Maintaining & Cleaning Stainless Steel
Stainless steel may seem indestructible but without proper cleaning, it will degrade and rust. It gets its rust resistant properties from a thin oxide layer that forms when it reacts with water and oxygen. Over time burned on food, minerals and other gunk can build up blocking out the oxide layer. Cleaning stainless steel isn’t hard as long as you use the right method.
Cleaning Stainless Steel When New:
New stainless steel is fresh shiny and clean or so you would think. Fermenters, fittings, kettles, and other stainless steel equipment generally come from the manufacturer with machining oils still present. Trisodium phosphate or TSP for short is your answer to removing them. It’s important to note that TSP can be hard to find due to environmental concerns so you might have to go with a TSP substitute or concentrated Dawn. Most regular pots, pans, and utensils should be fine with a light soapy wash but feel free to check by rubbing with a soft light-colored cloth. Now let’s get that stainless steel spotless.
- Wash the entire piece with really warm to hot water. This will remove dust and minor grim.
- Mix a TSP or TSP substitute according to the product’s directions. A spray bottle is a great container to mix and dispense.
- Spray the TSP mixture all over the piece and wipe with a soft light-colored cloth. You can use a dark one but the light one is easier to figure out when you’ve removed the oils.
- Repeat step 3 until your cloth wipes off cleanly. Your first few wipes will probably turn the cloth completely black. Your piece is now nice and clean but will need to be passivated.
Passivation is one of those controversial topics for home brewers. Some say it will happen on its own and is mainly a concern for professional brewers while others swear by it. I personally will go the extra step to protect my new shiny gear. It’s not particularly hard and prevents the rare but possible rusting in stainless steel. There are several methods for passivation and all will work equally well if you follow the instructions.
- Choose an acid to use first. Citric acid or concentrated Star San are the easiest options.
- Citric Acid: Mix a 4% acid/water solution at 180F or a 10% acid/water solution at 150F and soak for 30 minutes.
- Star San: Mix a solution of 1 oz Star San to 1 gallon water ratio and soak at 75F for 30 minutes.
- Dump the acid, wash your piece with hot water, and finally dry. Your equipment is ready to go!
Cleaning Stainless Steel With Beerstone, Burned Wort, & Mineral Buildup:
Over time you will get some form of mineral buildup, aka beerstone, on everything beer touches. Scrubbing with a scouring pad or steel wool might seem tempting but don’t! It won’t remove buildup easily and can potentially scratch your stainless steel. Steel wool is even worse as it can leave behind bits that will rust and cause pitting. Finally, never ever use bleach or bleach-based cleaners on stainless steel. It will cause very severe pitting.
- Wash off the piece with warm to hot water and leave wet.
- Sprinkle Bar Keepers Friend over the area you want to clean. You only need a light sprinkle.
- Use a soft sponge or cloth to rub away the buildup. It should come off easily but feel free to let the Bar Keepers Friend soak for a minute on a heavy buildup.
- Wash with warm to hot water and dry off with a soft rag. Your piece should look nearly brand new other than any character you added.
Mostly Natural Method:
- Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda over the area you want to clean.
- Pour vinegar over the baking soda. A thin solution will work for light stains but make a paste if there is a heavy buildup.
- Use a soft sponge or cloth to rub away the buildup. It will take more effort than Bar Keepers Friend but should work. A short soak may be necessary for a tough buildup.
- Wash with warm to hot water and dry off with a soft rag. Your piece should be ready to roll.
Keep things clean and dry to get the maximum life out of your stainless steel.