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The Best Way To Clean An RV Stainless Steel Sink

stainless steel sinks require extra effort to keep them shiny
Keep your RV stainless steel sink spotless. Photos via author

How To Clean An RV Stainless Steel Sink

RV décor is influenced by residential and commercial design trends. RV manufacturers are in lockstep with current design trends, so their new RVs project an up-to-date broad appeal to the public. Today, you can see these trends played out in the ubiquitous use of stainless steel appliances and fixtures, as well as other contemporary interior designs such as hardwood floors and white or light gray cabinetry. 

Stainless steel sinks are harder to maintain in an RV.

These appointments help new or remodeled RVs appeal to the widest segment of the population who are looking for these same modern features in their homes. But some of these modern design elements are harder to maintain in an RV than their less sophisticated, albeit dated, predecessors. 

How do water sources affect your sink?

Stainless steel sinks are hard enough to maintain in your home, where you know what kind of water you’re dealing with from day to day. But in an RV, your water supply can be hard and calcified at one campsite and super soft at the next campsite. It’s nearly impossible to maintain that lustrous shine in an RV stainless steel sink. 

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Use microfiber cloth on stainless appliances.

The stainless steel stove top, microwave, and refrigerator are less of a challenge than the sink, but even those stainless steel features show every fingerprint and smudge. To keep them all looking their best, you can wipe them down with a wet microfiber cloth, then carefully dry the surface with another clean microfiber cloth.

Be sure neither cloth has any sharp or scratchy debris clinging to it before you begin cleaning the surfaces. Be careful not to scratch the stainless steel surface. Don’t use any abrasive substances or tools, and try to clean the flat surfaces by moving your microfiber cloth in the “grain” direction that can be seen in the stainless steel. Repeat this as often as needed to keep the fingerprints and smudges off the appliances.

RV stainless steel sinks vs appliances

Cleaning stainless steel appliances is one thing, but honestly, keeping an RV stainless steel sink clean is almost impossible if you use it at all. And who in an RV doesn’t use their sink all day, every day?

Frankly, I think stainless steel is lovely, but in my opinion, it is completely impractical for a sink in a house, and even more so in an RV.  There is a difference between having a clean sink and having an RV stainless steel sink that is spotless and looks like it has never been used. You may be able to keep the front of the refrigerator or microwave spotless, but the sink is completely different. 

Why it’s impossible to keep the sink clean

Of course, the cleanliness of the sink is a basic necessity when you’re preparing food, washing fruits and vegetables, preparing meat for cooking, making a casserole, or cleaning up during meal preparation, or even after a meal. But cleanliness and that never-been-used spotless appearance are two entirely different things. 

An RV sink is always in use; fill the water reservoir in the coffee maker, get more water for the dog bowl, fill your travel water bottle, wash your hands, peel an orange, rinse your hands, make some toast, rinse your hands, get more water for the dogs, take out the garbage, wash your hands again, and on and on it goes all day. The faucet and sink seem like they are in constant use. And every time you use them, you splash water on the faucet and the sides of the sink.  

Few people take the time to wipe down the sink after every use, so those water spots sit there drying and leaving calcium deposits around the edge of every droplet. The water spots build up, and the stainless steel begins to look cloudy and more like a galvanized industrial finish than the bright shiny stainless surface you appreciated so much when you bought the RV. 

baking soda, vinegar and olive oil are used to clean stainless steel sinks
Simple kitchen products can keep your stainless steel sink clean and shiny.

How to make your RV stainless steel sink shine

There are ways to get that spotless beautiful bright finish back, but it’s a short lived solution if you want to keep using your sink. I’ve followed these cleaning procedures, which takes a lot of effort and elbow grease, only to produce a short term solution.  

If I didn’t live in this RV, I certainly would follow these steps before I stored the RV for any length of time, but we are in the motorhome every day and our kitchen sink is like Grand Central Station, so getting the sink spotless and keeping it that way just isn’t practical.  

Use enzymes or CLR to start the cleaning process

Below are the steps I follow to remove water spots and get that lovely stainless steel shine back to the “Like-New” condition. 

First, I spray the sink with an organic enzymatic cleaner and let the enzymes work on the calcium build-up for about 20 minutes.  

You won’t really see any change from this procedure, and I’m not sure it really helps, but (at least in in my mind) the enzymes are starting to loosen the mineral deposits. There is a different cleaner (Multi-use CLR [calcium lime rust] Remover) that would probably work much better than my little enzymes, but I refuse to put a harsh chemical in the sink where I prepare food.

Baking soda and vinegar

After using the enzymatic cleaner, cover the damp sink with a light coating of baking soda, and after a few minutes, cover that with distilled white vinegar. Baking soda and vinegar are an effervescent combination. While the vinegar is foaming, use a microfiber cloth to start rubbing the wet baking soda over the surface of the sink.  

Go slow and try to follow the visible grain in the metal because baking soda is slightly abrasive and too much cross grain pressure can leave visible scratches in the metal. After a few minutes, you’ll be able to feel the mineral deposits breaking down, and the cloth will move over the surface of the sink with less resistance. This procedure may need to be repeated many times over several days to break through months of accumulated mineral deposits.  

baking soda sitting in an RV stainless steel sink
With a little extra work, your RV stainless steel sink can shine.

Use morning sunlight to reveal water spots

I find that doing this work early in the morning with a sunbeam bouncing off the sides of the sink helps to reveal where I need to focus my scrubbing efforts.  

After cleaning off the vinegar and baking soda, rinse the entire sink with water and dry it with a clean dry microfiber cloth. To add that shiny finish to the sink and faucet, add a light coating of vegetable oil and use a microfiber cloth to polish the metal surface. 

It’s tempting to use a paper towel for the oil application, but paper towels are very abrasive (they are, after all, made of coarse wood fiber) and can scratch the surface, so always use a sponge or microfiber cloth. 

Your sink will look almost new, but to keep it looking like that, you’ll need to wipe it down every time you splash water on the sides of the sink. This is where this grand plan falls apart for me. Who wants to take the time to wipe down the sink after every use when you know you’ll be using it again, and again, and again, all day long?

Keep track of your RV maintenance

Our stainless steel sink looked awesome after I spent 45 minutes going through all these steps to clean it, but I knew it wouldn’t stay that way unless I was committed to drying it off every time I used it. I even repeated these steps several times for about a week to really get rid of the mineral deposits and return the sink to like-new condition, but it just doesn’t last. I can keep up with the maintenance of the stainless steel refrigerator, microwave, and stovetop, but our stainless steel sink in the RV, in my opinion, is completely impractical. 

I would love to read your comments. If you have a better method or suggestions, please share it with our community because most new RVs are rolling off the assembly lines with stainless steel sinks, and they will all need to be cleaned and maintained.

Make sure you keep track of all your RV maintenance and repairs with an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance. Not only can you keep all of your documents in one place, but you’ll also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents.

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