How to Clean Brushed Stainless Steel

Brushed stainless steel often has a bad reputation for showing fingerprints, and smudges very easily. This is true on stainless kitchen appliances as well as metal table legs. The best way to understand how to keep it spot free is to first understand how a brushed stainless finish is made, and why it shows fingerprints so well.

What is a brushed stainless finish?

A brushed stainless finish is made by scratching the stainless steel, but controlling the scratches to all go in the same, linear direction. Typically, a relatively coarse grit sandpaper is used for the scratches, usually around 120 grit. The removes the mill finish on the raw stainless and exposes fresh cut material. The finer the grit of sandpaper used to create the brushed finish, the smoother, and more polished the finish will look. The coarser the sandpaper, the more “brushed” the finish will look, but the rougher it will feel. 120 grit is the industry standard as it shows prominent grain lines, but still feels smooth to the touch. We apply our brushed finishes on our metal table legs and bases in house with a specially formulated, custom-made abrasive belt that cuts like a 120 grit abrasive, but smooths it out to feel like a finer, 200 grit finish.

Why are fingerprints and smudges so bad on brushed stainless finishes?

Even though the brushed finish may feel smooth, it is composed of countless small gouges and scratches in the surface of the metal. No matter what cleaning supply you use or how hard you scrub, it is nearly impossible to clean every angle and groove of each microscopic scratch in the metal. Dry debris, such as crumbs or other materials, are easy to clean as they can simply be wiped off. Especially with brushed stainless metal table legs, it is easy to get food debris on the metal legs. But anything greasy will sit on the metal and create a small wet spot that will not dry out. The wet spot looks darker than the surrounding dry metal, so it stands out as a dirty smudge on the finish. Even products designed to remove grease will have a very hard time completely removing all the grease from the scratches in the metal. Our body creates a natural oil-like substance called Sebum to keep our skin from drying out, but this oil acts as another grease-like contaminate that will cause a smudge on brushed stainless finishes by simply touching it. To make matters worse, this natural oil is less affected by household degreasers, so fingerprints can be one of the hardest marks to remove. Metal table legs and bases are a common touch-point while sitting at a table, so it’s expected that any metal furniture base with a brushed stainless finish will show frequent fingerprints and smudges.

So how do I clean smudges and keep them from coming back?

There are 2 common ways we like to address this problem, each with its own set of pros and cons:

  1. The first solution is more of a proactive solution and that is to coat the brushed stainless finish with a clear powder coated finish. This fills in all the scratches with a clear coat and leaves a smooth surface on top to easily wipe off and clean. This is essentially what appliance manufacturers do when you see them offering “smudge-proof” or “fingerprint shield” options to their brushed finish options. This option adds an additional expense to your project, and while it is a maintenance free solution, it can potentially cause significantly more problems if the clear coated finish gets damaged, as there is no easy way to repair a small section of damaged powder coat. If you are considering purchasing on of our Brushed Stainless Metal Table Legs or Bases and are reading this first and would like the clear powder coated option, Contact Us for an estimate on the cost for powder coating.
  2. The second option goes along with the saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them”. Instead of constantly fighting to remove the grease or oil stains, it can be much easier to simply cover the product with an oily finish, to give the entire product a uniform finish. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already have brushed stainless metal table legs or a base, or any other brushed stainless product that you are trying to clean, so the proactive solution of coating this is probably no longer possible. Wiping an oily substance over the entire product seems counterproductive, but it actually creates a uniform finish that looks brand new and freshly cleaned. This does require re-doing on occasion, but it’s such a quick and easy process, and as long as the finish is on the metal, you won’t see new smudges or fingerprints. WD-40 is the magic ingredient here. Simply spray the WD-40 onto the brushed stainless and rub it in with a clean, microfiber towel. You’ll have a brand-new, fresh-looking piece in no time! Olive oil also works, but in our experience doesn’t work as well, requires more oil, and requires more frequent applications. But it is a much more common household item, so if you’re in a rush and don’t have any WD-40, give olive oil a try.

If you have a set of brushed stainless table legs or a brushed stainless base and are sick of the fingerprints and smudges and the idea of olive oil or WD-40 going on the base doesn’t sound appealing to you, reach out to us to see if powder coating your existing base is an option. Even if you didn’t purchase the product from us, we may still be able to apply a clear powder coated finish to your metal furniture base to prevent future markings on the brushed finish. You can read about some of the general benefits of powder coating in our Powder Coating Guide if powder coating is new to you.

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