How to Clean Metal

A stainless steel sink.

So you want to learn how to clean metal. Well, there are many types of metal and each has unique uses, properties, and behaviors. Cast iron is porous and hates soap and water. Copper develops protective tarnish that may make it more valuable. Stainless steel can get stained. Chrome is usually electroplated over other metals. Gold will get you mugged. All these metals have their quirks, but they also have something in common. Each of these metals can be cleaned at home. Each metal can be cleaned cheaply. Each metal can be cleaned using methods that are safe for you and the environment. Follow any of the links starting the paragraphs below to get started. We will continue to learn how to clean metals and grow this page.

Cleaning Metal

  1. aluminum potHow to Clean Aluminum. Aluminum is the most plentiful metal in the earth’s crust, and we put it to good use. Siding, machinery, boats, blinds, appliances, cans, paints, pots and pans, gutters…the list is endless. Many aluminum items grow dull with a layer of aluminum oxide. It doesn’t harm aluminum, it protects it. Even if aluminum is common and the aluminum oxide isn’t harmful, clean metal is nice to look at, and if you follow the directions in this article you won’t damage the metal at all.
  2. cast iron skilletHow to Clean Cast Iron. Here you’ll learn how to clean metal without soap, water, and definitely without a dishwasher. All you need to clean this metal is salt and a little cooking oil, but I’ll show you a few ways to get the job done. Because cast iron is so easy to clean, I throw in tutorials on how to rid the metal of rust as well as how to season it. Season? Yes. Follow the link to learn all about this strange, wonderful metal.
  3. brass figurineHow to Clean Brass. Brass is often seen in the home in the form of statues, jewelry, antiques, doorknobs, and all kinds of decoration. Its unique luster dulls in any environment, but it can be cleaned and polished very easily using non-toxic, environmentally friendly items you already have in your home. Eric – our metal cleaning specialist – demonstrates his favorite method on his brass jaguar (or is it a puma?). If you don’t like his preferred approach, he lists many other ways to clean this metal. If you don’t like playing domestic chemist, you’ll find some gentle metal cleaning products here as well.
  4. copper potHow to Clean Copper. Copper – mother to brass and bronze – is one of the few non-gray/silver metals, and when clean its glow is mesmerizing. This makes it perfectly suited for decorative purposes, but the metal is more than just eye candy. Copper conducts heat extremely well. Copper cookware is coveted by both novice cooks and professional chefs; however, it does tarnish quickly. Though the tarnish isn’t bad for the metal, you’ll miss the pink, peach shine. Follow the link to learn how to clean this metal using safely.
  5. tinfoil lined potHow to Clean Silver. Used mainly for decoration and adornment, it makes sense to keep this metal clean. How else will you inspire jealousy in the hearts of your enemies…and friends? You shouldn’t worry about the silver jewelry you wear every day – the acids in our skin will keep it clean. When the metal is stored, as are silver heirlooms and table silver, that’s when it will dull with tarnish. The good news is, our silver aficionado knows how to clean the metal using a little chemistry trick. Her method is effective and, unlike many commercial metal cleaners, it is gentle for you, your family, and the environment.
  6. drying gold ringHow to Clean Gold. Having trouble getting mugged in the park? Well, nothing says beat, rob, and humiliate me like some shiny gold jewelry. If you read this page and clean your gold as directed, not only will you get mugged, you’ll be able to sleep soundly knowing your assailant is going to the pawn shop with metal clean of toxins, grime, and bacteria. If you don’t get mugged the day you clean your gold, we at “How to Clean Things” will send over a company stooge to rough you up, free of charge.
  7. chrome objectsHow to Clean Chrome. The robots that will eventually destroy the human race will not be made of chrome. Chrome is extremely soft (bullet absorbent) and extremely shiny (bad camouflage). These robots will, however, toast to our destruction from chrome goblets while riding in future cars with chrome rims. The limitless intelligence of the robots will allow them to (A) appreciate chrome’s beauty and functionality and (B) lead them on a journey to learn how to keep this metal clean. That search will lead them here, where they will learn how to clean chrome, remove rust from chrome, and polish chrome.
  8. stainless steel pizza ovenHow to Clean Stainless Steel. For many reasons, stainless steel is a good buy. It’s hygienic, easy to maintain, stylish, and relatively eco-friendly. But just because it’s “stainless” does not mean it can’t get dirty. Just ask my friend’s stainless pizza maker. When spills or filth are allowed to sit for long periods they will eat through the protective layer (chromium oxide) that exists on stainless steel. Follow the link to learn how to clean metal of the stainless variety.

How to Clean Metal Safely

There are scads of metal polishes and metal cleaners on the market. Go to the chemical aisle of any grocery store and you’ll find a handful of brands. They work well. In almost every case they will do their job as advertised. But I won’t use most of them. Neither would any of the other writers for How to Clean Things, and not just because we are frugal and handy. Many of the companies will not disclose their ingredients – it’s proprietary and all that. A company’s rights will trump an individual’s “right to know” in our profit-driven society. That is why do-it-yourself cleaning is the right approach for cleaning metal. That way, at least you know what you’re working with. If you’d rather buy than make your metal cleaner, well, we’ve researched a few products for each metal. These commercial metal cleaning products can be found in the right sidebar of each page. Enjoy.

Green Products for Cleaning Metal

bottles of homewood polishHomewood Metal Polish.Wow, a company that respects your right to know what chemicals you’re working with. This natural, plant-based product will clean metal of almost any variety, including any of the metals found on this page. You can order bottles of Metal Polish from Amazon.

bottle of hope's polishHope’s Premium Homecare Products. This line of products is recommended by many green-minded product critics. Their line includes individual products for cleaning metal of different kinds, including brass, copper, silver, and stainless steel. The slogan is quite cheesy, however: “When it comes to surface cleaning, never give up Hope.” Sigh.

box of twinkle polishTwinkle metal cleaning products. There are separate Twinkle cleaning products for stainless steel, copper and brass, and silver. Twinkle, as far as I can tell, does not even have a website. Even so, their products are much coveted. They contain no phosphorous or petroleum distillates – even the product boxes are made from recycled cardboard. You may not find this at the local grocer, so expect to order this stuff online.