We updated this article in December 2022 to add more information about each featured product, based on extensive testing done by the experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care and Cleaning Lab. We also added two new picks from Bar Keepers Friend and Hope’s.
Stainless steel appliances make a kitchen look modern and clean, but can very quickly become covered in fingerprints. You may be tempted to use the same stainless steel cleaner you use to clean your outdoor grill grates on your stainless steel kitchen appliances, but that’s a bad idea. Grill grates require strong, abrasive ingredients to clean. The beautiful, shiny finish on the exterior of kitchen appliances is a lot more prone to scratches and damage, so they need to be cleaned more gently. To keep your stainless steel appliances clean, stick to cleaners specially formulated for appliance exteriors, and always test any product on a hidden area of your appliance first to make sure that it will not cause any unwanted discoloration or damage.
At the Good Housekeeping Institute, we have rows of stainless steel dishwashers, refrigerators and ranges in every test kitchen. All of our Labs are fitted with stainless steel sinks and our cabinets are full of stainless steel cookware. Needless to say, we spend a lot of time keeping it all clean, so we know which cleaners get the job done. When we test stainless steel cleaners in the Cleaning Lab, we walk the halls in search of as many fingerprinted and grease-splattered surfaces as we can find in our Institute Labs and test kitchens. And, if our appliances don’t have any marks, we add some. We check for how well each product cleans away grease, food residue and dust, how easy it is to apply and use and how easily it buffs without streaking. Finally, we carefully review product labels to ensure that they have easy-to-follow instructions and adequate safety notices.
Our top picks:
At the end of this guide, you’ll find a list of things you shouldn’t use to clean your stainless steel appliances and answers to other frequently asked questions. For more kitchen cleaning products, check out our guides to the best stovetop cleaners and top-tested multipurpose cleaners.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab is continually testing stainless steel cleaning products (often in conjunction with all the stainless steel ovens, toaster ovens and dishwashers we test). We test how well stainless steel cleaners clean grease, fingerprints, food residue and dust off stainless steel surfaces across all of our Institute Labs and test kitchens. In our last big test of stainless steel cleaners, we tasked 30 different products with removing a difficult mixture of cooking oil and dirt from stainless steel surfaces in our Cleaning Lab. For products that were submitted for consideration for the Best Cleaning and Organizing Awards, we also recruited GH+ consumer testers to try the products at home and provide us with extensive feedback on the performance of each stainless steel cleaner.
We also evaluate other performance parameters like polishing ability. If the cleaner claims to leave a protective coating on the appliance surfaces, we test how well it prevents new fingerprints and grease buildup. The polishing abilities of each stainless steel cleaner are measured using a device called a gloss meter that measures the amount of projected light reflected off of a freshly polished stainless steel surface. We take careful note of any cleaners that remove the shine and darken stainless steel surfaces after use.
In addition to judging each cleaner on its performance, we also evaluate the ease of use, including how messy it is to apply, how easy it is to buff out without streaking and how convenient the product packaging is. Like with any cleaning product, we also review the label for clarity of instructions and any safety warnings that may be required based on the ingredients.
What to look for when shopping for the best stainless steel cleaner
Choosing the right stainless steel cleaner is much simpler than shopping for a new refrigerator or stove for your home. Still, a stainless steel cleaner is important to keep your appliances looking brand new long after you install them. Here are a few things to consider:
✔️ Surface type: You don’t want to use the same stainless steel cleaner on your refrigerator that you use on your outdoor grill. Some stainless steel surfaces, like grills, require more abrasive formulas than your kitchen appliances do. A formula that’s too abrasive can cause damage that no cleaner, polish or mineral oil will be able to buff away.
✔️ Application style: Stainless steel cleaners most often come as sprays, powders or wipes. Which you opt for all comes down to convenience. Powders need to be mixed with water to form a paste, so they require an extra step. If you’re looking to make cleaning a one-step process, go for a wipe that requires no extra tools and can be disposed of immediately after use. Looking to reduce your environmental footprint? Ditch the wipes and paper towels for a washable microfiber cloth that you can reuse whenever it’s time to give your appliances a quick polish.
✔️ Polish: Some stainless steel cleaners only clean surfaces without bringing back the shine they had when you first bought them. If you’re looking to make your stainless steel sparkle again, look for a product designed to polish as well as clean. Plus, if your cleaner leaves a protective film on your appliances, you won’t have to worry about cleaning fingerprints and greasy stains so often!
✔️ Scent: Many cleaning products leave an all too familiar chemical smell lingering on the surfaces we clean — some of us love it and others don’t! If you prefer a more pleasant smell in your cleaning products, look for a scented option that masks the cleaner smell with scents like lavender, vanilla or other floral notes.
Do you really need a stainless steel cleaner?
Appliances need gentle, non-abrasive cleaners to avoid scratches and help preserve their protective finish. If you want to make your own homemade stainless steel cleaner, baking soda is a gentle abrasive, so it’s great for cleaning stainless steel sinks and cookware and even for removing coffee residue from inside a stainless steel thermal carafe or travel mug. But for the routine maintenance of stainless steel appliance fronts, we prefer products formulated specifically for that job, like the ones we recommend. They are non-abrasive and often provide a protective coating to help keep appliances cleaner for longer.
The one instance where we do recommend using baking soda is if tiny rust spots start to appear on your refrigerator or dishwasher front. This means that the coating applied at the factory has been damaged and the exposed metal underneath is starting to rust. If this happens, apply a paste of baking soda and water to the spots with a soft cloth. Rub briskly in the direction of the grain, then rinse well and buff dry.
What not to use on stainless steel
Harsh abrasives like scouring powders, steel wool, ammonia and bleach should never be used on your stainless steel appliances. These abrasive cleaners will damage the protective coating of your stainless steel appliances and cause scratches that no amount of buffing in the direction of the grain will be able to repair.
Cleaners formulated for ovens and outdoor grills are much too abrasive to use on stainless steel appliances and cookware. These cleaners are specially formulated to remove food bits that have been burned onto your grill at extremely high temperatures. That requires more cleaning power than the typical messes on the stainless steel appliances in your kitchen. The stainless steel used to construct grills is made to withstand a lot more force than the polished surfaces of your appliances.
When it comes to cleaning stainless steel cookware, no matter what cleaner you use, pots and pans should be thoroughly rinsed after cleaning to prevent any residue from contaminating your food. Stainless steel polishes — which are formulated to leave a protective shine on the surface of your stainless steel appliances — should not be used on the inside of your pots and pans. Instead, opt for a residue-free cleaner.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Carolyn Forté has over 40 years of experience with the Good Housekeeping Institute. During that time, she has tested thousands of cleaning appliances, products and tools. As Executive Director of the Cleaning Lab, she continues to test and write all of the Institute’s cleaning content including helpful home cleaning tips, putting together comprehensive product guides and more. Our original test of stainless steel cleaners was conducted by a former products reviews analyst and has been reviewed and updated with new picks tested by Forté herself. Most recently, she tested three new stainless steel cleaners that were submitted for the latest 2022 Best Cleaning and Organizing Awards.
Carolyn Forté Home Care & Cleaning Lab Executive Director Carolyn Forté brings more than 40 years of experience as a consumer products expert to her role as executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute‘s Home Care and Cleaning Lab.