Although kitchen appliances are first and foremost about functionality, they’re also part of our home decor. (Some might argue the opposite is true, but it doesn’t matter how well your fridge blends in with your cabinets if it doesn’t work.) This means that like other furniture, fixtures, and colors, what is considered “stylish” evolves over time.
And for quite some time, having kitchen appliances with stainless steel finishes has been the go-to upgrade over traditional plain white varieties—enough so that it’s often mentioned in real estate listings. But, as Jeff Sommers points out in this April 2022 Lifehacker article, stainless steel isn’t always the best finish for your oven, dishwasher, and refrigerator.
There are a variety of reasons for this, but one is that despite how they’re marketed, stainless steel appliances can, in fact, rust. If that has happened to yours, here’s how to remove it.
Can stainless steel appliances rust?
In short, yes. A company’s marketing materials or an enthusiastic salesperson may assure you that your brand-new stainless steel oven will never rust, but it’s definitely a possibility. We’ll let GE Appliance explain:
Stainless Steel is a slightly misleading name. A more accurate description would be “Harder to Stain” Steel. The largest single component of stainless steel is steel. Steel will rust.
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What causes stainless steel appliances to rust?
Without getting too technical, stainless steel contains chromium—which, when exposed to oxygen, forms a thin, invisible layer (chromium oxide) that coats the entire surface of the appliance, making it resistant to stains and rust. But when this layer is damaged, moisture is able to reach the iron below, causing the surface of the appliance to rust.
More often than not, we’re the ones (unintentionally) causing the damage—in most cases, when we clean our appliances. The following cleaners and supplies can damage the protective chromium oxide layer:
- Cleaners containing chlorides (bleach, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, etc)
- Cleaners containing alcohol, ammonia, or mineral spirits (including Windex and other glass cleaners that contain ammonia)
- Cleansers containing muriatic acid (often found in grout cleaners)
- Any other caustic cleansers
- Steel wool, scouring pads, or steel brushes
Rust on stainless steel appliances can also be the result of an error in the manufacturing process.
But don’t worry: According to GE Appliance, the chromium oxide layer can be “self-healing.”
How to remove rust from stainless steel appliances
Fortunately, the rust and oxidized stains that form on the stainless steel finish of appliances are typically only on the surface, and therefore, relatively easy to remove. You have two options—both of which may require some elbow grease, depending on the severity of the rust:
- Baking soda: Mix baking soda and water (roughly equal parts of each) into a paste. Apply using a clean cloth or soft-bristle brush, rubbing the paste in the direction of the metal grain lines.
- Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser: Apply using a clean, damp cloth or soft sponge (i.e. not the abrasive side), rubbing in the direction of the metal grain lines until the rust is gone. [Note: Similar soft cleansers containing oxalic acid will also work, but don’t use the original powder versions: The grit they contain can further damage your appliance.]
Regardless of which cleanser you use, when the rust is gone, wipe the area with a clean, damp cloth to rinse it, then a new cloth to dry it.
Finish it off by using dedicated a stainless steel cleaner containing mineral oil, which will help shield the stainless steel’s protective layer. Alternatively, you can apply an extremely light coating of actual mineral oil , buffing it in using a clean microfiber cloth.
If you don’t have either on hand, baby oil will do in a pinch—just stay away from any kind of food-based oils (e.g. olive oil or vegetable oil), as they can turn rancid.
Moving forward, keep an eye on the parts of your appliance where the rust formed—they’re prone to rusting again.