The healthcare industry has very specific requirements when it comes to the materials used to create tools, equipment, storage, piping, and other components that help doctors and other medical professionals keep patients healthy.

In this guide, we’ll look at why stainless steel is one of the most popular materials used and how to care for stainless steel to ensure long-lasting safe performance in the medical environment.

Key Stainless Steel Traits

Few materials are so perfectly aligned with the needs of medical processes as stainless steel.

  • Its corrosion resistance ensures that it is safe for use in sensitive operations and processes while also helping to create durable, long-lasting tools and equipment.
  • The ability to withstand extreme temperatures also means that the equipment is easy to sterilize and capable of being used in a variety of circumstances.
  • Finally, its smooth surface and easy cleaning make it the perfect material for everything from tubing and tools to storage and bed construction.

Common Uses for Stainless Steel in Healthcare

This flexibility means you’ll find stainless steel throughout both patient care facilities — such as hospitals and health clinics — and the businesses supporting healthcare professionals — such as pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical laboratories. It’s even used in medical implants.

stainless steel surgical tools on sanitary tray

The following are some of the common places you’ll see stainless steel in use:

  • Wheelchairs and walkers
  • IV stands
  • Surgical equipment such as scalpels, clamps, curettes, and spreaders
  • Orthopedic implants
  • Artificial heart valves
  • Bone fixation equipment, screws, and plates
  • Chemical containers and Hazardous waste containers
  • Prostheses
  • Specialty guide wires
  • Medical needles and syringes
  • Sinks, bowls, countertops, tool carts, trays 
  • Medical beds
  • Sensor probes
  • Catheters
  • Precision tubing

Cleaning and Sanitization Recommendations for Stainless Steel

NOTE: The following tips serve as guidelines and general best practices. Always follow any regulatory requirements for cleaning and sanitization for your facility or the items which you are treating. Consulting regulatory guidelines is recommended before implementing any cleaning programs.

The passivation layer on stainless steel is one of the biggest reasons why it is so popular in medical use. 

While viruses and other contaminants might accumulate on the surface as with any other material, this layer ensures a smooth, easy-to-clean surface

modern operating room with stainless steel equipment and walls

All without the scarring, corrosion concerns, and texture abnormalities of other materials that might lead to bacterial growth and cleanliness concerns. 

As such, soap and water is often enough to clean surfaces of common dirt, debris, dust, and other build up. 

Cleaning stainless can be as simple as a thorough flush with warm soapy water and rinsing thoroughly. 

There is also a range of specialized cleaners made for stainless steel — such as Veltek Associate Inc.’s STEEL-BRIGHT cleaner — you can use to provide a residue-free finish to your cleaning processes.

Stainless steel holds up well to many different chemicals and cleaners. 

The biggest worry is abrasive cleaners. 

You should never use steel wool or highly-abrasive scrubs on stainless steel as this can damage the passivation layer and encourage corrosion or contamination of the underlying metal. 

Should this continue for an extended period, the surface grooves and irregularities can also harbour bacteria and further inhibit cleaning and sanitation.

For smaller stainless steel items dry heat or moist heat sterilization offers the ability to effectively clean multiple items simultaneously. Examples of this method include autoclaves and dry oven sanitizers.

Key Takeaways

  • The passivation layer on stainless steel makes it an exceptional fit for a range of medical uses
  • Common uses include both small items — such as scalpels, clamps, and needles — as well as larger items — such as countertops, piping components, beds, and mobility aids.
  • Cleaning is easy using everything from soap and water to specialized cleaners.
  • Avoiding abrasive cleaners is critical to maximizing the lifespan and sanitary properties of stainless steel.


Unified Alloys provides stainless steel pipe and other components to industries across Canada and North America. For more than four decades, our experts have helped industries find the ideal solutions for their needs. If you have questions about our products or how stainless steel might help you reach your goals, contact one of our expert sales analysts today.