There is a reason stainless steel is the preferred material for restaurant equipment. Stainless steel is durable and easy to clean, which are two key ingredients for an efficient commercial kitchen. Plus, some grades of stainless steel (like the kind used in stainless steel prep tables) resist bacteria and can be used as a food contact surface. However, if stainless steel restaurant equipment is not properly cleaned and maintained, it can corrode just like any other metal.
What Makes Stainless Steel Stainless?
All stainless steel surfaces have a thin layer of chromium on the outside. The chromium layer chemically reacts with air to create a slick, hard surface that resists stains and corrosion. Anything that damages or interferes with that chromium/air interaction (like dirt, oil or scratches) will cause stainless steel to stain, corrode or rust. That’s why, especially in restaurants, frequent cleaning is necessary.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Restaurant Equipment
Unlike other stain-resistant coatings that can wear away after repeated cleaning, the chromium layer will never wear away on stainless steel, so you can never clean stainless steel too much. Follow these cleaning tips to properly clean your stainless steel restaurant equipment:
- Use a wet cloth and mild detergent. Oftentimes, the best cleaning solutions for stainless steel restaurant equipment is a damp bar towel, but, if you need to use a cleaning agent, add a mild detergent to the wash water.
- Wipe in the direction of the finish. Some stainless steel surfaces have a brushed finish or grain. When cleaning, go with the grain, because scrubbing across the grain can damage the finish.
- Use baking soda for baked-on grease. When water and detergent are not enough, add water to baking soda to make a paste to clean more difficult stains. You can also use a commercial cream cleanser, as long as it is non-abrasive.
- Wipe up spills immediately. Spilled food, especially acidic food, can damage the protective chromium layer if left too long, so wipe spills with a damp cloth as soon as possible. Doing this will also make it easier to clean later, because the food will not be dried or baked on.
Use glass cleaner to remove fingerprints. Oil from fingerprints can etch or tarnish stainless steel, especially mirror-polished finishes. Wherever the stainless steel is visible, use a glass cleaner to remove fingerprints at the end of the day, before the finish is permanently damaged.
- Rinse the surface after cleaning. Any residual soap or detergent can be harmful if left for a long period of time, so rinse your stainless steel restaurant equipment with clean water and a damp cloth after cleaning it.
- Dry immediately. Water spots from hard water can also damage a stainless steel finish. Simply dry the surface after cleaning to prevent water spots from forming.
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Stainless Steel Restaurant Equipment
When cleaning your stainless steel restaurant equipment, there are a few precautions to keep in mind.
- Chlorine does more harm than good. Chlorine, or cleaners containing chlorine, will definitely kill any bacteria on the stainless steel surface, but it will also break down the protective chromium layer. Instead, use an ammonia-based solution if you need more bacteria-killing power.
- Never use rough abrasive sponges and steel wool. Abrasive cleaning tools, like Brillo pads and steel wool, will scratch the stainless steel and cause it to rust. Only use brushes and pads made from nylon, soft plastic or any other soft flexible material when more scrubbing power is needed.
- Only use stainless steel cleaners as a last resort. Stainless steel cleaners or polishes should only be used if the surface does become scratched or stained, because it is an actual coating meant to repair damage. If the steel is undamaged, polish is unnecessary. The polish can help remove the stain and protect the scratched areas from corrosion.