When choosing a metal product, durability is a critical concern. This aspect alone makes stainless steel a popular choice for a wide range of applications. Whether you’re a food processing plant looking for a hygienic, long-lasting material for machinery and storage or a marina looking for a corrosion-resistant solution to withstand salt exposure in coastal environments, there’s a good chance that there’s a stainless steel grade to meet your needs.
However, stainless steel isn’t invincible. Proper upkeep is an essential part of making the most of your investment. Failure to maintain stainless steel can lead to a range of effects—from unsightly staining or discolouration to long-term damage and structural instability.
Fortunately, upkeep of stainless is simple.
We’ll cover the basics in this guide—including potential pitfalls to avoid—to help you keep your stainless in optimal condition and looking as good as the day you ordered it. These tips also apply to popular household stainless items—such as cookware and refrigerators.
Considering Maintenance from the Start
How you install or use your stainless products will impact the types and intensity of maintenance you must perform. While each use case is different, there are a few considerations you can keep in mind during the design and installation phases to help reduce maintenance concerns over time.
- Mind the Electrolytes
While stainless works well with dissimilar metals, you might encounter problems in moist environments. If not properly grounded, moisture can create an electrolytic cell that drastically speeds up degradation and corrosion. When possible, a plan to avoid this scenario will reduce the need to inspect and maintain stainless—especially smaller items like fasteners, hinges, and handles.
- Apply Treatments Where Possible
In most cases, you should consider applying a passivation treatment or wax paste after installation. You might even consider both. Passivation treatments help remove free iron and other contamination that might find its way to your stainless through handling, fabrication, or environmental exposure during installation. Wax paste adds a layer of protection, further improving the performance of the passivation layer on your stainless. This can also help reduce other maintenance requirements when applied regularly.
- Consider Cleaning Methods in Advance
One of the best ways to clean stainless is with copious amounts of warm water. Using stainless steel in areas with ample drainage can help to speed up the maintenance process—especially in food preparation environments. The ability to hose down tanks, surfaces, and other stainless steel items instead of using buckets can reduce time costs drastically.
The Basics of Stainless Steel Maintenance
As mentioned above, one of the best ways to keep stainless looking and performing great is a simple rinse and light scrub using warm water and a mild detergent or soap.
Sonax is one example of a special stainless steel maintenance foam
However, sometimes you need more cleaning power. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of both commercial cleaning solutions and common chemicals that you can use to bring your stainless back to its original, lustrous condition.
|Cleaning Type||Recommended Method|
|Routine Cleaning||Warm water and mild detergent or soap|
|Fingerprints and smudges||Warm water and mild detergent, soap, or organic solvent (alcohol, methylated spirits, acetone, etc)|
|Stains and discolouration||Specialty cleaners and mild cleaning solutions|
|Lime Deposits||Vinegar and warm water in a 1:3 ratio|
|Oil or grease||Organic solvents (alcohol, methylated spirits, acetone, etc)
Ammonia can loosen baked-on grease
|Rust or corrosion||Nitric acid and water in a 9:1 ratio|
|Salt build-up||Frequent warm water rinsing|
|Dark Oxide from welding or other high-temperature exposure||Pickling pastes or specialized acid blends|
|Scratches and scuffs||Polish with “soft abrasive” cleaners|
In almost all cases, you should follow any of these cleaning methods with an additional run of soap and water washing. Finally, a rinse with warm, clean water will help to remove any remaining residues.
This is especially important when using acids as leaving them on the surface of your steel might further degrade the passivation layer—causing more problems than the cleaning fixes.
Cleaning and Maintenance Precautions
Always remember to take appropriate precautions when cleaning your steel to protect both yourself and the metal. Specific precautions for most cleaners can be found in their respective material safety data sheets (MSDS). However, these tips will cover a broad range of concerns.
- Never use an abrasive on stainless steel: This includes but is not limited to sandpaper, steel wool, metal brushes, and harsh abrasive cleaners. Soft abrasives might work in specific scenarios. However, spot testing in an inconspicuous place is recommended before performing widespread maintenance. You should also take care to use abrasives in the same direction as the grain or polish on the surface of the steel to ensure an optimal appearance.
- Always use appropriate safety gear: Goggles, gloves, and other protective gear will help to improve worker safety and provide an unobstructed view and unhindered cleaning of stainless surfaces.
- Always use cleaners in a ventilated environment: Should cleaning require more than soap and water, be sure to use cleaners in a ventilated environment. Inhaling fumes might carry health risks.
- Always add water to acid, not acid to water: Many of the acids used in cleaning stainless steel are highly caustic. Adding acid to water slowly will help reduce splashing and avoid potential injury.
- Check follow-up procedures for cleaning: As mentioned above, most cleaning methods require a warm water rinse, a separate washing with warm soap and water or both.
By developing routine maintenance procedures, you can extend the life of your stainless steel products and keep them looking like new. If you’re not sure if stainless steel is the proper fit for your project or business need, Unified Alloys is happy to help. Our expert staff has a thorough understand of the myriad of stainless steel options available and more than 40 years of experience serving industries across Canada. Call us for a consultation today.
Disclaimer: These tips are a general guideline for educational and entertainment purposes only. Stainless steel grades and finishes vary in response to the various cleaners, chemicals, and tools available. Failure to use appropriate tools in the proper manner may result in personal injury or damage to your stainless steel product. Always consult an engineer or maintenance professional before performing maintenance to ensure safety.