Modern luxury kitchen interior with stone countertop and stainless steel appliances

How to Remove Rust Stains from Stainless Steel and More

If there’s one subject that shows up a lot in my inbox, it has to be rust. Ugly, orange-ish stains on tubs, showers, tile, toilets, washing machines and sinks, even stainless steel. One reader wrote that tiny rust marks have appeared on his new stainless steel refrigerator. Sadly, the manufacturer considers this a cosmetic issue, so the warranty does not apply. And so today, for all who’ve written about annoying rust problems, I have a story followed by a very effective, if not exciting, solution.

Modern luxury kitchen interior with stone countertop and stainless steel appliances

Stainless steel is a popular material for cookware, surfaces, and kitchen appliances, but it can still stain despite its name. Staining can occur due to improper cleaning or exposure to chemicals like bleach or oven cleaner. To maintain the appearance of your stainless steel items, it’s essential to learn how to remove stains.

The Year Was 1882

The setting: Indianapolis. A chemist took a break from his scholarly endeavors to cook up a pan of rhubarb, that sour-but-hardy vegetable, common in the gardens of yore.

After plating his recipe, the man found his formerly tarnished pot fairly sparkled. Being a chemist, he quickly ruled out magic and set out to discover what it was that made rhubarb such a superior cleaning agent.

The Secret

Oxalic acid. Found naturally in rhubarb and other vegetables like spinach, oxalic acid attacks stubborn rust, tarnish, and lime stains at the molecular level, breaking the bonds that hold them together.

Using that active ingredient, our chemist formulated an oxalic acid-based cleaning powder that he sold to taverns for use as a brass rail polish. Thrilled at the results, tavern owners dubbed the product—get ready—Bar Keepers Friend,

Over the years, more and more people got in on the secret of Bar Keepers Friend discovering more varied and unique uses for this oxalic acid-based cleaning powder, still available in just about every supermarket in the cleaning aisle.

Still a family-owned company manufacturing in Indianapolis, and still motivated by solving problems for their customers, Bar Keepers Friend has grown and expanded its line of products with variations in ingredients and packaging, but the products remain essentially the same as the ones that polished bar rails over a century ago.

Back to our collective problem with rust spots and stains on stainless steel.

I’ve been using Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser for years, assuming it to be a liquid version of the powdered cleanser in the old familiar can. I keep it handy in my laundry room to remove rust stains from the inside of my clothes washer. No big deal. I see a spot, I hit it with BKF Soft Cleanser and a soft cloth, and it disappears.



Wait, there’s MORE

I was wrong about the BKF Soft Cleanser being just a liquid version of the powdered cleanser. It has something more I’m now convinced makes it so effective against household rust. The active ingredients in the soft cleanser are oxalic acid plus citric acid.

Great news: This soft cleanser now comes as spray foam—Bar Keepers Friend MORE Spray + Foam. This is fabulous because the foam sticks to vertical surfaces! And yes I am now thinking of that new stainless steel refrigerator that has developed tiny rust marks. The foam will stick to those spots long enough to do its work before being wiped away with a soft cloth.

BKF MORE Spray Foam is safe to be used on stainless steel, tile, porcelain (think: my washing machine), ceramic, fiberglass, aluminum, copper, brass, chrome, and glass. As for the “MORE” in its name it is an acronym for mineral deposits, oily residues, rust stains and everyday grime. Get it?

It’s on the label

I’m no chemist, but I can read lists of ingredients. As far as I have discovered, BKF Soft Cleanser and the new BKF MORE Spray + Foam are the only BKF products containing both oxalic acid and citric acid. Apparently, that makes for one powerful combination because I frequently find myself reaching for this fabulous foam cleaner. It’s so convenient and easy to use.

Bar Keepers Friend MORE Spray + Foam is available online and in the cleaning products aisle of home improvement store like Home Depot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware.

And now for the important fine print:

CAUTION: Always test any product in an inconspicuous place, first. Always. DO NOT USE on wood, fabric, leather, mirrors, painted surfaces, gold, silver (sterling silver is OK) or natural stone surfaces like granite and marble.



Revised & Updated 1-17-23

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9 replies
  1. Donna says:

    You can find Barkeeper’s Friend at your local Dollar General. That is if you have the store at or near your location. My store carries it, but sells out quick.

  2. Kyra says:

    I found BKF Soft Cleanser about four months ago. I came across this post looking for other information. I was wondering what properties it has in it that makes my dingy dish rags sparkling white (which they should be) after cleaning my kitchen sinks. I was thrilled when I found the large bottle at my local Amish discount store for just over THREE BUCKS!

  3. Nancy says:

    We live in a very hard water area. I got water rings on brand new quartz countertop that nothing I used could get off. Even a razor blade. The rings appeared to be one with the quartz. Barkeepers Friend worked great! I had never used it, I’m Bon Ami for life person. Now I have a new Friend.

  4. Linda says:

    Liquid BKF is awesome. We had stains from snow run-off from our chimney (probably creosote, looked like rust, whatever) on our cream colored vinyl siding. NOTHING removed it and I tried lots of stuff. Then, I discovered liquid BKF. Sprayed it on, wiped with a MR CLEAN Sponge. Our siding looked liked new again after several years of being stained.

  5. Mary Hunt says:

    I have never heard of or experienced this. However it is never a good idea to leave any cleaning product to sit for a period of time unless advised by the manufacturer. If you have a source for what you think, let us know.

  6. Rebecca McDonald says:

    Mary, I have rust on my outdoor gate. I’m going to hit that gate with this, but I’m also wondering if I can use one of these products on the pavers under the gate (the rust drips on the pavers when it rains or snows.)

    Thank you!
    Love you!


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