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Commercial cleaners are full of harsh chemicals—try these non-toxic methods instead.

Jennifer Kushnier
June 01, 2018

If you’ve ever cringed at the first fingerprint on your new oven or fridge, keep reading. Stainless steel appliances look great, resist rust, and blend with most decors. But fingerprints, grease, water drops, and even your own hot breath will leave their marks on their once-pristine surfaces.

RELATED: How to Clean Your Oven, According to an Expert

So how do you keep appliances looking like their showroom selves? Most commercial cleaners come with more hazard warnings than actual directions. There are plenty of other ways to keep your surfaces smudge free without all the harsh chemicals, and I’ve tried them all. Trust me: Everything in my entire kitchen, including the light switch plates, is stainless steel. Here are a couple cleaning basics, and five items you probably have in the house, that can make your stainless steel appliances shine and sparkle.

Cleaning Basics

Elbow grease becomes a bit more necessary when you’re not using chemicals to clean your stainless steel. Keep in mind that the solution for stubborn smudges isn’t to rub harder; simply reapply your cleaning agent and wipe again.

Use Cotton Cloths

Use cotton cloths to clean and wipe, as cotton tends to leave behind less lint. An old white undershirt—a trick I learned from my mom—works great. Any cloths that are non-abrasive, like a microfiber cloth or paper towels, will also do the trick. Save any sort of “scrubby” pad for your stainless steel sink, not the face of your appliances.

Wipe With the Grain

Before you start, identify the grain of the steel on your appliance. You’ll find it if you peer closely at the surface. You’ll get the most shine if you wipe in the direction of the grain, instead of against it. You won’t ruin anything by wiping against the grain, but it’s much less effective. Now, here's what to clean with: 

White Vinegar

My husband complains that our house “smells like salad” because I prefer to clean it with white distilled vinegar and water. Stainless steel is no exception. The vinegar helps break up any residual grease left from fingertips or cooking on the surface. Put it in a spray bottle and wipe clean.

A Touch of Oil

In keeping with the salad theme, many sources suggest polishing appliances with oil—whether mineral, baby, or even olive—to help protect the surface. Frankly, I’m less a fan of this approach, though it does work great for shine. I’ve found that while it looks great at first, polishing with any of these oils seems to attract more fingerprints and smudges over time than a simple polish with a microfiber cloth. But if showroom sheen is what you’re after, oil is your ticket.

Dish Detergent

At first, the idea of cleaning my stainless steel appliances with either dish detergent or club soda sort of scared me. Because stainless steel appliances have a tendency to show water stains, adding water seemed counterintuitive. To my surprise, a dab of non-toxic dish soap on a damp cloth removed even little-kid smudges, and a thorough drying with another cloth kept my water-panic at bay.

Club Soda

Spraying the surface with club soda proved as effective as a cleaning method as dish detergent. Whether it’s the tiny bubbles or the trace minerals added, club soda surprised me with how well—and how easily—it removed fingerprints and old spots that I’d missed. It did, however, leave streaks that I had to polish...with a bit of oil.

Baking Soda

By far the messiest and most time consuming trick was making a paste out of baking soda and water, but—hands down—it did the best job. My 9-year-old fridge looked like I’d just peeled off its protective plastic covering from the showroom. However, because you rub small sections of the surface with the paste and a cloth, bits of that paste might fall to the floor. Baking soda also leaves a white residue behind, which you have to remove with a damp cloth before you can polish with your microfiber cloth.

I wouldn’t use this method to clean the entirety of my appliances, but for those stubborn or hard-to-reach spots (like under the handles), baking soda is the way to go. A little paste goes a long way, and you barely need any pressure when wiping.

As with anything, before tackling the front of your shiny appliance, test any new cleaning method on an inconspicuous spot. If you like the results, then take it from there.