8 ways to protect stainless steel

In the fast-paced world of foodservice, maintaining the longevity and hygiene of your equipment is paramount. Stainless steel, a staple in kitchens around the globe, is renowned for its durability and resistance to corrosion. However, even the highest-quality stainless steel can succumb to rust and wear if not properly cared for. This article includes helpful tips for protecting your stainless steel equipment.

Key takeaways:

  • While stainless steel is less likely to rust than other materials, it is not impervious to corrosion.
  • When using or caring for stainless steel, consider cleaning agents, water quality, temperature, and possible exposure to certain substances or contaminants.
  • Environmental factors may require additional measures or inspection to ensure the longevity of stainless steel.
  • Regular cleaning and care maintenance are vital for protecting stainless steel foodservice equipment and supplies

Main factors that lead to corrosion

Corrosion and rust are most often the result of the passivity film shield breaking down from scrapes, scratches, water deposits or chlorides. Below are factors to keep in mind.

Chloride exposure

Chlorides are present in many environments and substances, including table salt, seawater and various cleaning agents. When these compounds come into contact with stainless steel, they can compromise its protective oxide layer. This breakdown initiates pitting and crevice corrosion, which can spread if not addressed promptly.

Water quality

Water quality varies by location, and hard water or water with a high mineral content can pose a risk to stainless steel. Mineral deposits from hard water can form scales on stainless steel surfaces, trapping moisture and corrosive elements underneath, creating an environment conducive to corrosion.

Temperature

Stainless steel equipment in foodservice operations often encounters high temperatures, which can accelerate the corrosion process and affect the stability of the protective oxide layer. 

Acidic and alkaline environments

Many foods and cleaning agents in commercial kitchens are either highly acidic or alkaline. Extended exposure to these substances can degrade the passive layer on stainless steel, leading to uniform corrosion across the surface.

Equipment damage

Knives, pots and other utensils can cause scratches and abrasions on stainless steel surfaces, exposing the underlying metal to potential corrosion. If not properly managed, this can lead to significant degradation over time.

Presence of contaminants

Cross-contamination with non-stainless steel items can introduce contaminants that spark corrosion. For example, iron particles from non-stainless steel items can rust and cause galvanic corrosion when they come into contact with stainless steel.

Inadequate cleaning or maintenance

Using abrasive cleaners or failing to rinse off cleaning solutions can leave harmful residues on stainless steel surfaces. Additionally, abrasive cleaning methods can create micro-abrasions that become hotspots for rust formation. It’s essential to regularly clean and inspect stainless steel equipment to ensure its longevity. 

Tips for preventing stainless steel rust

As noted above, cleaning and care maintenance are crucial to keeping your stainless steel equipment in tip-top shape. Take note of these stainless steel care methods to keep rust and corrosion at bay: 

1. Use the proper tools

  • Non-abrasive tools, like soft cloths and plastic scouring pads
  • Stainless steel pads (scrub in the direction of polishing marks)

2. Clean with the polish lines or “grain”

  • Scrub in a motion parallel to the lines when visible lines are present
  • Use a soft cloth or plastic scouring pad when the grain isn’t visible

3. Use alkaline, alkaline chlorinated or non-chloride containing cleaners

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  • Ask your supplier for an alternative if your present cleaner contains chlorides
  • Avoid cleaners containing quaternary salts to avoid pitting and rusting

4. Treat your water

  • Reduce deposits by softening hard water
  • Install filters to remove distasteful and corrosive elements
  • Call a treatment specialist to ensure proper water treatment

5. Keep your food equipment clean

  • Use alkaline, alkaline chlorinated or non-chloride cleaners
  • Clean frequently to avoid build-up of hard, stubborn stains
  • Chlorides in water cause damage, including in boiled water and heating cleaners

6. Rinse, rinse, rinse

  • Rinse and wipe equipment and supplies when using chlorinated cleaners, and dry immediately
  • Wipe off standing water as soon as possible, especially when it contains cleaning agents

7. Never use hydrochloric acid (muriatic acid) on stainless steel

8. Regularly restore/passivate stainless steel

  • Conduct regular inspections of all stainless steel equipment to identify early signs of rust or damage
  • Address any issues immediately to prevent further corrosion

Whether you need to replace corroded stainless steel items or would like more tips on equipment maintenance, you’ll find both – and more – at The NAFEM Show, Feb. 26-28, 2025, in Atlanta, Ga. Register today to find your WOW!

This article includes compiled information from various sources:

“5 Factors that Can Corrode or Rust Stainless Steel Baskets and More”, Marlin Steel
“Hard Water: The Hidden Kitchen Menace”, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies (FE&S), 2016
“Top 5 Factors of Stainless Steel Corrosion and Rust”, Schaumburg Specialties, 2021
“Stainless Steel: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask”, Wasserstrom, 2018
“Basic facts about stainless steel, International Stainless Steel Forum, 2019


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