How to remove rust stain from kitchen sink

January 22, 2021

A kitchen fashioned with a stainless steel sink and appliances creates an image that is sleek, sophisticated, and professional.

While the name stainless steel implies that the metal is impervious to blemishes, that is not always the case. Rust is one of the primary complaints we hear about with stainless steel sinks. Understanding some basics about stainless steel, its care, and its cleaning will help you to keep your stainless steel kitchen sink in top form. Now, before you learn how to clean rust off metal or stainless steel sinks, there are a few things you should know.

What Is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is an alloy that combines iron with carbon, chromium, nickel, manganese, silicone, phosphorous, sulfur, and nitrogen. The biggest misconception about steel is that it doesn’t ruse – but it does. Adding chromium and other elements to the steel, however, provides protection against corrosion as it creates a thin layer called chromium oxide on the surface of the steel. This protective layer can be scrubbed away, but it quickly “self-heals.” This is what makes stainless steel seem so indestructible and “stainless.”

What Does This Mean for Your Kitchen Sink?

While it was created to be durable and easy to maintain, there are still some important considerations that you should take in caring for your stainless steel sink.

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Stainless steel sinks require regular maintenance to look their best. Neglect your stainless sink and it can end up looking dull and dingy. Make sure to wipe them out regularly to remove water that can leave water spots. Since these sinks are also prone to scratching, it’s equally important to use a non-abrasive cleanser when cleaning a stainless steel kitchen sink.

If your sink is made of good-quality stainless steel, the truth is that you likely do not have a rusty sink. Instead, you have rust stains. Rust stains on a stainless steel sink can have a variety of causes including:

  • A cast iron pan or other metal pans left to soak
  • Utensils or flatware left in the sink
  • Metal cans (pet food, vegetables, etc.) set in the sink
  • Iron in your water (hint: get an iron filter to help alleviate this issue)
  • Certain dish soaps (especially when housed in a metal container or built-in soap dispenser)
  • Wet sponges or colored towels

How to Remove Rust From Stainless Steel Sinks

Now to learn how to remove rust from stainless steel sinks. Use only non-scratching, mild abrasive powder, liquids or sprays, such as Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser, Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser or Bar Keepers Friend Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish.

  1. Turn on warm water and wet the surface area of your stainless steel sink.
  2. Sprinkle, squirt or spray Bar Keepers Friend cleansers on to a non-abrasive cloth or sponge.
  3. Rub cleanser in the direction of the metal’s grain to avoid scratching.
  4. Do not leave cleanser on sink’s surface for longer than one minute.
  5. If rust stain is not completely removed, rinse and repeat, using elbow grease, as necessary.
  6. Rinse cleanser from stainless steel sink thoroughly using warm water.
  7. Use soft towel to dry sink and prevent water spotting.

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What Not to Use on a Stainless Steel Sink

Even though it’s pretty tough, there are definitely things that you should avoid using on your sink. Many of these items can damage the chromium oxide layer or scratch the surface of the metal.

  • Do not use cleansers that contain chlorides (chlorine, bromine, fluorine, iodine, etc.). These can strip the protective film.
  • Steel or metal brushes, steel wool, or abrasive sponges should never be used on stainless steel as they will scratch the surface, which can lead to rust. Steel wool can also leave behind particles that rust in your sink.
  • Do not leave rubber dish mats in your sink. They can trap water underneath and cause water stains and discoloration.
  • Abrasive cleaners should also be avoided. They can scratch the surface of the stainless steel.
  • Metal dish strainers should never be left on stainless steel. They will corrode and leave rust stains in your sink.
  • Avoid cleansers that contain alcohol, ammonia, mineral spirits, or lighter fluid. All are caustic to stainless steel, and some are outright dangerous and environmentally unsound.
  • Bleach and oven cleaner can stain stainless steel. Wash thoroughly with water if either of these items comes into contact with your stainless steel sink. Do not use any other cleansers to clean these chemicals from your sink until they have been completely rinsed from your sink. Mixing any cleaning products is a big NO.
  • Don’t put wet sponges, rags, or towels on a stainless steel sink to dry. The moisture can leave stains.
  • Never set cast iron cookware in your sink to soak. Moisture causes the iron to rust, which will leave your stainless steel sink with rust stains.

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Now that you’ve read our guide on how to clean rust off metal and stainless steel sinks, it’s time to get to work. Be sure to submit your before & after photos to us here. Your photo might be showcased on our Instagram page!

About the Author

Felicia Savage is a content strategist, agile marketing enthusiast, and Digital Marketing Manager at Bar Keepers Friend. When she isn’t writing about her love for Bar Keepers Friend (or wiping down her stainless steel sinks), you can find Felicia sparring at her muay thai gym, doodling in her sketchbook, or watching silly cat videos on TikTok.


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