How to Polish Stainless Steel: A Step-by-Step Guide 


How to Polish Stainless Steel? Stainless steel has been a mainstay in industrial settings for eons and now has found its way into many homes. Stainless steel surfaces are not only easy to care for but look beautiful. Still, frequent cleaning can prevent pesky fingerprints from marring their character, but on occasion, a deeper polishing will require. If you have wondered how to keep your stainless steel appliances and other surfaces looking pristine, we are here to help.

Here we will look at the best methods for polishing stainless, explain how professionals polish stainless steel surfaces, Cheap DIY plans, and much more.

Table of Contents

How to know when you need to sand stainless steel before metal polishing?

Grinding Weld From Stainless Steel Bike Rack

Grinding Weld From Stainless Steel Bike Rack

You do not always have to sand stainless before using metal polish. While polishing compounds will not remove deep scratches, they can often remove minor surface scratches with no issues.

To determine if sanding is necessary, find the worst surface imperfection you can find. Buff it with the least aggressive grit you have available. It will typically be around a 400-grit compound.

Repeat the process with a slightly coarser grit like a 320-grit metal polishing compound if the scratch is still visible. Now, clean and reinspect the surface. If the scratch is still prominent, you may want to consider sanding.

How to Machine Polish Stainless Steel?

Machine Polishing Stainless Steel Guard Rail

Machine Polishing Stainless Steel Guard Rail

What You Will Need

  • Grinder
  • A buffer
  • Buffing pad
  • Sandpaper  
  • Soapy water
  • Clean cloths or soft sponges
  • Alcohol or acetone 
  • Polishing compound
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Microfiber Cloths (optional)

Step 1 Clean and Prep Stainless Steel

You must remove any residue or debris from your stainless steel surface before you begin to polish it. If left, this foreign matter can scratch and scar the surface, making it look worse instead of better. 

The best method for you is to take acetone or alcohol and remove any sticky residue. Then wash it down with warm soapy water using a clean cloth or soft sponge. Be sure to let the surface dry completely before proceeding. 

Step 2 Level/Remove the Weld

Once you have a clean surface, you need to level out any rough areas; if the steel were welded, you would want to remove the bead. 

Go slow and be sure you don’t over-grind and cause a low spot on the surface. An angle grinder is the easiest way to do this on larger pieces. On smaller items, a bench grinder may be appropriate.

Step 3 Sanding

When you have reduced the blemishes to mere bumps, putting away the grinder is best, and start using sandpaper. You can start with paper as rough as 120-grit if your metal has a mill finish and then work your way up to finer grits as the surface comes into shape. 

Use a circular motion to achieve the most uniform finish across the entire surface. Be sensitive to spots where the paper drags, indicating a high place on the surface.

How far you go is simply a matter of choice. You can work up to 2000-grit sandpaper if you want a mirror finish.

When you finish sanding, wipe the surface with a water-dampened cloth or soft sponge. 

Step 4 Polishing

Stainless steel Polishing is best done with a power buffer like you often see used on cars. You will want to purchase a special polishing cloth to match whatever pad you have.

Apply a small amount of stainless steel polish to your buffer pad and slowly work the machine up and down the length of the surface. Be sure to overlap your paths to avoid leaving polishing lines on the surface.

Just as importantly, keep your buffer moving to keep from burning the surface of your steel. 

Five Quick and Inexpensive Polishing Methods

Modern Stainless Cookware

Modern Stainless Cookware

Method 1: Baking Soda

You can apply a little baking soda to a damp cloth or sponge and use it just as you would stainless steel polish. It is slightly abrasive, so go with the steel’s grain.

Best of all, baking soda is food safe, so it is ideal for cleaning and polishing your kitchen’s stainless steel sinks, pots, pans, and appliances.

Method 2: Vinegar and Olive Oil

To polish stainless steel with vinegar, you will want first to dilute it with water. Straight vinegar can damage your steel and cause it to turn black. 

Mix one part vinegar with eight parts water. Spray the solution on your stainless surfaces and allow it to sit for five minutes. After this, rinse with cool water or wipe with a damp cloth. 

Vinegar works excellently, removing dirt, grime, and sticky residue from stainless and is non-toxic.

Once your stainless steel surfaces have dried, sprinkle with a few drops of olive oil and wipe with a clean cloth. 

Olive oil protects, and you can use it for light buffing.

Method 3: Dish Soap and Baby Oil

Like the method above, you can mix a small amount of dish soap in water and use it to clean your stainless steel appliances and countertops. 

Clean their surfaces with warm soapy water, and then rinse thoroughly. Allow the stainless to dry, and then apply a light coat of baby oil and use it to polish the stainless steel to a bright shine.

Method 4: Ammonia-Containing Cleaners

Ammonia-based cleaners should use with caution because they are toxic. Using regular household ammonia as you would buy in a grocery store should dilute with seven parts water for one part ammonia.

Apply the solution to your stainless steel surfaces with a soft cloth and allow it to sit for five minutes. Rinse with cool water and then wipe dry. 

There are also ammonia-based window cleaners such as Windex available. These are excellent for cleaning stainless steel appliances and sinks where water spots may be an issue.

As noted, ammonia is toxic. Where appropriate, PPE when using it and avoid applying it to food-bearing surfaces.  

Method 5: A Commercial Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polisher

You will find many on the market if you prefer ready-made stainless steel polishes to make your own. Be aware, though, that they do tend to be pricey. 

Just be sure to follow the label’s directions closely.

Polishing Stainless Steel Counter by Hand

Polishing Stainless Steel Counter by Hand

How to Polish Scratches Out of Stainless Steel?

Method 1: Toothpaste

Toothpaste is excellent for polishing out minor scratches on stainless steel surfaces. Work it into the problem area using a circular motion and wipe clean. Apply a small amount to a dry cloth or soft-bristled brush. 

Method 2: Sand With Fine Sandpaper

Using sandpaper to wet sand blemishes from stainless steel surfaces is a job best left to professionals. If you have had some experience, though, it works very well.

  • Use the finest sandpaper available.
  • Use a sanding block and apply light, even pressure
  • Be sure to keep the sandpaper and the surface wet at all times
  • Sand with the grain of the metal
  • After sanding, apply a light coat of olive oil


Keeping your stainless steel appliances, sinks, and countertops looking great is not difficult. There are multiple ways to keep them polished, scratch free, and looking great. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

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