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Stainless steel appliances make a kitchen look modern and clean, but they can very quickly become covered in fingerprints. And while you may be tempted to clean your appliances using the same stainless steel cleaner you use to clean your outdoor grill grates, experts say it's not a good idea. The beautiful, shiny finish of kitchen appliances is prone to scratches and damage and should be cleaned more gently with cleaners specially formulated for appliance exteriors.
At the Good Housekeeping Institute, we have rows of stainless steel dishwashers, refrigerators and ranges in every test kitchen. All of our Labs are fitted with stainless steel sinks and our cabinets are full of stainless steel cookware. Needless to say, we spend a lot of time keeping it all clean, so we know which cleaners get the job done.
At the end of this guide, you’ll also find a list of things you shouldn’t use to clean your stainless steel appliances and answers to other frequently asked questions. For more kitchen cleaning products, check out our guides to the best stovetop cleaners and top-tested multipurpose cleaners.
This aerosol from Magic earned the top spot in our test of stainless steel cleaners for how quickly it removed stains like greasy splatters and oily fingerprints without streaking. In the Lab, it was the only aerosol to completely dissolve our test soil, and it did not darken stainless steel surfaces like some other cleaners we tested.
Magic’s stainless steel cleaner was very easy to use and left our appliance fronts shiny with very little residue or streaking. And because the formula puts down a protective transparent coating as you apply it, we found it helped repel new fingerprints or at least made them less visible. Take note that this cleaner cannot be used to clean stainless steel cookware, so you'll need to stock an additional product for that household task.
Purchase this dedicated microfiber cloth for stainless steel along with your favorite spray cleaner to tackle your cleaning and polishing needs at the same time. This Good Housekeeping Seal holder stands out from others because it has soft ribs on one side of the cloth to remove dirt and residue from surfaces. The smooth side buffs the surface of your stainless steel appliance to a streak-free shine.
In our Lab tests, we were wowed by how spotless the cloth left dishwashers, fridges and sinks. Its package directions were clear, and we found it easy to use. The surface area allowed us to clean large appliances, and the cloth was easy to clean. Simply toss it in the machine, then dry it on low heat. (Skip the fabric softener, which can lessen its effectiveness.)
Many stainless steel cleaners can also polish, but they require lots of buffing on your part. If you want to avoid the extra step of buffing your stainless steel, Hope's is your best bet. Its self-polishing formula dries quickly without streaking and without the extra buffing that some cleaners need to impart a shine. And it works with just a paper towel — no extra cloth required. (It does, however, come with one, should you want one!)
When we have photoshoots in the Cleaning Lab, Hope's is our go-to for shining up our stainless steel backsplashes and appliances, and it's from the same company that makes one of our favorite window cleaners too. It didn’t perform well in our greasy soil removal tests, so it's not our first choice for cookware or even sinks, but it received perfect scores for its ease of application and removal from stainless steel surfaces.
Hope’s Perfect Sink Cleaner and Polish wowed our testers and Lab experts when we tested it for a past Good Housekeeping Cleaning and Organizing Awards. We especially liked that it left no gritty residue behind and helped water drain faster from our test sink to repel future water spots. It also left sinks exceptionally shiny with minimal streaking.
Overall, our GH+ testers rated it a 4.1 out of 5 for its performance and ease of use. One tester noted that after using Hope’s sink cleaner, they had a hard time getting a sponge holder to stick to the side of their sink, but still rated it highly, going on to say, “This cleaner smells lovely and took more grime off my sinks than my normal method of soap and water.” The formula is non-scratching and can also be used to clean porcelain, solid-surface and acrylic sinks too.
Good Housekeeping Seal-holder, Weiman Stainless Steel Wipes are pre-moistened and convenient to use for quick clean-ups. They are the perfect size for cleaning hard-to-reach areas like behind appliance handles and around toaster oven knobs.
During our tests, we found that they did a good job of removing a majority of our test soil but did not clean up fingerprints as well as some of the aerosol cleaners we tested. Because they may darken the surfaces of stainless steel, you may want to buff your surfaces with a microfiber cloth to make them shine again after using the wipes. The protective coating they leave behind also helps repel dust, fingerprints and dirt.
Bar Keepers Friend Powder Cleanser has been around since 1882 and has long been a favorite in many homes — including one of our Cleaning experts'. It's a multitasking cleaner that can tackle stains in the kitchen, bathroom and outdoors across different surfaces like stainless steel, ceramic, brass and more. According to the manufacturer, everything from sinks to stovetops, toilets, showers and even boats can be cleaned with this powder. In our own homes, we use it to rid pots of unsightly heat marks.
The manufacturer cautions against using this cleaner on delicate surfaces. Since it can be a bit abrasive, it’s especially important to test this product in an unnoticeable area of your cookware before using it. And though the product is technically unscented, a few reviewers mentioned that this powder has a chemical smell some might find unpleasant.
Most grill cleaners are not recommended for use on your grill’s stainless steel exterior because they can be too harsh. This Stainless Steel Cleaner and Protectant from Rock Doctor is a safe and effective option for the exterior of outdoor grills.
In our tests, Rock Doctor's formula quickly cut through a greasy, grimy film on our test kitchen grill and left the control panel shiny and streak-free with minimal wiping. We had luck on other appliances too, which adds to the product's versatility. After using Rock Doctor on a dull dishwasher door, we actually saw our own reflections and couldn't mark the door with fingerprints no matter how hard we tried.
Another one of our picks to earn a spot in our Best Cleaning and Organizing Awards is Therapy Clean's Stainless Steel Cleaner Kit. This spray and microfiber cloth kit impressed us not just with its stellar performance, but also with its pleasant lavender scent that left our stainless steel appliances looking and smelling like new. Thanks to the coconut oil in its formula, this cleaner doubles as a polish too.
Our GH+ testers rated this cleaner well, with half of our testers specifically calling out this product's ability to keep appliances shiny far longer than the stainless steel cleaners they had previously used. Like many reviewers online, we found the downside is the design of the spray nozzle. It's a bit messy to use, but we appreciate that the product can be used to clean black stainless steel too.
When the protective coating of stainless steel appliances is scratched or otherwise damaged, you’ll start to see rust peeking out from these scratch marks. But don’t worry. All hope is not lost. Affresh’s Stainless Steel Brightener is specifically formulated to target rust marks and the yellowing on the bottom of cookware caused by high heat.
This isn’t a cleaner, so you’ll need to have a second product handy for regular stainless steel cleaning, but this product will help remove stains and restore appliances' shine. The front of a microwave in our GH Cleaning Lab had some very old mystery marks that were significantly lightened (and even removed in some spots) with just one application of this brightener.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab is continually testing stainless steel cleaning products (often in conjunction with all the stainless steel refrigerators, ovens, toaster ovens and dishwashers we test). We test how well stainless steel cleaners remove stains — grease, fingerprints and food residue— and use them to dust off stainless steel surfaces across all of our Institute Labs and test kitchens. In our Cleaning Lab's last big test of stainless steel cleaners, we tested 30 different products to see how well they removed a difficult mixture of cooking oil and dirt from stainless steel surfaces. For products that were submitted for consideration for the 2022 Best Cleaning and Organizing Awards (there were no stainless steel cleaners submitted in 2023), we also recruited GH+ consumer testers to try the products at home and provide us with extensive feedback on the performance of each stainless steel cleaner.
We also evaluate other performance parameters like polishing ability. If the cleaner claims to leave a protective coating on the appliance surfaces, we test how well it resists new fingerprints and grease buildup. The polishing abilities of each stainless steel cleaner are measured using a device called a gloss meter that measures the amount of projected light reflected off of a freshly polished stainless steel surface. We take careful note of any cleaners that remove the shine and darken stainless steel surfaces after use.
In addition to judging each cleaner on its performance, we also evaluate the ease of use, including how messy it is to apply, how easy it is to buff out without streaking and how convenient the product packaging is. Like with any cleaning product, we also review the label for clarity of instructions and any safety warnings that may be required based on the ingredients.
Choosing the right stainless steel cleaner is much simpler than shopping for a new refrigerator or stove for your home. Still, a stainless steel cleaner is important to keep your appliances looking brand new long after you install them. Here are a few things to consider:
✔️ Surface type: You don’t want to use the same stainless steel cleaner on your refrigerator that you use on your outdoor grill. Some stainless steel surfaces, like grills, require more abrasive formulas than your kitchen appliances do. A formula that's too abrasive can cause damage that no cleaner, polish or mineral oil will be able to buff away.
✔️ Application style: Stainless steel cleaners most often come as sprays, powders or wipes. Which you opt for all comes down to convenience. Powders need to be mixed with water to form a paste, so they require an extra step. If you’re looking to make cleaning a one-step process, go for a wipe that requires no extra tools and can be disposed of immediately after use. Looking to reduce your environmental footprint? Ditch the wipes and paper towels for a washable microfiber cloth that you can reuse whenever it’s time to give your appliances a quick polish.
✔️ Polish: Some stainless steel cleaners only clean surfaces without bringing back the shine they had when you first bought them. If you’re looking to make your stainless steel sparkle again, look for a product designed to polish as well as clean. Plus, if your cleaner leaves a protective film on your appliances, you won't have to worry about cleaning fingerprints and greasy stains so often.
✔️ Scent: Many cleaning products leave a chemical smell lingering on the surfaces we clean — some of us love it and others don’t. If you prefer a more pleasant smell in your cleaning products, look for a scented option that masks the cleaner smell with scents like lavender, vanilla or other floral notes.
Appliances like refrigerators and ovens need gentle, non-abrasive cleaners to avoid scratches and help preserve their protective finish. If you want to make your own homemade stainless steel cleaner, baking soda is a gentle abrasive, so it's great for cleaning stainless steel sinks and cookware and even for removing coffee residue from inside a stainless steel thermal carafe or travel mug. But for the routine maintenance of stainless steel appliance fronts, we prefer products formulated specifically for that job, like the ones we recommend. They are non-abrasive and often provide a protective coating to help keep appliances cleaner for longer.
The one instance where we do recommend using baking soda is if tiny rust spots start to appear on your refrigerator or dishwasher front. This means that the coating applied at the factory has been damaged and the exposed metal underneath is starting to rust. If this happens, apply a paste of baking soda and water to the spots with a soft cloth. Rub briskly in the direction of the grain, then rinse well and buff dry. Or, try the Affresh Stainless Steel Brightener we recommend to nix these stains.
Harsh abrasives like scouring powders, steel wool, ammonia and bleach should never be used on your stainless steel appliances. These abrasive cleaners will damage the protective coating of your stainless steel appliances and cause scratches that no amount of buffing in the direction of the grain will be able to repair.
Cleaners formulated for ovens and outdoor grills are much too abrasive to use on stainless steel appliances and cookware. These cleaners are specially formulated to remove food bits that have been burned onto your grill at extremely high temperatures. That requires more cleaning power than the typical messes on the stainless steel appliances in your kitchen. The stainless steel used to construct grills is made to withstand a lot more force than the polished surfaces of your appliances.
When it comes to cleaning stainless steel cookware, no matter what cleaner you use, pots and pans should be thoroughly rinsed after cleaning to prevent any residue from contaminating your food. Stainless steel polishes — which are formulated to leave a protective shine on the surface of your stainless steel appliances — should not be used on the inside of your pots and pans. Instead, opt for a residue-free cleaner.
Carolyn Forté has over 40 years of experience with the Good Housekeeping Institute. During that time, she has tested thousands of cleaning appliances, products and tools. As Executive Director of the Cleaning Lab, she continues to test and write all of the Institute’s cleaning content including helpful home cleaning tips, putting together comprehensive product guides and more. Our original test of stainless steel cleaners was conducted by a former products reviews analyst and has been reviewed and updated with new picks tested by Forté herself.
Carolyn Forté brings more than 40 years of experience as a consumer products expert to her role as executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute's Home Care and Cleaning Lab. Using deep analytical testing and writing expertise in appliances, cleaning, textiles and organizational products, she produces cleaning and home care advice for GH, has authored numerous books and bookazines for the brand and partners with the American Cleaning Institute to co-produce the Discover Cleaning Summits. She holds a bachelor's degree in family and consumer sciences from Queens College, City University of New York.
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