Dear Home-Ec 101,
My very nice, very expensive stainless steel Mikasa silverware is picking up rust spots. I know it’s not rusting, because it’s stainless, and the spots appear to be surface. How do I get rid of the rust spots on my flatware? I’m so tired of them looking icky, it happens to my good knives too. Could it be coming from my dishwasher?
Rusting in Rutherford
I’m going to let you in on a secret. There’s a reason stainless steel is called stain LESS and not stain FREE. The stainless steel we see so often in our homes is corrosion resistant, not corrosion proof.
Let’s start by thinking about what steel is. Steel is an alloy – not too get into too many details, a blend, if you will- of iron and usually carbon. When the steel cools, the carbon atoms fit into the lattice / matrix structure of the iron atoms and give it slightly different properties. Sometimes other elements are used in addition or instead of carbon, with stainless it’s chromium and sometimes nickel. The exact blend is what determines its susceptibility to rust.
What you are seeing on your flatware is a tiny bit of surface rust. It’s pretty harmless, but my old standby – Bar Keepers Friend – is a great solution. Just follow the directions on the can.
Never try to remove the surface rust with steel wool, you’re just going to exacerbate the problem. At first it will look better, but given time the problem will be back and look much worse. If you must use an abrasive, use something like a Scotch Brite pad and only rub with direction of the brushing.
Now, keep in mind that stainless steel is different from the carbon steel you’ll find used to make some knives. I highly recommend you stay away from carbon steel. Check out this post on how to sharpen your knives for the full explanation.
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