Stainless Steel Cleaning
and Maintenance in the Building

Stainless Steels naturally resist corrosion. Therefore, a supplementary protection to ensure the durability of its aspect is not required. A regular maintenance cleaning is necessary to protect its aesthetic and its resistance to corrosion. Therefore, stainless steel isn’t that different from any other construction material, such as glass, that also needs regular cleaning. These recommendations are to ensure an efficient and favourable cleaning for a maximum resistance to corrosion.

Stainless Steel's
auto-repairing mechanism

First of all, it is very important to understand the reasons why stainless steel is so resistant to corrosion. Stainless steel has a thin and transparent passive layer on its surface. Even though this passive layer is very thin, it can instantly reconstruct itself under the effect of oxygen contained in air or water. So, in case of a scratch or degradation, the reconstructed passive coat will continue protecting the steel against corrosion. This is why stainless steel doesn’t need any extra protection coat to maintain its luminous and shiny aspect, even after years of use.

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The first cleaning is generally done by the master builder before the product is delivered to the customer. So, if the stainless steel product was correctly protected, only maintenance cleaning is required.

During the construction, transport and assembly, a protective adhesive plastic film is installed to protect the stainless steel components. If offers an excellent protection against degradation and soiling, but some plastic films alter when exposed to UV rays and can be difficult to remove. The adhesive film, after peeling, may also leave traces on the stainless steel’s surface. The protective film must be removed when no longer required, right after the end of the assembly. Peeling will be proceeded from top to bottom.

Cement stains may be removed by using a solution containing a small part of phosphoric acid. This treatment is followed by an abundant rinsing, preferably with demineralised water, and drying. Using demineralised water reduces the chances of having new traces on the steel. Surface treatment specialized businesses can provide these products. Products containing hydrochloric (even diluted) should not be used on stainless steel. If this happens, rinse abundantly with water.

Building professionals are not always informed about the risks of using products containing hydrochloric acid on stainless steel pieces. To prevent any risks, users should modify the order of operations, which means to finish the tiles and to clean ceramic elements before installing nearby stainless steel components.

Iron particles that can come from tools or a contact with a steel scaffolding, etc. must be avoided. The discharge of steel while welding, cutting, piercing, and polishing or carbon steel (not stainless) would rapidly generate rust. While corroding itself, these particles may damage the passive film that protects stainless steel and attack it, in spite of its good resistance to corrosion in normal circumstances.

At the beginning, the dirt may be removed with a nylon sponge such as “Scotch-Brite”, used commonly in the kitchen. Another solution is to remove it with a product for stainless steel containing phosphoric acid.

In case of corrosion, and depending on its seriousness, an acid metal-cleaning may be used or the surface may mechanically be brought back to its original state. Pastes containing metal-cleaning elements exist for local applications on the building site. Make sure to use these products strictly conforming to the given instructions to work safely and respect the environment protection legislation. Often, specialized companies will do the work directly on the building site. Metal-cleaning will restore the steel’s resistance to corrosion but it may also modify its look. Other mechanical treatments may be needed to restore its original finish. It will then be necessary to avoid any contamination, first of all by protecting the stainless steel parts while doing other work or by placing the stainless steel elements after finishing the work that could contaminate the steel.

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For outdoor works, such as facades, rain is generally good enough to clean off dust and other dirt, but it does so unevenly depending on its height and exposition. While performing the usual cleaning, a particular attention must be given to hidden areas to clean off accumulations of contamination agents found in the air. This is very important in marine and industrial environments, where heaps of chloride and Sox in the air may engender localized corrosion if it isn’t removed efficiently.

For indoor works, fingerprints may be something to worry about. There is a large range of special products for stainless steel and many of them work for largely exposed areas (where there is a lot of people). During the making of the product, the choice of surfaces less sensible to fingerprints may contribute to reduce the frequency and the cost of cleaning.

On mat finishes, often chosen for indoor, fingerprints may appear right after installation. These will disappear progressively after a few washes.

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To erase fingerprints and other marks, the use of soapy water or a light detergent is usually efficient and safe.

Sprays are easy to use and cover the surface with a light film that gives it an extra shine. These products remove fingerprints and prevent them from reappearing. After application of these products, it is necessary to wipe the surface with a dry cloth.

“Mirror polished” stainless steels may be cleaned with window products if they do not contain chlorides.

For more stubborn stains, non-abrasive cleaning gels are efficient and should be also convenient to remove water traces and other colorations. After cleaning, the residues must be rinsed off with water (preferable demineralised water, as those sold for flatirons and for car batteries) and dried to avoid drips and water traces. Scrubbing powders should be avoided as they could scratch the surface.

Oil and grease stains may be removed with solvents like white spirit or acetone that won’t corrode the stainless steel. The solvent must not be poured directly onto the stain, it may be hard to completely remove it afterwards. It is recommended to use the product many times, to pour it onto a soft and clean rag until the dissolved oil or grease stain has disappeared.

Paint or graffiti must be treated with alkaline scouring for paint or solvent bases. Scrapers or knives are prohibited to avoid scratching the stainless steel surface.

Wrongly maintained surfaces may be treated with products used for chromed surfaces. Products used for polishing automobile paint may also be used. It is very important that these products don’t scratch finely polished surfaces.

Another solution is to use a product for stainless steel containing phosphoric acid, then to rinse with demineralised water, and to dry. To maintain a uniform aspect, this treatment must be done evenly on the surface.

Before beginning any cleaning operation, one must check if the supplier has given a safety slip and that it is well understood by the operator. Products not to be used on stainless steel are:
• Chlorine based products (such as hydrochloric acid),
• Bleaches
• Silverware cleaning products.

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Cleaning Tools

A humid rag or chamois usually works to remove any normal dirt, fingerprints, etc.

For tougher stains, “scotch brite” sponges usually give good results. Ordinary metallic pads (steel wool), or metallic steel brushes are prohibited. It not only scratches the surface, it also risks contaminating the steel with iron particles which can lead to rusting when exposed to humidity.

Fine-grained polished products, like 180 brushed finishes and others must be polished in the polish’s direction.

After using water for washing or rinsing, the surface should be dried to avoid rings, mostly in some areas where the water is harder. The use of demineralised water will avoid these rings.

To avoid contamination with iron particles, make sure that the tools haven’t been previously used to clean “normal steel” (carbon steel). Materials used for cleaning stainless steel must strictly be used for it.

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Inside buildings, the periodicity for cleaning stainless steel elements is not different from any other materials. To reduce the costs and efforts for maintenance and to avoid damaging the surface, the cleaning must be done before any visible accumulation of dirt or fingerprints.
Outside, stainless steel is exposed to potentially more aggressive environments such as :
• marine environment,
• industrial environment,
• salt spreading,
• patina caused by air and traffic dirt.

These environments may cause the apparition of brown stains. We recommend cleaning these surfaces as frequently as the building’s windows. Depending on the amount of dirt and the importance of the deposits, it is suggested to clean the stainless every 6 to 12 months or every 3 to 6 months for heavier deposits described above. To eliminate such soiling, a stainless steel cleaning product containing phosphoric acid is recommended.

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In this page

Stainless Steel's auto-repairing mechanism
Initial Cleaning
Maintenance cleaning
Cleaning Products
Cleaning Tools
Cleaning periodicity


Atelier Bruno Fiset inc. has made every effort to make sure that the information presented is technically precise. However, please note that the given information is only general and isn’t exhaustive. In fact, it does not make Atelier Bruno Fiset inc., its members, it’s staff, or any consultant who participated in the making of this piece, responsible for its content.