Stainless steel is a popular material used in kitchens and bathrooms for its durability, stain resistance, and easy-to-clean finish. However, even stainless steel requires regular cleaning to maintain its luster and prevent buildup. This leads many homeowners to wonder – can you use bleach on stainless steel?
The short answer is yes, you can use bleach to clean stainless steel surfaces. However, there are some important caveats to keep in mind when using bleach on stainless steel. Used properly, bleach can effectively remove stains and disinfect stainless steel. But used improperly, it can cause corrosion and damage.
How Bleach Interacts With Stainless Steel
Stainless steel gets its name from its resistance to stains, rust, and corrosion. But despite the name, it is still susceptible to damage from prolonged exposure to harsh chemicals like bleach.
Bleach is a powerful oxidizing agent, meaning it can remove electrons from other substances through a process called oxidation. This makes bleach highly effective at killing germs, whitening, and removing stubborn stains.
However, oxidation also plays a role in the corrosion process for metals like stainless steel. When the chromium in stainless steel gets oxidized, it allows rust and staining to occur. This ultimately leads to pitting and corrosion damage over time.
Additionally, many bleaches contain chlorine compounds like sodium hypochlorite or chlorine dioxide. Chlorides found in tap water can also get deposited on stainless steel surfaces. These chlorides interact with the chromium in stainless steel, making it more vulnerable to corrosion through a process called sensitization.
For these reasons, bleach and stainless steel can pose problems when combined or used improperly for cleaning. But with some care and correct usage, bleach can be used safely on stainless steel without posing long term issues.
Cleaning vs. Disinfecting Stainless Steel with Bleach
It’s important to distinguish between cleaning and disinfecting when using bleach on stainless steel.
Cleaning Stainless Steel
In most cases, routine cleaning of stainless steel does not require the use of bleach. Rather, gentle daily cleaning with warm water, mild dish soap, or a specialized stainless steel cleaner like Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish by Therapy is recommended.
Disinfecting Stainless Steel
However, stainless steel does need occasional disinfection, especially after contact with raw meats or other contaminants that can harbor dangerous bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella. Bleach is an effective disinfectant agent for stainless steel in targeted applications.
The CDC recommends using a bleach solution with 1000-5000 ppm chlorine concentration for disinfecting stainless steel food contact surfaces. This equals approximately 1 tablespoon unconcentrated, 8.25% household bleach like Clorox Regular Bleach per gallon of room temperature water. The bleach solution should be left on the steel surface for 1 minute before rinsing thoroughly.
When targeted disinfection is needed, bleach can kill germs without posing long term issues for stainless steel with proper rinsing. More frequent bleach cleaning risks damage, making milder cleaning methods better for day-to-day upkeep.
How to Use Bleach on Stainless Steel Without Damaging It
Here are some best practices to follow when using bleach to clean stainless steel:
- Use Bleach SparinglyAgain, for routine cleaning, don’t use bleach at all. Reach for it only when disinfecting or addressing stubborn stains. Overuse of bleach will erode stainless steel over time.
- Dilute Bleach CorrectlyAlways dilute bleach thoroughly with water according to label instructions. Common household bleach concentrations call for approximately 1 tablespoon bleach per gallon of water for stainless steel disinfection. Avoid applying concentrated bleach directly.
- Limit Exposure TimeLet the diluted bleach sit on stainless steel for the recommended 1 minute contact time, then thoroughly rinse away all bleach residue with clean water. Don’t allow it to sit for extended periods, which increases corrosion risks.
- Rinse Extremely WellThis is one of the most important steps to prevent damage when using bleach on stainless steel. After the 1 minute contact time, rinse thoroughly under running water until zero bleach odor remains. Bleach residue left on the surface promotes pitting.
- Wipe and Air DryAfter rinsing away bleach, wipe down stainless steel using a microfiber cloth and allow to fully air dry. Ensure no moisture remains on the surface before use or storage as trapped moisture also increases corrosion risks.
- Apply Protective OilConsider applying a food-safe protective oil to stainless steel surfaces after bleaching, especially lesser quality grades of stainless steel. Rub a small amount of olive oil, canola oil, or food-grade mineral oil into the grain to aid water runoff and protect from moisture.
Signs of Bleach Damage on Stainless Steel
Using bleach improperly on stainless steel can result in obvious signs of damage over time, including:
- Rust-colored staining
- Pitting – small holes and depressions
- Etching – visible grain pattern changes
- Crazing – fine surface cracks and lines
- Chalky, matte appearance
These visual clues indicate prolonged bleach exposure is causing the protective chromium oxide layer to break down. Luckily, early damage can often be repaired or restored with metal polishing. But allowing extensive corrosion can necessitate costly stainless steel replacement.
How to Prevent and Fix Bleach Damage on Stainless Steel
Here are some steps homeowners can take to prevent bleach damage on stainless steel, and options to address existing damage:
- Strictly follow bleach dilution, exposure, rinsing guidelines outlined above
- Limit use of bleach to occasional disinfecting needs
- Install water filters like Culligan Water Filter to reduce chlorides in tap water
- Always hand dry stainless steel instead of air drying
- Apply a food-safe protectant like Cameo Stainless Steel Protectant to exposed stainless steel
- Remove minor stains/deposits with non-chloride cleanser like Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner
- Use baking soda/vinegar paste to lift stubborn stains
- Polish away early pitting with metal polish like Mothers Billet Polish and buffing pad
- Re-passivate damaged areas with a nitric acid solution
- Replace extensively corroded stainless steel items
By understanding how to properly use bleach when cleaning stainless steel, exercising caution, and addressing minor damage early, homeowners can avoid extensive issues down the road. Take steps to keep stainless steel fixtures shining brightly for years before needing to consider replacement.
Common Questions About Using Bleach on Stainless Steel
Many homeowners have additional questions about the do’s and don’ts of using bleach when cleaning stainless steel surfaces. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Can I use bleach wipes on stainless steel?
Pre-moistened bleach wipes like Lysol Disinfecting Wipes make surface disinfecting more convenient. However, their use should be limited on stainless steel. The bleach solution can sit for extended periods as it gradually releases from the wipe, risking damage. Rinsing is also more difficult. For targeted disinfection, dilute your own bleach solution instead.
What ratio of bleach to water should be used?
For stainless steel food contact surfaces, the CDC recommends 1000-5000 ppm chlorine bleach solutions, equaling approximately 1 tablespoon household bleach per gallon of room temperature water. This equals a 1:512 bleach to water ratio. Double check concentrations on bleach bottle instructions and dilute accordingly.
Can I use Clorox wipes on stainless steel appliances?
No, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and other household disinfecting wipes contain chemicals that can damage stainless steel’s protective layer when used repeatedly over time. Use these wipes sparingly on stainless appliances and thoroughly wipe away any chemical residue. For routine cleaning, use mild dish soap and water instead.
What happens if you don’t rinse bleach off stainless steel?
Neglecting to rinse stainless steel thoroughly after using bleach allows corrosive bleach residue to remain on the surface. This residue interacts with stainless steel, breaking down the protective chromium oxide barrier and leading to pitting, staining, etching and eventual costly damage over time.
Does stainless steel rust if left in bleach?
Yes, concentrated or improperly diluted bleach solutions can eventually lead to rusting on stainless steel if left sitting for extended periods or if residue is left trapped on surfaces. Always dilute bleach correctly, limit solution contact time to 1 minute, rinse extremely thoroughly, and hand dry stainless steel to prevent this.
Take Proper Precautions When Using Bleach on Stainless Steel
Bleach can be used safely on stainless steel surfaces when proper usage and rinsing guidelines are followed. But excessive bleach use or failing to remove residue after cleaning can pose eventual damage risks. By understanding how to properly implement diluted bleach solutions only when disinfection is required, homeowners can balance effectiveness and safety when cleaning stainless steel fixtures.
Take care to limit bleach cleaning of stainless steel to occasional, targeted disinfecting needs. And be sure to dilute bleach adequately, limit contact duration, rinse away all traces of bleach, and hand dry your stainless steel to prevent corrosion issues. Following these simple precautions allows homeowners to safely incorporate bleach cleaning while keeping stainless steel fixtures shining for the long run.