A Guide to Polishing Stainless Steel

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Stainless steel is used widely by various industries, including for automotive parts and systems, shipping containers, building interiors and exteriors, surgical tools, kitchen cutlery and cookware, household appliances, medical implants, aircraft components, and much more. Durable and aesthetically pleasing, stainless steel resists corrosion, withstands heat, and is chemical-resistant. It’s also an extremely tough material, though it’s not impervious to the effects of time, which makes polishing stainless steel an important factor for upkeep.

Benefits of Polishing Stainless Steel

Although well-known for its distinctive sheen, stainless steel can lose its luster with age. Yet polishing stainless steel not only helps keep it looking good, but it also has other benefits as well. The main benefits of polishing stainless steel are:

  • Aesthetics: Polishing improves the metal’s surface quality, helping keep stainless steel looking lustrous and, when combined with buffing, it leads to mirror-like finishes.
  • Reduces corrosion: Polishing helps reduce the number and size of crevices in metal that encourage rust.
  • Removes contaminants: Polishing stainless steel removes contaminants from the surface, even if they’re invisible to the naked eye, which is undesirable for certain applications.

In metallurgy, metals often are polished to enable better observation of their crystalline structures, defects, and discontinuities under a microscope.

Methods for Polishing Stainless Steel

There are multiple ways in which to polish stainless steel, with the easiest method simply to apply abrasives by hand. This also tends to be the most inefficient and can cause inconsistent quality, especially when this method is used at scale. Additionally, if the steel is already dented or scratched it will require treatment, otherwise it will end up highlighting the metal’s imperfections. The types of tools and techniques used will ultimately depend on the kind of finish required.

Industrial Stainless Steel Finishes

The right equipment matters when seeking a professional finish for stainless steel. It needs to maintain a constant speed, while the abrasive used requires it keep a certain coarseness to effectively polish the steel. The type and extent of the project also help determine the equipment needed. A drill or other handheld grinding tool may suffice for smaller jobs, while larger projects could require a grinder with a polishing wheel. For truly largescale polishing of stainless steel, custom machinery may be necessary for automating the process. The following are common finishes for polished stainless steel:

Mill or Matte Finish

An unpretentious finish, it requires less time, effort, and expense than others. To create a smoother look, mill finishes normally look somewhat incomplete, though they can be used as a starting point for a long process to produce a more attractive appearance. It is often used for practical applications like kitchen sinks or workbenches. To achieve a matte finish. the steel is rolled through special dies or rollers.

Brushed Finish

Polishing stainless steel through brushing produces decorative patterns made up of delicate parallel lines. Without the typical reflective sheen for which stainless steel is known, it works well in areas where the metal will be exposed to bright indoor lights or lots of sunshine. Often used for kitchen appliances, its downside involves reducing the steel’s resistance to corrosion, depending on the application, rust-proofing may be advisable. Brushed finishes require a high-grade abrasive to make the lines uniform.

Mirror Finish

A highly reflective finish, it achieves the look for which stainless steel is best known. It works great to hide welded metal and makes cleaning easier. Polishing stainless steel to attain a mirror finish requires a wheel or at least a 320-grit belt.

Gloss Finish

Polishing stainless steel to a gloss finish will improve corrosion resistance, as it smooths crevices where rust can collect. Its chrome-like shine is perfect for automotive parts and requires the surface to be adequately prepared. Using a high-quality buffing compound and a grinder with a polishing wheel, it can also achieve a mirror-like shine after buffing.

Steps for Polishing Stainless Steel at Home

It’s actually a fairly straightforward process to restore stainless steel surfaces through polishing. For individuals wanting to make their cutlery, appliances, or other stainless steel items shine, it can be done simply with a few common household items.

These easy-to-follow steps can regenerate stainless steel surfaces inexpensively:

  1. Prior to polishing stainless steel, ensure the surface is clean by washing it thoroughly with warm water, dish soap and a brush or sponge.
  2. After cleaning the surface, rinse the surface with fresh water and dry it with towels.
  3. Pour a tiny dab or two of olive oil onto a microfiber cloth to work as a polishing agent, spreading a thin layer over the entire surface to be polished.
  4. Use moderate pressure to buff the surface, making small circles with the oily portion of the cloth.
  5. Work the entire surface until it’s smoother than before, which should take a couple minutes.
  6. Once buffed, take a dry, clean cloth, using the same pressure and circular motion to go over the surface once more.
  7. For those happy with the results, the job is now finished, but for those who aren’t satisfied yet there are a few more tricks to try.

Using a bit of flour and elbow grease:

  1. Cover the entire stainless steel surface with a thin layer of flour (no clumps, just a fine coat).
  2. Once the flour is applied over the entire surface, repeat the buffing process with a dry cloth.
  3. Wipe away any excess flour after buffing.
  4. If the surface is still too dull, or if there are still scratches in the metal, the job will require some assistance from tools.

Getting serious with tools:

  1. Use a handheld power buffer in combination with commercially available stainless steel polish.
  2. Choose a pad that’s somewhat abrasive, attaching it to the buffer and applying it to the pad as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Buff the surface, starting at the edge and working in small circles.
  4. Allow the buffer to apply pressure naturally during this process.
  5. If trying to buff away scratches, the entire area and not just the scratches must be buffed, which will ensure a uniform finish.
  6. Once finished buffing, use a dry, clean cloth to make sure all the polish is wiped away.

The end result of this should be a shiny, mirrorlike surface and a sense of a job well done.

Contact Atlantic Stainless

Atlantic Stainless offers a variety of polishing options available for all your project needs – from a standard #4 polish to mirror finishes, we can work with your unique requirements. To learn more about our stainless steel polishing services or inquire about our products, please contact us today!