When interior designer Elizabeth Pash set about renovating her Manhattan kitchen, one thing she knew for sure was that she wanted the space to include a mix of materials: wood for the cabinetry, honed marble for the countertops and stainless steel for the appliances. Pash also used stainless steel for other design elements : Her custom range hood was constructed from sheets of matte stainless steel and trimmed with polished stainless steel, and she installed a retractable stainless-steel “garage” to conceal smaller appliances with a trio of stainless-steel cabinets above. As she says, “There are a lot of trends that seem to come and go in kitchen design, but stainless steel has played a role in kitchens for a long time, and I think it will be here for years to come.”
Pash says that in some ways, stainless steel is easier to clean and maintain than the cabinetry and marble countertops.
Stainless steel is not only classic, but it also gives a kitchen a more professional look; it conveys a serious, strong vibe and projects a sense that real cooking takes place there (even if in some cases it doesn’t). And by and large, stainless steel is easy to maintain. It won’t chip, fade or stain. But don’t confuse its durability for indestructibility; stainless steel can scratch and dent, and by far the biggest complaint owners have is that the surface shows fingerprints.
Joel Chesebro, the head demonstration chef for Sub-Zero, Wolf and Cove and father of three, knows all too well what toddler paws can do to stainless-steel surfaces. He and his wife, Jenny, admit that for several years, “wiping those little fingerprints fell to the bottom of our task list,” but because stainless steel is very cleanable, he feels it’s still the best choice for any environment where cleanliness is most important. Unlike other surfaces that mask dirt, he says, stainless steel shows when it needs to be cleaned.
The best way to prevent fingerprints from showing is to use a wax-based spray made for treating stainless steel. There are many on the market, but Pash likes 3M’s Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish.
At the 8,500-square-foot stainless-steel-covered Sub-Zero and Wolf showroom in New York, where the appliances need to look their shiniest and best, the staff members use Zep Stainless Steel Polish. Although they use it once a week, most homeowners would be fine using it once or twice a month, depending on kitchen usage.
Whichever brand you use, wear gloves when applying the polish. Spray a light mist over the stainless-steel surface, but do not overspray; if you soak the surface, it will become too greasy. Wait one or two minutes after spraying, then wipe away with a clean, lint-free cloth (microfiber cloths work best). Make sure you wipe in the direction of the steel’s grain. The spray will bring back the original luster of the material and leave a thin layer of wax that will resist fingerprints and smudges. And if fingerprints do appear, they will be easy to wipe away.
Whatever you do, don’t use cleaners with bleach after you put on the waxy layer; it will dull the surface luster. And don’t use oil-based cleaners, either; they will attract lint. Abrasive cleaners such as Soft Scrub or Scotch-Brite pads could scratch the surface.
The only time you may want to use an abrasive pad is if an unintended scratch appears. If that happens, spray some of the polish on the scratch and then gently rub it in with steel wool or a Scotch-Brite pad. Again, make sure you always rub with the grain until the scratches are no longer visible. If necessary, spray a bit more of the polish on the scratch; the wax will help fill in fine lines.
The worst thing that can happen to stainless steel is a dent. (My refrigerator door has two.) Dents are hard to repair unless you can get behind the stainless-steel layer and knock the dent out. In my case, that’s not an option. I need to order a new stainless-steel front, which is a costly — and purely aesthetic — endeavor. For the time being, I will look fondly on the dents; they were made a long time ago by my 5-year-old (now 18-year-old) son. Chesebro would understand. Now that his kids are older, he says it’s easier to keep the kitchen’s stainless steel pristine, the way the chef side of him likes it, but the dad side of him misses those little smudges.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”
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