Stainless steel has stepped out of the restaurant and into the home as a professional-looking, antibacterial, and contemporary kitchen surface. Copper is its more rustic counterpart, bringing warmth and glow to kitchen spaces.
Stainless steel countertops are contemporary and smart. They are rated for food preparation, antibacterial, and easy to clean. Photo courtesy of SpecialtyStainless.com.
Stainless steel is a low-carbon steel with about 10.5 percent chromium, which gives it stainless, corrosion-resisting properties. Chromium and nickel also add to its high-temperature performance.
Different grades of stainless are used for different applications. For better stain resistance, for example, residential stainless-steel countertops should be fabricated with 304 stainless steel, which has higher nickel content than lower-grade stainless steels and is typically used for food preparation areas.
A 16-gauge stainless steel is generally used for residential countertops while 14 and 12 gauge are for industrial uses. Countertops of almost any size can be created in stainless steel, which is a rolled metal product. It can, and should be, welded, ground, and polished. Soldered joints are not safe for food-preparation areas.
Clean Up and Maintenance Despite the name, stainless-steel countertops can stain and become corroded. Household cleaning products that contain chlorides—such as bleach—will harm the countertop unless you can quickly and thoroughly rinse it off with clean water. Acidic foods left on stainless steel for long periods will stain the surface. For surface stains, use a cleanser such as Comet and scour in the same direction as the finish.
For general maintenance, clean a stainless-steel kitchen countertop with warm water and soap using a sponge or soft cloth. Rinse thoroughly with water and wipe dry to eliminate the possibility of water stains.
For scratches, use a nonabrasive pad, such as Scotch-Brite, and rub in the same direction as the finish. For certain custom finishes, there is no need to deal with scratches at all as the scratch blends in. Scratches and Repair
Stainless steel countertops can be brushed to create surface patterns for added character and to camouflage scratches and wear. Photo courtesy of SpecialtyStainless.com.
Stainless-steel countertops are resilient, but they will age over time, says Jeff Subra, president of Eskay Metal Fabricating, Buffalo, N.Y. General use causes minor scratches as objects slide, rub, or get dropped on them.
Deep scratches or dents may be nearly impossible to remove, but surface scratches can be blended in by using a commercial-grade abrasive pad. A 180-grit pad or higher is a safe start. The main rule is to stroke or move the pad in the same direction as the existing grain. While blending in a scratch, you may create an area that looks different from the rest of the countertop. A light, feathering stroke will tone down changes. Another option is to hand polish the entire countertop for a blended finish. Deeper marks require a more aggressive abrasive pad or a backer on the pad for more pressure. Fabricators can usually recommend a good source.
There are also finishes available that can mask or camouflage scratches. A random orbital finish with varying grits creates a refined, light grey, contemporary swirl and eliminates worry about scratches.