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How to Clean Outdoor Stainless Steel

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Outdoor stainless steel appliances, fixtures, etc., need frequent cleaning to prevent them from getting dirty and grimy.  If you want your stainless steel to look new, you should know the proper way to clean it. 

Below, we will go over the steps you should take to properly clean outdoor stainless steel.  We will also go over methods and products that you should not use and how to clean off rust buildup. 

stainless steel bbq

Cleaning Outdoor Stainless Steel

Cleaning stainless steel can be a bit tricky. Using the right cleaning supplies and methods is essential, as using the wrong ones could damage the steel.  

We are going to make sure that you avoid this.

So, to begin, we will go over the correct way to do routine maintenance to stainless steel.

Prepare Your Cleaning Supplies

Water alone will not properly clean the surface. If you just use water, you are not cleaning the stainless steel.  

Instead of water, use a cleaning solution. The Australian Stainless Steel Development Association recommends mixing low chloride warm water with soap, detergent, or a 1% ammonia solution.  This solution will help to break down any buildup.

You can either make this solution yourself, or you can buy a similar one at the store. If you make your solution, put it in a spray bottle or bowl and have it available near your workspace.

You also need to make sure you use the right kind of towel to clean it.

When you clean stainless steel, make sure that you use a microfiber cloth or soft brush.  Things such as paper towels will leave tiny scratches in the steel.  These scratches will build up over time, making the steel look worn and weathered.

Clean the Surface.

Now, it is time to clean the surface of the stainless steel.  

If you have the solution in a spray bottle, spray down the surface.  If you have the solution in a bucket or bowl, dampen your microfiber cloth or soft brush.

Now, you will take your cloth or brush and wipe down the surface of the stainless steel.  You want to make sure you wipe off any dirt, gunk, and grime that may be on the surface.

Before this step, there is an important factor to keep in mind.

When you wipe down stainless steel, make sure that you wipe with the grain of the steel.  Wiping against the grain can cause scratches.  Don’t worry if you accidentally go against the grain, though, as the scratches will be small.  The scratches should not be noticeable if you don’t make the mistake often.

Finishing Up Your Work

Once the steel looks clean, take a dry microfiber cloth and thoroughly dry the surface.  If you don’t dry the surface, it will leave watermarks, ruining all the hard work you just did.

Once the steel is dry, look over it one more time.  Make sure that all the surfaces are clean.  

Cleaning the steel may take a bit of time out of your day.  But it is worth it in the long run.  Regular cleaning keeps it looking like new.  It also makes the cleaning process easier, than if you were to clean it rarely.  

Stainless Steel Needs to be Cleaned Regularly. 

If you want to keep your stainless steel looking nice and shiny, you will want to clean it quite regularly. You should clean it at least once every two weeks.  Doing this will prevent excess buildup, making it easier to clean in the long run.  

If you go a long time without cleaning it, you may not be able to get it back to looking like it did when you bought it.

How to Clean Rust of Stainless Steel

Although stainless steel is resistant to rust, it is not immune to it.

Chromium oxide, the protective layer of stainless steel, can wear away when subjected to factors such as high humidity and harsh cleaners.  When this wears away, rust will start to build up. 

If your stainless steel has already rusted, you will want to get rid of it as soon as possible so that it does not further damage the steel.  

There are several ways to remove rust from stainless steel.  The simplest method is to use baking soda

  • For small spots of rust, mix 1 tbsp of baking soda and 2 cups of water.  With a cloth, rub this paste in, going with the grain.  Wipe the area down with a bit of water, and dry it.
  • For big spots of rust, rinse the area to remove debris, sprinkle a layer of baking soda over the rust, and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Next, scrub with a soft bristle brush.  Finally rinse and dry the area.

If the rust is extensive, there are more abrasive methods that you can use:

  • Purchase a cleaner containing oxalic acid.  Purchase a grit-free one such as Bar Keeper’s Friend Soft Cleanser.  Don’t use caustic cleaners or those with chlorides.  These will damage the steel.
  • Following the cleaner’s instructions, apply the oxalic acid to the affected area. 
  • Rub the cleaner into the grain of the steel.  Again, use something soft like a sponge.  Do not use something like steel wool, as this will cause even more damage.
  • Once you are done, rinse and dry the area.

Now that you have scrubbed away the rust make sure you keep up with the maintenance of the steel.  That way, you won’t have to worry about spending time and energy scrubbing away the rust again.  

You can also see how to clean rust off your fire pit if you’re having issues with that as well.

If rust does pop up again, make sure you clean it off as soon as possible.  Getting ahead of it means less work for you.

 A Warning for Grill Owners 

As you probably know, grills are popular outdoor appliances that often use stainless steel in their construction. To clean the grill, you will follow the steps mentioned above.  

But there is one popular stainless steel cleaner that you will want to avoid using on your grill.

You should not use anything that leaves behind a film or finish, such as stainless steel polish.  The heat from your grill will interfere with the finish, causing discoloration of the steel.

This will just make your grill look worse and eliminate all the hard work that it took to clean it.

Extra Tips for Having Outdoor Stainless Steel

Stainless steel that you have outside will be subjected to the elements.  Thus, there are some helpful tips to be aware of that will help lessen the impact that these outdoor forces have on the steel.

  • If possible, make sure any stainless steel is kept away from a pool since the chemicals from the pool cause rust.
  • Keep stainless steel away from trees, as the sap can cause damage.
  • When using lawn chemicals, make sure to move the grill out of the way, as the chemicals can also damage the grill.

If you must keep the grill by the pool, and if tree sap or lawn chemicals happen to get on the steel, make sure you at least wipe the affected area with a wet cloth and then dry it. Although water is not a great cleaner, it will be okay to use for a quick fix.  

Just make sure you do a deep cleaning once every two weeks. 

Conclusion

If you have stainless steel that is outdoors, it needs to be cleaned regularly.  When you clean it, make sure that you use the right cleaning supplies too.  Using the wrong chemicals or towels could leave it scratched or discolored. 

As long as you follow the steps, though, your steel should come out looking like new. Be sure to checkout our websites for more cleaning tips for other products such as, cleaning plastic furniture, and patio door tracks!

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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2 Comments

  1. If I live close to ocean and it is very high humidity here in Corpus Christi, TX. 95% of the time it is so humid it looks and feels like it rained, how can I protect a SS fire pit, I want a fire pit in the event power goes out and there is no heat so I have a backup. Do you think it is a good idea to buy SS or copper, or what do you recommend if you are a small person that is not very strong? Do you think it better to use one of those tower type of heaters like they do at restaurants that have dining outside. I hope I have the correct website Backyard Scape? Thank you for your info

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment. Stainless Steel and Copper are pretty rust resistant and are very lightweight comparted to regular steel fire pits. If you’re needing to move it around a lot, I would get a small size that you can move easily by yourself. The tower heater is fairly top heavy and can be difficult to maneuver depending on the flooring type. If you have a flat concrete surface to roll it over, then it should be fairly easy to use as well. Both put off a good amount of heat.

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