How to Clean Stainless Steel Appliances Without Streaking: 4 Easy Steps

Stainless steel appliances

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In this article, I provide simple step-by-step instructions on how to clean stainless steel appliances without leaving unsightly streaks or damaging the surface. This method is guaranteed to work and I have before and after pictures to prove it.

If you only have a minute. Here’s what you need to do:

(Click the links below to see more detail about each step and pictures)

  • Step 1: Gather the four essential supplies which are a vinegar/water mix in a spray bottle, olive oil, microfiber cloth, and paper towels.
  • Step 2: Identify the direction of the grain in the steel.
  • Step 3: Spray the surface of the steel with the vinegar/water mix and wipe in the direction of the grain with the microfiber cloth.
  • Step 4: Put a small amount of olive oil on a paper towel and carefully rub it into the surface in the direction of the grain.

Stainless steel appliances have been one of the most popular kitchen design trends of the last decade and for good reason. Stainless steel gives kitchens a modern, sophisticated look and goes well with almost any tone of wood, dark or light.

The biggest challenge with stainless steel appliances is keeping them clean. They are especially susceptible to fingerprints and smudges. If you don’t use the proper cleaning technique, you risk leaving ugly streaks or, even worse, you could scratch or dull the steel.

fingerprints on stainless steel appliance

We recently upgraded from the appliances that we inherited from the previous owners of our house to a beautiful set that you can see in the photo at the top of this article.

They are shiny, beautiful and, more importantly, have some awesome features that I had no idea I was missing out on. One thing I didn’t realize was how often I would be wiping them down to clear off fingerprints, smudges, and other stains from food/water.

Prior to doing any research, I’d rinse a paper towel in hot water and scrub wherever there was a smudge or stain. This method worked so-so but left behind ugly water streaks that looked worse than the mess I was cleaning in the first place. I knew there had to be a better way and that’s when I began researching, talking to friends and family, and experimenting with the different methods I learned.

After several weeks of trial and error, the method I am about to describe is the most effective way to clean stainless steel appliances without streaking.

Before and After: What You Can Expect

Cleaning stainless steel appliances is easy once you know the proper technique. Before jumping into the steps, check out the before and after photos of my dishwasher.

Before:

Before picture of stainless steel dishwasher

After:

After picture of stainless steel dishwasher

Here’s how you can get the same results in your kitchen.

Step 1

Gather the four essential supplies which are vinegar, olive oil, microfiber cloth, and paper towels.

Vinegar oil paper towel microfiber cloth

There are dozens of stainless steel cleaners on the market that work fine but, throughout my experimentation, the supplies that work the best are ones that you already have in your home.

First, you’ll need regular white distilled vinegar, preferably in a spray bottle. I use a glass and surface cleaner called LA’s Totally Awesome Streak Free Window Cleaner Vinegar Formula which is just watered down vinegar in a spray bottle. Another great option is Windex Vinegar Multi-Surface Cleaner which is very affordable on Amazon. If you happen to have an empty spray bottle, just add equal parts vinegar and water.

Next, you’ll also need olive oil. Any regular olive oil will work. If you’re like me, you always have an abundance of olive oil in the house. If you don’t have olive oil, you can use baby oil or coconut oil.

Lastly, you’ll need a soft cloth and paper towels. For the soft cloth, I use these microfiber ones (link to Amazon) which are incredibly soft and non-abrasive yet are extremely effective at cleaning. You can use them for almost anything and wash and reuse hundreds of times.

For the paper towel, any standard type will work just fine. Just make sure that it’s not stiff to avoid the risk of scratching.

Step 2 

Identify the direction of the grain.

Until I started doing in-depth research on this topic, I had no idea that stainless steel had a “grain”. Typically the term grain is used in the context of wood, meat, or shaving. It turns out that stainless steel appliances also have a grain and the direction of that grain dictates the direction that you will clean and polish. More on that in steps 3 and 4.

If you look closely at your appliances, you will notice that it has a grain that runs either vertically or horizontally. In the picture below you can see how the grain runs horizontally on my fridge. 

horizontal grain on stainless steel fridge

Step 3

Spray the surface with vinegar and wipe in the direction of the grain.

spraying stainless steel with vinegar

Once you determine which direction the grain is going, it is time to spray and wipe. Use your spray bottle to coat the surface of the appliance liberally with vinegar. Use the microfiber cloth to wipe in the direction of the grain.

cleaning stainless steel dishwasher with microfiber cloth and vinegar

Since the grain on my appliances is horizontal, I wipe mine from left to right and try to stay as straight as I can. If your grain is horizontal and you wipe vertically, you will get streaks like this:Streaks on stainless steel

Wiping in the direction of the grain is the key to keeping your stainless steel appliances free of streaks.

A couple of things to avoid:

  • Never use steel wool or any type of abrasive sponge or cloth. It can and will scratch the steel. If you can’t get rid of a stubborn stain or food, run your microfiber cloth or a paper towel under really hot water and dab it on to loosen it up.
  • If you decide to use a cleaning agent other than vinegar and water, make sure it does not contain chlorine. Chlorine is a potent oxidizer designed to kill bacteria and also accelerate corrosion of stainless steel.

Step 4

The final step is to polish the stainless steel with olive oil.

After your stainless steel is nice and clean, put a small amount of olive oil on a paper towel and carefully rub it into the surface in the direction of the grain, just like you did when you were wiping it with vinegar. The oil acts as a polish and gives your appliances a beautiful shine. You can see the impact it makes in the photo below where I’ve applied olive oil to half of the surface.

polishing stainless steel dishwasher with olive oil

When I first read about this step I was skeptical and assumed that the oil would make it greasy but that is not the case at all. The oil dries into the grain and gives it shine providing a layer of protection without making the surface feel oily.

Once you apply the olive oil, you’re done! No more fingerprints or smudges. You’re left with clean, good-as-new appliances with no streaks!

Alternative Cleaning Agents Worth Testing

I’ve found vinegar to work the best but others swear by alternative home solutions and store-bought cleaners.

Some of the top alternatives to vinegar are:

If cleaning is not your thing, consider buying Smudge Proof stainless steel appliances

The process we covered on cleaning stainless steel appliances takes a total of about 5 minutes to complete. You’ll likely need to repeat those steps weekly to keep your appliances looking new.

If that seems like too much work for you, consider spending a little extra for smudge-proof stainless steel appliances. Most major appliance manufacturers like Maytag, GE, and Frigidaire now offer options that come with a protective layer preventing fingerprints and smudges and making them even easier to clean. The downside is that they are more expensive and appear slightly darker than regular stainless steel because they are brushed with an extra coat of protection.

If you have the budget and would rather not spend 5 minutes each week cleaning, smudge-proof stainless steel is a great option. Otherwise, remember to avoid chlorine and abrasive cloths and wipe and polish in the direction of the grain.

Thank you for reading! Now it is time to start cleaning your appliances the right way.

I hope that you learned something new and are ready to start applying this method in your kitchen. Prior to learning this method, I wiped in circles and wondered why my fridge looked so streaky. A few simple adjustments such a difference. If you have used this method or know of a different/better one for keeping appliances clean, please let us know in the comments below.

If you’re interested in taking a closer look at the Samsung refrigerator I bought, the model is RF261BEAESR and I recently wrote an in-depth review of it which covers the design, features, pros, and cons.

In cleaning mode? Check out these recent articles all about household cleaning:

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