Tea Staining & Rust: Maintaining Stainless Steel Grates

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Stainless steel is a popular material in construction due to its durability and attractive appearance. It is especially useful in wet areas, marine environments, and commercial and residential buildings. Its anti-corrosion properties make it an ideal choice for areas exposed to salt water and air, such as the coastal regions.

Despite its anti-rust properties, you may see some stainless steel that appears to have rust on the surface. This is known as tea staining.
Stainless Steel Tea Staining
Image Source: Pool of Thoughts

What is tea staining?

Tea staining is rust forming on the surface of stainless steel, causing a discolouration similar to a tea stain.

How does it affect stainless steel's durability & quality?

It may not look appealing, tea staining is only cosmetic and does not affect the functionality or integrity of the stainless steel. Regular cleaning and maintenance with a mild soap and water solution can remedy the discolouration, and non-chloride cleaners, either alkaline or alkaline chlorinated cleaners, should be used as they won’t corrode the steel. Wiping the surface dry after cleaning is also recommended to avoid water spots forming.

Never use abrasive cleaners or harsh cleaning tools on the surface.

What causes tea staining?

Tea staining occurs because stainless steel still contains iron, and iron oxidization is what forms rust. Stainless steel’s chromium content gives it anti-corrosion properties. High salt environments such as sea water and ocean air, damage to the surface of the stainless steel, and areas where water is allowed to pool or grooves or deep folds in the metal can encourage tea staining.

How to prevent tea staining

Choosing the appropriate grade of stainless steel, such as 316L (low carbon) grade, can reduce the likelihood of tea staining. This grade of stainless steel has reduced surface pitting, making oxidization less likely to occur.

Regular cleaning with fresh water is generally all your need to prevent tea staining from forming. Cleaning the surface with warm clean soapy water is also suitable

In addition to regular cleaning, products are available to remove tea staining without damaging the surface of the stainless steel and its protective, anti-corrosion chromium layer. Living in coastal regions of Australia means stainless steel is exposed to harsh corrosive elements, making regular cleaning and maintenance essential to prevent tea staining.

How to remove tea stains from stainless steel

It is a simple & easy process to clean tea stains from stainless steel. If environmental conditions stay the same, this process needs to be performed regularly to prevent tea staining from reforming.

1. Using a spray bottle, fill it with distilled white vinegar
2. Spray the vinegar on the affected area, covering the entire stain
3. Allow the vinegar to sit for 15-20 minutes
4. Using a warm cloth, rub the stainless steel to remove the vinegar & tea stain
5. Rinse the stainless steel with warm water and wash using your normal method (warm, soapy water is suggested)

If the tea staining has been on the stainless steel for an extended period, you may need to repeat the process or increase the amount of vinegar applied.

Avoiding rust & tea staining

Jonite products are made from reinforced stone, which is an excellent alternative to stainless steel. Unlike steel, which is susceptible to tea-staining, Jonite products are specially designed to resist rust and discoloration, making them an ideal choice for use in areas that are exposed to harsh environmental conditions such as high humidity or saltwater. The unique properties of their reinforced stone ensure that the products are durable, low-maintenance, and resistant to tea-staining, ensuring that they retain their appearance and functionality for years to come.