavy exposure to, or direct contact with, methal acetate will target the eyes, skin, respiratory system, and central nervous system and can produce symptoms of:
- Irritation of eyes, skin, nose, and/or throat
- Headaches and drowsiness
- Optic nerve atrophy
- Chest tightness
- Narcosis in animals
Another chemical to be concerned about is ethanolamine, a surfactant used to remove dirt and deposits by dissolving greasy soils. Ethanolamine can cause similar symptoms as methal acetate, but with the added unpleasantness of a strong, ammonia-like odor.
Other chemicals in ordinary household cleaners have also been linked to cause young children to develop respiratory illnesses like asthma or can trigger adverse health effects for people sensitive to chemicals in the air, especially for older people. That’s not the mention the damaging environmental effects these chemicals have over the course of production, distribution, and use of the cleaning product.
To reduce the impact these chemical-based cleaning products have on our health and planet, we need to find alternative ways to clean our stainless steel appliances. Purchasing cleaners labeled “Non-toxic” is a start, but there are more natural, inexpensive items that can be found around the house and re-purposed as a stainless steel cleaner. These “natural cleaners,” as one might consider them, may seem unconventional, but they are effective and will reduce your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals. Less exposure to toxic chemicals means a healthier and, probably, happier life for you and your family. First, however, let’s look at some preventive maintenance measures you can use to keep your stainless steel appliances clean without having to put in extra work.
Cleaning Stainless Steel 101
Before diving into the wonderful world of natural stainless steel cleaning, you’ve got to observe the basics. This might be a revelation to those new to house cleaning, but you old pros (you know who you are) can consider this a brief review.
What is Stainless Steel?
This may seem like a silly question, but the term is thrown about a lot, especially in this article so far. So, it’s only appropriate to address just what exactly is stainless steel and what makes it different from ordinary carbon steel? The answer is pretty simple: it has to do with the the amount of chromium present in the steel alloy.
Since unprotected carbon steel rusts readily when exposed to air and moisture, a certain amount of chromium is added to form a passive film of chromium oxide; this new layer of chromium oxide helps prevent surface corrosion by blocking oxygen diffusion to the surface of the steel, which, in turn, blocks corrosion from spreading into the metal’s internal structure. Its higher resistance to rust and corrosion makes stainless steel an attractive feature for all sorts of great consumer products and other applications that require corrosion resistant steel.
The added chromium, however, doesn’t mean stainless steel is immune to the effects of finger prints, dirt, dust, and grime, which can still lead to corrosion and rust overtime.
Keeping a stainless steel appliance clean, whether it’s a refrigerator, oven, ice maker, or wine cooler can be as simple as routinely cleaning it with warm water and clean, lint-free cloth. The frequency of how often you need to wipe down your appliance may vary depending on how much use the appliance sees or how dirty the area gets, but once every one or two weeks should be sufficient for most homes.
For the love of all that’s stainless steel, DO NOT DO THE FOLLOWING:
- Use chlorine bleach
- Use anything containing chloride
- Use oven cleaners
- Use steel wool, still brushes, or any abrasive scrubbing pad
- Use abrasive cleansers
- Use dirty or hard water
- Clean a stainless steel surface while it is still hot or warm
- Clean, soft cotton cloths or microfiber cleaning cloths
- Clean, warm water
Water is the universal solvent and will work for most cleaning applications. It doesn’t really matter too much if it’s warm or cold water, but it generally feels better to work with warm water.
Examine the stainless steel panel(s) and determine the direction of the grain. The orientation of the grain on full panels will typically go in one way or the other: either horizontally or vertically. If you examine closely, you can see that the direction of the grain on the Luma Comfort IM200SS 28 Pound Portable Ice Maker is horizontal. Remember which way the grain is going for the following step.
Next, lay down a large rag or dirty towel underneath the appliance you’re about to clean. This will reduce the mess.
Get one cleaning cloth moist and ready for action; it’s best not to get the cloth too wet or you’ll have more drying to do later on. Take the moist cloth and wipe down the entire stainless steel surface in the same direction that the grain is oriented. If you’re working on a large surface area, use two moist cloths at the same time to reduce the time it takes to finish and practice your karate blocking techniques. Just remember to wipe in the same direction of the grain.
Your appliance won’t be ruined if you go against the direction of the grain, but it’s less efficient than going with the grain. Moving the cloth perpendicular to the grain may not allow the cloth to reach the deeper crevices of the grain, forcing you to work harder and possibly longer than necessary.
After wiping the stainless steel surface clean with a moist cloth, quickly switch to a dry cloth and wipe away any excess water to prevent hard water spots or streaks from forming.
If you’re confronted with slightly tougher stains on stainless steel surfaces, all you need are the same materials for a routine cleaning, but mix in a dab of liquid dish washing soap. The soap help remove more stubborn dirt and grime stains without damaging the surface or exposing you or the people in the house to toxic chemicals and pungent odors.
You can put a little liquid dish washing soap, like Dawn or Palmolive, into a bowl of warm water or put a small dab directly onto the cloth and get it moist. The important thing is that you get some foaming action going on the cloth and gently rub the soapy foam into the direction of the stainless steel grain. The deeper the foam gets into the grain, the better it’ll clean.
You may notice that the grain of the stainless steel frame around the glass door of the NewAir AB-850 84-Can Beverage Refrigerator moves in two directions: the grain on the top and bottom move horizontally and the grain on the sides move vertically. Always try to mind the grain orientation while cleaning.
Once finished, use another moist cloth to wipe away the soap and left over dirt before it dries into a dirty smear stain. Then, use a dry cloth to wipe away excess water before it forms hard water spots or streaks.
For tougher stains on stainless steel surfaces, you can try a combination of things to get your appliances clean.
- Undiluted vinegar
- Baking soda
- Mild dish washing liquid
- Nylon scrub or an old, soft bristle toothbrush
Again, lay down a large rag or dirty towel beneath the unit you’re about to clean.
Mix baking soda and dish washing liquid in a bowl to make a paste-like compound. Use a nylon scrub or an old, soft bristle toothbrush and gently scrub the compound onto the stainless steel surface. Do not forget to gently scrub in the same direction as the grain.
You can also use undiluted vinegar in a spray bottle to evenly spray the surface and gently scrub the tough to remove stains with a soft nylon scrub or old toothbrush. Repeat as many times as needed until you are satisfied with the result.
To finish, rinse or wipe down the cleaned surface with a damp cloth to remove all of the access dirt, vinegar, soap, or baking soda. Quickly follow this up by hand drying with a lint-free cloth to prevent streaks and hard water spots from forming.
Safely Polishing Stainless Steel
To fully restore that sleek, stainless steel finish, you might want to give your appliance a good polish after cleaning.
- A clean rag or lint-free cloth
- Baby oil
- Mineral oil
- Pure olive oil
- Lemon oil
Any of the four oils listed should be fine to use on your stainless steel product. You can dip a rag into a small container filled with a little bit of oil or squeeze a small amount of oil directly from the bottle onto the cloth. A small amount goes a long way.
Now, gently polish surface in the direction of the grain. Use more oil, if needed. By polishing the stainless steel, you’ll get better results and maintain its shine.
These methods have been proven to effectively clean your stainless steel appliances and can be more beneficial to your health. Since many of these items required can be found in the home or purchased cheaply at any discount or dollar store, you might even save yourself more money and have cleaner stuff all around your house.