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 I will try to help….. even if it is not a sink we sold you.

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About Tom Robinson

Tom Robinson is Director of Business Development for ANO, Inc. an Independent distributor of plumbing accessories - sinks and faucets - primarily to countertop fabrication and installation industry. The are the exclusive distributor of Eclipse Stainless products in the Midwest. Tom is a former home builder. Past President of the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago, winner of eight key awards for design and construction and he created over $200 million in new real estate.
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6 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.


  6. 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?

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