When you hear the term “stainless steel”, the first image that pops up is a durable, yet shiny material that always looks brand new. And indeed, there are lots of practical uses for this alloy. People use stainless steel in nearly everything, from bridges to surgical tools. However, don’t let the name fool you — even stainless steel can get stained.
Whether it’s excessive heat, different chemicals, or even household items like salt, there are plenty of things that can discolor steel. And while your dishwasher can cover certain items, it won’t handle all of them. In this article, we will go over some ways you can remove hard water stains from stainless steel. In addition, the article will cover a few tips and tricks for preventing hard water stains from even appearing.
But, before delving into it further, a discussion about the source of the stains itself is required.
What is Hard Water?
Generally speaking, water can either be hard or soft. The terms apply based on the mineral content of the liquid itself. Soft water is generally high in salt and sodium and it passes through your system easily when you consume it and does no damage to any surface. On the other hand, hard water is rich in minerals, especially magnesium and calcium.
You can generally recognize hard water by simply seeing how it reacts to everything around it. Here are a few useful indicators:
- When washing your hands, you may notice a thin film starts to form on your skin;
- Mineral stains on your clothes when you take them out of the washer;
- Poor or insufficient water pressure in your home;
- Spots appear on glass or silverware after the wash.
There are, of course, different methods of managing hard water in your home. However, our main focus is on getting rid of stains.
Hard Water Stain Removal
As stated earlier, people tend to use stainless steel in a wide variety of ways. For example, a lot of our cutlery and utensils are made of different types of steel alloys. But there are plenty of other items around the home, both big and small, that contain stainless steel. Broadly speaking, stainless steel items can be broken down into four major groups:
- Faucets and sinks
- Kitchen appliances
How to Remove Hard Water From Stainless Steel Faucets and Sinks
Of all the spots in your kitchen, sinks and faucets are most likely to contain hard water stains. After all, it’s where people accumulate the most water in their home, aside from the bathroom. And considering that plenty of bathrooms have ceramic or porcelain sinks, your kitchen sink might require more cleaning overall.
In order to clean up your stainless steel sink and faucet, you will need vinegar and a cloth. You will want to use pure white vinegar, as it is quite potent and there’s no risk of it staining the sink further. In fact, there’s even pure white vinegar specifically made for cleaning purposes.
The Cleaning Procedure
First off, soak the cloth in white vinegar. You can do this over the sink itself, since vinegar is not going to damage the steel. It’s a potent product, but unlike other chemicals, it’s perfectly safe to use on metal surfaces.
Next, start scrubbing the surface of the sink. Use small circular motions in order to get all of the stains out. Note that some stains will be more stubborn than others. If needed, apply a bit of force until you remove them.
Depending on the level of staining, you will want to resoak the cloth. You might also want to keep an additional cloth in handy in case the first one becomes too dirty to use.
When you’re done with the sink, repeat the process with the faucet. Furthermore, pay close attention to the spots around the handles and the tap.
Next, rinse the cloth in warm, clean water and wring it until you remove the excess liquid. Using this damp cloth, wipe away the remaining vinegar off the sink and the faucet. Finally, use a clean, dry cloth and go over everything. That way, you will prevent any new stains from forming in the future.
While white vinegar is your safest option, there are other methods of cleaning your stainless steel sink and faucet. For instance, a lot of homeowners turn to baking soda as their go-to cleaning product. Using baking soda for cleaning makes a lot of sense because of its chemical makeup. Namely, it’s just abrasive enough to scrub away some notorious stains, but not too abrasive to harm the metal during friction.
Cleaning the sink with baking soda is simple enough. All you have to do is mix baking soda and water until you get a nice paste. Next, let the paste settle until it penetrates deep into the hard water stains. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, scrub away the paste and then wipe the sink, first with a warm damp cloth and then with a dry, clean one.
Toothpaste with fluoride will also get the job done fairly quickly. Simply apply it to the stained area and scrub away after some time passes. But if you want something extra potent, try mixing cream of tartar with hydrogen peroxide. Just like with baking soda and toothpaste, simply let the mixture sit on the stains for 30 minutes, then scrub it away with a sponge.
Removing Hard Water From Stainless Steel Appliances
Lots of kitchen appliances, big and small, come with an outer coat that’s made of stainless steel. These devices include:
- Microwave ovens
- Electric teapots
- Coffee makers
- Sandwich makers
- Kitchen timers.
Obviously, you can’t fit any of those in a dishwasher, so manual cleaning is a must. Unfortunately, just like everything else in your kitchen that is made of stainless steel, these appliances can get hard water stains. Luckily, removing them is not too difficult.
The Cleaning Procedure
In order to clean a large stainless steel kitchen appliance, you will require the following:
- Baking soda
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Paper towels (a soft cloth will also do).
Start by combining ½ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of vinegar. Next, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of lemon juice and stir well. If done right, you should get a slightly wet paste with potent acidic properties. The paste is excellent since it won’t stick, even when applied to vertical surfaces.
Next, take a paper towel or a cloth and dip it into the mixture. If you opt for cloth instead of paper towels, make sure it’s microfiber. This material is soft and perfect for cleaning, as it leaves no streaks. With the towel or cloth now soaked, you’re ready to start cleaning.
With this method, you should remember two key points. The first is to clean with the grain of the steel. That way, you avoid scratching the surface — baking soda is only mildly abrasive, but it can still cause damage with certain types of stainless steel. The second point you need to remember is to avoid scrubbing too hard.
Once you’re done, allow the applied paste to sit there for about ten minutes, although the mixture of acids should start taking effect much earlier than that. Finally, when the specified time passes, take a towel or a damp cloth to wipe away the paste until your appliance is clean.
The mixture will manage to cover medium-sized appliances. However, if you have to clean something as big as a refrigerator, you might have to double the batch. In addition, if you want to use microfiber, buy the cheapest model possible. The mixture will stain any fabric, so there’s no need to use a pricy product.
If you don’t happen to have a lot of time on your hands, you can always use a quicker, easier method than the one described above. Conveniently enough, the quick method also involves vinegar and baking soda.
For example, let’s say that you have a stubborn hard water stain that won’t come off. In that case, heat white vinegar to a boil, soak a cloth in it, press against the stain, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Next, sprinkle the spot with baking soda and scrub gently until you see the stain fully disappear. Finally, apply some clean water to the area and wipe it with a dry cloth.
If, for some reason, you don’t have vinegar or baking soda at hand, you can scrub off the spots using a microfiber cloth and some dish soap. However, not all dish soaps are good for stainless steel. So, make sure you use a brand that doesn’t contain chlorine.
Removing Hard Water From Stainless Steel Cookware
Pots, pans, cups, plates, and other items made of stainless steel usually look shiny and clean after being in the dishwasher for a few hours. However, even the best dishwashers can’t remove some of the most stubborn hard water stains. After all, dried mineral deposits tend to build up on the soft edges of any pot or pan.
Fortunately, unlike big appliances, cookware requires much less effort when it comes to cleaning. In fact, you will only require vinegar, a paper towel, and two cloths.
The Cleaning Procedure
Firstly, take one of the two cloths and soak them in white vinegar. You can use any cloth, as white vinegar doesn’t leave any stains on the fabric. Furthermore, once you’re done, you can simply machine-wash this cloth for later use. When it’s soaked, wring it until you get rid of the excess liquid.
Once you have wrung out your cloth, start slowly scrubbing each piece of cookware. Remember to do it gently and to go with the grain of the steel. You can target the spots themselves, but it’s just as effective to go over the whole pot. As stated earlier, vinegar will not eat through stainless steel, including the one used to make the cookware.
Next, take the other cloth and soak it in warm water to dampen it, then wring out the excess water. Use the damp cloth to wipe the vinegar off the surface of the cookware. This step is not really necessary to prevent potential damage. Instead, it’s there to remove the smell of vinegar from the pot.
Finally, take the dry, paper towel and go over the dish once again. When you are done, it should be completely spot-free and shiny.
Removing Hard Water From Stainless Steel Utensils
It’s a bit of a tired cliche to enter a restaurant and complain about your knife having a spot on it. However, utensil spots are far more common than you would think. And usually, it really is just a simple stain caused by hard water. If you do spot such a minor stain on your own utensil, you merely need to soak a clean cloth in warm or even hot water and go over that utensil to remove the spot.
Of course, there are some hard water stains that won’t go away. In that case, you will need to combine warm water with vinegar.
The Cleaning Procedure
Start things off by mixing equal parts of both liquids. Then, you can either use a spray bottle or simply pour the solution into a big vat. Next, submerge all of the utensils in the vat or spray them with the solution. Let the utensils sit for about 10 minutes, then rinse them with warm, clean water and wipe them with a dry cloth.
How to Prevent Hard Water Stains
Cleaning the stains from stainless steel surfaces is not particularly hard. No matter which element you are cleaning, the procedure involves household items that anyone can buy and cleaning methods that anyone can apply. Of course, removing a stain is just the first step. In order to avoid another cleaning, you will have to learn how to prevent hard stains from even occurring.
Broadly speaking, to keep the stains away, you should do the following:
- Keep critical areas dry as much as possible
- Clean the stainless steel frequently to avoid any staining
- Use a water softener.
The Bottom Line
Nobody likes seeing their shiny stainless steel kitchen looking all spotty from hard water. Hopefully, this article has helped you figure out how to get rid of stubborn stains caused by mineral buildup.
And if you happen to see similar issues on other materials such as marble, porcelain, or even plastic, don’t worry. A lot of the methods described above will also work on materials other than stainless steel.