Q: My former cleaning lady put something in my stainless-steel sink to clean the floors. I don’t know what she used, but now there are whitish stains on the sides and corners. It looks as if some of the finish has been removed. How can I refurbish it?
A: Because you mentioned floor cleaner, a customer service representative for a company that makes floor cleaners seemed like a good person to ask. Joni Thompson, who has that role at Holloway House, which makes the Quick Shine floor-care products, heard a description of your problem and said the deposits might be residue from a floor-maintenance product designed to leave a shiny finish or to strip a shiny finish. But those would leave a shiny coating, not white deposits. Once she saw the pictures you sent and consulted with a technical expert at the company, she emailed to say that she was sure it was not caused by a floor finish. “Paint possibly or just some buildup,” she said.
She suggested trying a Magic Eraser, a type of sponge made of melamine foam that works like very fine sandpaper to scrub away deposits and that needs only plain water. Be sure to scrub in the direction of the grain lines in the stainless steel, so any scratches from the pads blend in. (A two-pack of Magic Erasers is $3.29 at Target.)
If a Magic Eraser — or several, given they wear down quickly — doesn’t get your sink looking clean again, Thompson suggested trying nail polish remover, which should strip off paint residue, if that is what you’re seeing. “Stainless steel is very durable,” she noted, so if that doesn’t work, you could try other household cleaners or stain removers, including staples such as vinegar or baking soda.
You might even try what Thompson recommended when she initially thought a floor-shine product or floor cleaner was to blame. Quick Shine multi-surface floor finish and similar products from other manufacturers contain waterborne polymers, which are basically plastics formulated to remain as a whisper-thin coating on the floor once the water evaporates. If someone repeatedly sprayed one of these products on a cleaning cloth or mop in the sink and didn’t rinse and wipe off the sink thoroughly, the spatters could leave a stubborn residue.
A cleaning product that was designed to remove polymer coatings, such as the Quick Shine deep cleaner, could also do that if someone dumped a bucketful of mop water in a sink and didn’t clean up the splashes. The cleaner would re-liquefy polymer on the floor, but the polymer could reharden on the sink once the water evaporated.
To remove hardened polymer, whether from a product intended to leave a shine or to remove it, Thompson recommended using a cleaner that includes ammonia or something that is chemically close to it. The Quick Shine deep cleaner is ammonia-free, but it’s what Thompson called “an amine-based product — in the ammonia family but without the ammonia smell.” Or she suggested using Windex Original ($4.99 for a 23-ounce bottle at Ace Hardware) or Formula 409’s multi-surface cleaner ($4.99 for 32 ounces at Ace Hardware). You could also mix your own cleaner using 3 or 4 tablespoons of ammonia with 1/2 cup hot water. “Let the cleaner sit for a good two minutes,” Thompson said, then scrub and rinse.
If you want to try other cleaners, read their labels first. The big caveats are to avoid using any products that contain chlorine bleach or are strongly alkaline, such as oven cleaners or drain openers. Stainless steel is stainless – not stain-proof – because the metal includes chromium. Chromium at the surface combines with oxygen in the air or water and forms a protective layer of chromium oxide. But chlorine bleach, which is found in numerous cleaning products, breaks the bonds in the chromium oxide layer, allowing oxygen to reach the steel and form iron oxide, or rust.
Luckily, as Thompson said, stainless steel is fairly indestructible, so if you don’t already have a cleaner or solvent that gets rid of the white deposits, you might forgo buying a bunch of other cleaners to test and instead work on scouring the crud to reveal fresh stainless steel underneath.
Asked a couple of years ago about how to remove pitting caused by leaving oven cleaner in a stainless-steel sink, a representative of Elkay, a sink manufacturer, recommended using a maroon Scotch-Brite pad ($2.79 at Ace Hardware) and a powdered cleanser, such as Bon Ami ($2.59) or Bar Keepers Friend ($2.99). Always rub in the same direction as the grain lines that the manufacturer left when buffing the sink.
Scrubbing down to fresh stainless steel is also the remedy when a sink becomes dull and dark because someone used chlorine-bleach-based cleaners or fine steel wool instead of a synthetic scrub pad to clean. Shards of steel wool can break off and become lodged in the grain lines. Steel wool generally isn’t made of stainless steel, so the shards can rust and turn the surface dark and dull.
However you clean or whatever you use to scrub, keep the sink looking its best by rinsing the metal well, then wiping it dry with a soft cloth or a microfiber cloth, so water doesn’t linger and begin to form a mineral crust. Once the sink is clean and dry, you can add a few drops of olive oil or mineral oil to a lint-free cloth and buff the sink until it shines. But drying the sink and adding that shine are just cosmetic. The stainless steel itself will do fine without the coddling.