Why is My Stainless Steel Sink Rusting?

Total EclipseAbout once a quarter I get a call from a consumer telling me their sink is rusting. To date I have never had a sink that was rusting.

In other articles on this blog you will find more technical explanations on why stainless steel sinks do not rust. The truth is if there is rust in the sink it is likely coming from some other source outside the sink.

I once received a call from a consumer who told me his sink was rusting. I asked him to describe the rust. He told me it was half moon shape. I asked him if it was the size of a tin can and was it possible he left a dog or cat food can in the wet sink and it deposited rust on the sink. Cans, particularly pet food cans, if left in the sink will leave a rust ring in a sink. This is surface rust and can usually be easily cleaned with stainless steel cleaners like Barkeepers Friend.

If there are small pin point rust spots in the sink it usually comes from iron in the water supply. If the sink is not wiped dry the water dries and leaves behind the iron that then rusts. These spots can be removed with a cleaner but will return if an iron filter is not installed on the water supply.

There can also be small steel residue from grinding processes in the factory or at the fabrication shop.  A thorough cleaning will solve this problem permanently.

Some dish soaps particularly if left in stainless steel soap dispensers can cause a rust colored residue. This looks particularly bad and appears to be rust but it is easily cleaned. Changing dish soap brands often clears the problem.

And sometimes it has nothing to do with the sink at all. I received a call from a customer about a sink with rust in Wisconsin. When I visited the customer I said it looked like someone was cleaning a carburetor in this sink. The wife replied that that was impossible but the husband suddenly disappeared.

Another time I got a call about a rusty sink. When I visited the consumer there appeared to be and orange color stain in the sink but it did not appear to me to be rust. I asked her when this started. I was trying to determine if the stain was there when the sink was first installed or appeared some time later. The consumer said “It does not happen all the time.”

I asked her when it happened. She looked at me very sincerely and said, “Every time I make spaghetti.”

I gave her a half can of cleanser and told her if she used it every time she made spaghetti it would take care of the problem.

Water supply, cat food cans, dish soap, or spaghetti it is likely not the sink. If you have an issue contact me and will try to help….. even if it is not a sink we sold you.

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11 Responses to Why is My Stainless Steel Sink Rusting?

  1. Jill says:

    Hi there, thanks for the post! I just bought a house with a built in soap dispenser and found the previous owner left the soap in it and it did get rusty. What kind of soap should I use and should I dilute it?

    • Tom Robinson says:

      Jill, in response to your comment on soap dispensers.

      Soap dispensers work best when you use them. Any time it is left idle the soap can harden.

      You should rinse the canister well and soak the wick (the part that sticks down into the dispenser) and head in hot water then pump hot water through system to clear the built up soap.

      You did not mention what type of dispenser you have. Dawn dish soap is particularly hard on stainless steel and we do not recommend it. If you are getting “rust” spots change soap brands and it should clear up.

      You should not need to water down the soap to use in the dispenser.

  2. Emma says:

    I am so glad I found this blog! I installed a new stainless steel sink two years ago when I bought my home. It started rusting almost immediately, especially after I cleaned it. I do use Dawn and I never wipe the sink dry, so those may add to the problem. The stains follow the “grain” of the tool that was used to make the sink (there are small lines throughout the sink), looking a little like the weave in cloth. My question is, is there any way to “seal” the sink so this won’t happen? It just seems like in the last few years that this has been a problem with my sinks (my last house was new and it also happened with that sink – same type of rusting). Thanks!

  3. Emma says:

    Update – after I asked my question, I cleaned my sink with a mild liquid hand soap (all I had on hand) and my Scotchbrite pad, then dried the sink thoroughly. Amazing – no rust! Who knew! I’ll be buying an appropriate cleaner and some drying cloths to keep handy. Thank you again for the information.

    • Tom Robinson says:

      Emma, a Stainless steel sinks should not rust… even a bad one. Unless it is a very bad sink the source of the “rust” is likely elsewhere such as iron in the water, iron cookware or utensils or even the cleaning agents. If you avoid Dawn and clean the sink weekly with Barkeeper’s Friend and a Scotch Bright pad or Mr Clean Magic Erasure you should be fine.

      Tom

  4. My ss sink is old&there is alot of rust in my well water. I used “The Works” to remove the rust,but I think it stripped the protective coating. So now even if I dry the sink it still rusts then “The Works” goes on and cycle continue. What can fix this?

    • Tom Robinson says:

      A stainless steel sink should not have a protective coating. It should just be the stainless steel. I have seen some sinks sold as stainless with a varnish to make them appear shinier when you buy them. This coating quickly disappears with normal use. Do you know the manufacturer of the sink? If it is a certified stainless steel sink it will be on the bottom of front of the sink. If it is unmarked or there is no logo it is not certified and can be low quality steel.

      It sounds like you may have a very high iron content in your water. It is very likely you are getting rust settling from the water rather than the sink rusting. If this is the case you will not stop the rust from forming unless you install an iron filter.

      You should try Bar Keepers Friend and a green Scotch Bright pad to clean off the rust.

      It is unlikely but possible that your sink is indeed rusting because of poor manufacture. If that is the case the only solution is to replace the sink.

      Tom

  5. mehreeen says:

    sir i just want to ask that how can remove iron from water because i always dry my sink but rust always appear n sink have swollen dots .might be swollen part will brust soon m afraid plz help

    • Tom Robinson says:

      Iron in the water supply will show up as rust stains on the sink. They can be removed with Barkeepers Friend and a green Scotch Bright pad. Removing the iron from the water is beyond my expertise but I do know they make commercially available iron removers that must be installed in the water line like a water softener.

  6. Mona says:

    Try Barkeepers Friend (a cleanser made for stainless steel) and a green Scotch Bright pads. Scrub in the direction of the brushing if there is any and it should come off easily.

    I accidently used lime away instead of my all purpose cleaner in my sink. There is now a dingy stain, can this be fixed?

    Concerned first time home owner

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