Stainless steel appliances are eye-pleasing, sleek and nearly a cliché these days.
That ubiquity means a lot of people are wrestling with how to keep stainless steel clean, ward off scratches and keep a notoriously touchy surface factory-fresh.
Deservedly or not, stainless steel has a reputation as something of a dirt and fingerprint magnet.
If there's one silver lining to this, it's that manufacturers of appliances and household cleaning products have come up with waves of cleansers, coatings and stainless steel alternatives.
A lot of the new stainless cleaning products are a bit like a car wax, said Scott Bennett, kitchen and bath designer at the Home Depot in midtown Kansas City, Mo.
One product he recommends is Stainless Steel Magic, which minimizes fingerprints and gives a polished look. Simple Green's Stainless Steel One-Step Cleaner & Polish is another winner, he said. Both cost just a few dollars.
Stainless steel responds better to dedicated stainless cleaning products, Bennett said.
"You can use other cleaners or just soap and water," he said, "but it will probably leave streaks and water spots. If you just take a damp cloth and wipe it down, you'll have streaks, and you'll do nothing to prevent fingerprints."
Others say it's a matter of preference.
Jeff Adams of the Mop Bucket, a Kansas City cleaning-supply, said if you want a glow, try an oil-based stainless steel cleaner. But oil-based products can dull as soon as water hits the surface.
For a more natural look, Adams prefers non- ammonia glass cleaner or a water-based stainless cleaner.
"It's not going to give you a great shine; it's just going to clean it and remove smudges," he said.
Whatever you use, don't overdo it, he said.
Consumer Reports has found few differences among cleaners and recommends that consumers pick the least expensive option, deputy home editor Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman said.
Another cleaning key: Use a lint-free cloth. Paper towels work fine, but lint-free microfiber probably will produce the best results.
Still too much of a hassle? Consider faux- stainless veneers.
Unlike most true stainless-steel refrigerators, they have the benefit of being magnetic (so the family fridge can again become an art display). And faux- stainless veneers are less expensive than true stainless.
That price discrepancy might grow more noticeable in coming years. Kuperszmid Lehrman said the prices of raw materials for stainless steel are going up. Some manufacturers have been holding back prices because of the economy, but that might change soon.
Still, true uncoated stainless has one big advantage: You can sand away scratches.
Some cleaners will fill in scratches. If sanding is your only real hope, however, solutions include the $30 Scratch-B-Gone kit.