Let it shine
16 February 2017
Paul Thorn, managing director of Washware Essentials, provides advice on how to keep your stainless steel washroom fixtures looking their best
Washroom hygiene can be a complicated business, but taking care of your stainless steel fittings doesn’t have to be. With some basic cleaning techniques and minimal maintenance, your wash troughs, urinals, toilets and drinking fountains will keep their stainless shine for years to come.
A smart layout can do a lot to keep a washroom hygienic. Clever placement of taps and dispensers helps to reduce cross-contamination, and the increasing use of infrared detectors means flushing can take place automatically, with no need for dirty hands to touch a chain or handle.
No matter how sophisticated the fixtures are, though, someone has to get their hands dirty sooner or later. Keeping stainless steel stainless isn’t difficult, but it helps if staff understand how it works and how not to handle it.
Stainless steel is only ‘stainless’ because of its high chromium content. The chromium oxidises on exposure with air, creating a stain-resistant layer on the surface of the metal: this layer is quite tough and even self-healing. Scrape it away and the fresh chromium begins to oxidise - as long as it hasn’t been exposed to other chemicals which bond with it and prevent oxidation from taking place.
Traditional 304-grade stainless steel, the industry standard in catering equipment, contains chromium and nickel to create that all-important protective layer. There’s also 316-grade, which is more resistant to corrosion because it also contains molybdenum: it’s more popular for medical equipment and swimming pools. Newer, higher grades - up to the 441 being developed as a replacement for 304 - are ferritic, containing more iron instead of nickel, making them cheaper and more resistant to heat.
Stainless steel toilets can be cleaned with relative ease - it’s a simple matter of regular soap and water, applied with a soft cloth or bristle brush. Be sure to clean the whole surface; splashes can happen and the undersides of urinals and toilets are easy to miss.
Regularity is also the key to keeping a stainless steel drinking fountain in working order. There’s not much that can go wrong with these units, provided they’re kept clean and the taps are regularly checked to see if they stick. Again, ordinary washing up liquid and water will do the job in most cases.
Calling in the big guns
British Stainless Steel Association guidelines cover a range of appropriate products and techniques for stubborn stains. The main things to avoid are abrasive scourers (including things like wire wool) and corrosive chemicals like bleaches and strong acids that strip away the chromium oxide layer. If that layer is damaged, other fluids like water and urine corrode the fresh metal beneath. Natural solutions - combinations of baking soda, the mild acids in lemon juice and oils - do the job without damaging the surface of the metal. If push comes to shove, specially formulated stainless steel cleaners do exist, but should be used as a last resort.
Treated properly, stainless steel fixtures will outlast carbon steel many times over. However, improper treatment can lead to corrosion and rusting that leave you wondering why you bothered, so it’s important to understand the proper methods for cleaning and maintaining stainless steel.