How to remove stains from stainless steel refrigerator

Stainless steel refrigerators are sleek, modern, and durable. But like any appliance, they are still prone to staining over time. Grease, drips, food spills, mineral deposits, and more can accumulate and make your refrigerator look dirty.

Don’t worry – stainless steel is highly cleanable when you use the right techniques. With a little effort and the proper cleaning solutions, you can eliminate stains and restore your stainless steel refrigerator to a pristine, shiny finish.

remove stains from stainless steel refrigerator

What Causes Stains on Stainless Steel?

Before diving into stain removal, it helps to understand what types of substances commonly cause staining on stainless steel. This allows you to tailor your cleaning methods to combat specific stains.

Grease and Oils

  • Fingerprints and skin oils
  • Cooking grease splatters
  • Food oils like salad dressing drips
  • Butter and bacon grease
  • Any oily residue

Oils cling to stainless steel and cause smudgy fingerprints and residue buildup. Grease from cooking can splatter onto the exterior. Foods with oils can leave behind staining if spilled.

Water Staining

  • Water spots
  • Mineral deposits from tap water
  • Hard water scale buildup
  • Alkaline water drying
  • Condensation drips

Water itself doesn’t stain, but dissolved minerals and alkaline compounds in water will leave deposits behind as it dries. These create water stains on stainless steel.

Food Stains

  • Tomato sauce or juice
  • Mustard and salad dressings
  • Coffee and tea stains
  • Wine, juices, and alcohol
  • Spices like tumeric or paprika
  • Maple syrup, jellies, and condiment drips

Many foods and drinks can permanently stain stainless steel if left to dry on the surface. Acids in things like tomato juice can etch stains into the steel. Sugary jellies and syrups leave sticky residues.

Rust Stains

  • Oxidation of iron particles if steel is scratched
  • Damage to protective layer from cleaners
  • Exposed iron from impact dings or abrasion

Stainless steel itself doesn’t rust, but if the protective chromium layer gets damaged, the iron underneath can oxidize into rust.

Mold and Mildew Stains

  • Organic staining from mold and mildew growth
  • Caused by excess moisture and condensation
  • Black or greenish staining

Persistent moisture or humidity on stainless steel allows mold spores to grow. Refrigerator seals are particularly prone to mold growth.

Cloudiness and Discoloration

  • Buildup of hard water minerals
  • Cleaning with abrasives scratches surface
  • Exposure to chlorine or other chemicals
  • High heat discoloration

Stainless steel can become discolored and cloudy over time with minerals etching the surface. Harsh scrubbing also damages the protective finish.

Now that you know what causes various stains, let’s go over the steps to remove them.

Supplies for Removing Stains from Stainless Steel Refrigerators

Having the right tools and cleaners on hand will make stainless steel stain removal much easier.

Recommended supplies:

  • Microfiber cloths or soft rags
  • Stainless steel cleaner or polish
  • All-purpose cleaner degreaser
  • Baking soda – mild abrasive
  • White vinegar – cuts grease, removes minerals
  • Olive oil or baby oil – lifts oil-based stains
  • Soft bristle toothbrush or paintbrush
  • Magic Eraser sponge
  • Razor blade scraper – helps peel off sticker residue
  • Super fine steel wool Grade 0000 – won’t scratch steel
  • Soft bristle toothbrush

Top Stainless Steel Cleaning Products

These cleaners formulated for stainless steel can help dissolve tough stains:

  • CRC Stainless Steel Cleaner – Foaming spray cuts through oil, grease, food stains
  • Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish – Cleans, polishes, and protects in one step
  • Zep Stainless Steel Cleaner – Industrial strength spray foam
  • Bar Keeper’s Friend – Powder with oxalic acid lifts rust, mineral stains
  • CLR Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover – Removes hard water stains
  • Armor All Stainless Steel Cleaner – Foaming spray cuts through dirt fast

How to Remove Common Stains from Stainless Steel Refrigerators

Now let’s dive into proven techniques for removing different types of stains from stainless steel:

Removing Grease, Oil, and Fingerprint Stains

Greasy residue, fingerprints, and oily drips are some of the most annoying stainless steel refrigerator stains. Here is how to cut through the oil:

  • Mix warm water and a few drops of dish soap in a spray bottle. Shake well.
  • Lightly spray soapy water directly onto oily fingerprints or grease.
  • Let soak 1-2 minutes so the soap penetrates stains.
  • Wipe clean using a microfiber cloth, rubbing in direction of grain.
  • For tough grease, apply a couple drops of baby oil and let penetrate before wiping.

The oil and soap dissolve greasy stains so they wipe away easily.

Cleaning Dried Liquid Spills and Drips

Mineral deposits or staining left behind by dried milk, juices, soda, water spots, and other drips come off stainless steel easily with some soaking:

  • Blot up any fresh spills immediately with a rag before wiping. This prevents spreading.
  • For dried-on drips, apply an all-purpose cleaner and let soak 2-3 minutes to soften stain.
  • Wipe gently with a damp microfiber cloth in direction of grain.
  • For stubborn stains, use a Magic Eraser extra scrubbing power.
  • Rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly after cleaning.

Letting cleaner or water soak helps soften dried drips so they can be removed.

Removing Rust Stains

While stainless steel itself doesn’t rust, rust stains can form if the protective surface is damaged:

  • First, clean and dry the area thoroughly removing any oils or grime.
  • Apply a commercial rust remover and let it soak in 5-10 minutes.
  • Gently rub the rusted area with super fine 0000 steel wool or sandpaper.
  • Immediately wipe clean using a soft cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol to remove any particles.
  • Rinse thoroughly and dry fully to prevent new rust from forming.

For any nicks or scrapes that still show, use stainless steel touch up paint. Stop new rust in its tracks by cleaning any damage right away before oxidation occurs.

Eliminating Hard Water Stains and Mineral Buildup

Tap water with high mineral content can leave etched calcium and lime deposits behind:

  • Fill a spray bottle with equal parts white vinegar and warm water. Shake to mix.
  • Mist the hard water stained areas and let soak 5-10 minutes so vinegar can dissolve minerals.
  • Wipe off softened water deposits with a damp microfiber cloth.
  • For heavy scale buildup, lay a vinegar soaked towel directly on stains for an hour before scrubbing.
  • Always rinse vinegar and dry thoroughly after cleaning to prevent new water spots.

Vinegar’s acetic acid breaks down mineral deposits. Installing a water softener also prevents hard water stains.

Cleaning Mold and Mildew Stains

To kill and clean mold or mildew that grows from excess moisture:

  • Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Vinegar kills mold and breaks down stains.
  • Spray generously onto moldy areas and let soak 10 minutes.
  • Scrub with a soft bristle toothbrush, getting into crevices.
  • Wipe clean using microfiber cloths. Dry thoroughly.
  • Disinfect further by spraying lemon juice and water solution onto the area.

Prevent future mold growth by fixing any condensation problems immediately and keeping surfaces clean and moisture-free.

Removing Food and Condiment Stains

Sauces, condiments, and food spills leave residues if left to dry on stainless steel:

  • Apply baking soda directly onto the dried food stain. Dampen a soft cloth with water.
  • Use a circular rubbing motion to work the baking soda into the stain – the light abrasion helps lift staining.
  • For stubborn stains, spray with all-purpose cleaner and let sit 5 minutes before scrubbing with baking soda paste.
  • Rinse and wipe clean using a soft microfiber cloth afterwards.

Fresh food stains should be rinsed away immediately before wiping clean. Baking soda is a gentle abrasive that lifts staining off stainless steel.

Restoring Cloudy and Discolored Stainless Steel

Regular cleaning keeps stainless steel looking sharp, but it can start to look dull and streaky over time:

  • First use a stainless steel cleaner to wash and remove any grime or oily buildup.
  • Rinse and thoroughly dry, ensuring there’s no liquid left behind to streak.
  • Apply a stainless steel polish cream and buff in well, rubbing in direction of grain to hide scratches.
  • Finish by buffing to a streak-free shine using a dry microfiber cloth.

Frequent polishing maintains the protective layer. For heavy discoloration, a tarnish remover cream can help brighten dull finishes.

Removing Sticker or Glue Residue

Stickers leave annoying glue residue if you try to remove them from stainless steel. To clean:

  • Gently scrape residue with a plastic razor blade. Don’t use anything too sharp that could further scratch steel.
  • Apply a small amount of olive oil. Let it soak for 1 minute to dissolve glue.
  • Rub off any remaining sticker adhesive with oil using your fingers or a soft cloth.
  • Clean oil residue away with warm, soapy water afterwards.

The oil helps soften glue so residue comes off cleanly.

Maintenance Tips to Prevent Stains on Stainless Steel Refrigerators

With regular care and quick cleanup, you can prevent many stains on your stainless steel refrigerator:

  • Wipe up food spills, drips, or splatters right away before residue dries and stains.
  • Frequently wipe down surfaces with stainless steel cleaner and soft cloth.
  • Immediately rinse away acidic foods like tomatoes or orange juice.
  • Apply stainless steel polish regularly to protect the finish.
  • Fix any moisture problems immediately to prevent mold growth.
  • Clean any scratches right away and apply touch up paint if needed.

Some other stainless steel maintenance tips:

  • Clean with the grain. Rubbing back and forth across the grain makes fine scratches more visible.
  • Don’t use abrasive scrub pads. Soft cloths prevent swirl marks in the steel’s finish.
  • Be aware of crossover contamination. If you wipe a greasy kitchen rag across the refrigerator, you are just smearing grease on the surface!
  • Use commercial cleaners formulated for stainless steel. Avoid harsh chemicals like bleach that degrade the protective layer.

Consistent cleaning and immediate treatment of stains keeps your stainless steel refrigerator looking pristine for years.

When to Call for Professional Stainless Steel Refrigerator Cleaning

While many stains can be removed at home, there are some instances where professionals are needed:

  • If there are deep scratches or damage causing persistent rust stains that you can’t remove. Professionals can repair and refinish the steel.
  • For extensive mineral buildup or calcium deposits, especially on refrigerator parts like ice makers. Professionals have commercial descaling solutions.
  • If the refrigerator interior has developed bad mold or needs disinfecting. They have tools to fully clean and dry the inside.
  • If there is excessive rust corrosion on internal parts like condenser coils or water lines that require repair.
  • If the refrigerator hasn’t been cleaned in years and needs extensive refurbishing. Professionals have heavy duty cleaners to restore it.

Knowing when to call for assistance ensures stains and damage don’t get out of hand. Stain removal experts can bring commercial grade products, equipment and expertise to revitalize badly stained fridges.


While stainless steel is prone to staining just like any refrigerator surface, the good news is it’s highly cleanable with the right techniques. Armed with the proper supplies and cleaning solutions, you can conquer grease, food spills, hard water stains, and other common stains.

Little effort on a consistent basis prevents stains from becoming permanent. Frequent cleaning also lets you spot appliance damage early before problems worsen. Keeping your stainless steel refrigerator looking like new makes your whole kitchen look clean and adds value to your home.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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