How to clean and maintain stainless assets

Stainless does not mean stain-free

There is sometimes confusion regarding the name "Stainless steel", with people wondering why tea stains (often thought to be rust) can appear when the name seems to suggest it should always be free from blemishes.

The short answer is easy - 304 and 316 grade stainless steel do not rust, but they are susceptible to a form of oxidisation known as tea staining. This is chemically quite different to rust that occurs with the oxidisation of carbon (a.k.a. mild) steel, and will not damage the surface of the stainless unless it's left untreated for an extended period of time. It's also easy to remove if you have the right cleaner.

The longer answer is that there are many different grades of stainless steel for a wide variety of specific purposes, and since they are all alloys (i.e. they're made by melting different metals and chemicals together), they also have a variety of ways in which they exhibit oxidisation - for example many car exhaust pipes are made from 400 series stainless. While it is legitimately stainless steel, this alloy doesn't have enough chromium, nickel, and other additives that would protect the iron particles from rusting when they come in contact with oxygen, so it goes rusty. This is not a fault, it's just how that particular alloy oxidises.

304 and 316 grade stainless steel however both have much higher percentages of the components that prevent this from happening, which is why these alloys don't actually rust.

The term STAINLESS was coined when it was invented in the early 1900's when it was found to be superior to carbon steel for certain purposes, particularly in environments that would have encouraged rust to occur.

It refers to the fact that it STAINS LESS than carbon steel, not that it doesn't stain at all.

Click here to read an informative article by ASSDA (Australian Stainless Steel Development Association) regarding tea staining in coastal areas and how to prevent it.

Keeping it clean

With this in mind here's some information to help keep your (304 and 316 grade) stainless steel items looking great, even in harsh environments.

For daily wiping down of kitchen, laundry or bathroom benchtops, etc - a hot soapy cloth is usually enough to shift most cooking oil, grease or food particles, soap, etc.

For periodic deeper cleans - oil-based stainless steel cleaning products will generally clean well, but they leave an oily film which streaks when touched, and allows dust particles to stick to it. A better alternative is a good quality water-based glass cleaner which will clean just as well without the oily film.

For these reasons we also don't recommend wiping baby oil (or any other type of oil) on the stainless. This is sometimes promoted as a "protector" for the stainless. It doesn't need it, the only thing this does is guarantee that someone will have to clean it again soon.

In situations where tea staining is present on the surface of the stainless - we use, recommend and supply a product called Quickleen-S. It's the best tea stain remover we know of (which is why we use it ourselves on residential and commercial cleaning jobs), it's easy to use since it's non-harmful and biodegradable, and comes in a variety of tub sizes.

Removal of tea stains

A simple hose down of outdoor areas every week or so with clean, fresh water will greatly reduce the buildup of salt, chlorine, or other contaminants that can lead to tea staining.

Removing existing tea stains from stainless steel is a straight forward process, and in most cases doesn't require special tooling or even a lot of real hard work - it will rub off fairly easily with a product called Quickleen-S. Click here for more information on this product.


Since we also specialise in fabrication with brass or copper for aesthetics or particular health reasons - see our Bell Stainless | Brassworx or Bell Stainless | Copperworx websites for more info - it's probably worth mentioning that Quickleen-S is also highly recommended for cleaning these metal surfaces.

Click here for Quickleen's own directions on how to best use this amazing product