One option is to try a product advertised as restoring luster to stainless steel sinks, such as Weiman Stainless Steel Sink Cleaner and Polish ($7.98 on Amazon) or Hope’s Perfect Sink ($3.97), both of which have numerous positive reviews.
If that’s not enough, or if you don’t want to add to a clutter of specialty cleaning products, there’s more to try. When a stainless steel sink looks dull, it’s often because it’s been scrubbed with cleanser that contains chlorine bleach, with a bleach-loaded scrub pad, or — worst of all — fine steel wool that comes pre-loaded with detergent and bleach. Stainless steel usually resists rusting because it’s made from regular steel plus chromium and other ingredients, such as nickel, which add luster. The chromium that’s right at the surface combines with oxygen in the air or water, forming a micro-thin layer of chromium oxide that seals the underlying steel and keeps it from rusting. But if you clean with chlorine bleach, you strip off that protective layer and enough rust can form to make the entire surface look dull. And if you use steel wool, bits of the pad too small to see break off and become embedded in the fine texture of the sink’s surface, and these bits rust very easily because they are ordinary steel.
To remove a fine layer of rust that makes stainless steel look dull, scrub with something that doesn’t contain bleach, such as a cloth embedded with baking soda or a scrub powder such as Bon Ami.
Scrubbing is also the best way to make deep scratches in your sink disappear, or at least become less noticeable. Sometimes it’s enough to use a green scrub pad, the way you would use for pots; it produces a finish similar to what appliance manufacturers call a brushed finish. Dampen the surface with water or mineral oil, and sprinkle on some non-chlorine scrubbing powder (baking soda, Bon Ami) if you want. Go in the direction of the brush marks on the sink, not in circles (except right near the drain, where you have no other practical option). Work in one direction, not back and forth. Because stainless steel is made of the same material all the way through, you don’t have to worry about scrubbing too deep, as you might if your sink were made of some other materials. Take care not to create scratch lines that go against the grain of the brushed surface.
If, after a few minutes, you still see the deep scratches, switch to coarser grit, using a sanding pad or a sanding sponge you can shape against the curves of the sink — 3M Sponge Sanding Pads are very flexible and available even in very fine grits. A set of five with grits ranging from 80 to 1,000 grits costs $14.50 at riogrande.com. Start by using the 600-grit pad. If it doesn’t make headway against the deepest scratches, switch to the next-coarsest grit, 320. It’s like sanding a scratched board: You start with the coarsest grit that takes out the scratches, then sand over those with finer sandpaper until the scratches become so fine that they seem to disappear. In general, grits of 400 to 600 are most useful for taking scratches out of stainless steel.
Around the drain, use an old toothbrush and baking soda or non-chlorine scrub powder, such as Bon Ami.
If your sink shows mineral deposits — a white haze over the metal — soak a cloth with vinegar and leave it over the deposits for a bit (maybe 15 minutes), then wipe them away. You can repeat this treatment several times if necessary.
When you’re satisfied the sink has an even finish, rinse the metal thoroughly and dry with a soft cotton cloth. If you still don’t see the luster you long for, try rubbing on a few drops of cooking oil. Then leave the sink alone for a day, if possible, which will allow a new protective layer of chromium oxide to form to keep rust from returning.
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