Stainless steel is a great material. It's durable, easy to clean, rust resistant, and attractive in appearance. But everyone knows that nothing is perfect. We've compiled a few tips and tricks that will help you get the longest life out of your stainless steel dog bowls (or any other stainless steel product around your house).
Keep it clean and avoid scratches
Daily washing of your stainless steel bowls not only helps to keep your pet healthy, but it also helps to keep your bowls looking their best. You can wash by hand or in the dishwasher, but either way, there are a few things to do and a few things to avoid.
Use only mild detergents and steer clear of harsh chemicals or antibacterial cleaning products. Some harsh chemicals and antibacterial soaps can cause rusting in stainless steel - more on this in the preventing rust section below.
Small scratches are mostly cosmetic but deeper scratches can accumulate bacteria and can be difficult to keep clean. It's best to avoid these by not using metal utensils in your bowls (or using them very gently) and staying away from highly abrasive pads.
Preventing rust and stains
While stainless steel is rust resistant, it isn't 100% rust proof. There are a number of things that can cause rust on even the highest quality stainless steel.
First, a little bit on how stainless steel resists rust...
Unlike carbon steel, stainless steel is an iron alloy that contains a relatively high percentage of chromium. It's the inclusion of chromium that gives stainless steel it's rust resistance. The chromium in stainless steel reacts with oxygen (in the air or water) to form a very thin, transparent, passive film (chromium oxide) over the surface of the steel, which limits further oxidation (rust).
Luckily, this passive film is formed (and repaired) very rapidly, so you don't have to worry about scraping or scrubbing it off. But, there are some things that can penetrate this film and cause rust if left in contact with stainless steel. There are also a few uncommon, but still possible, and kind of strange situations that can cause rust.
So how do we prevent rust? Frequent washing is the most important step, but there are a few other tips and tricks to keep in mind.
Use purified or bottled water, if possible. Some city water sources contain high levels of chlorine, which can penetrate the protective film on stainless steel and cause rusting. Well water sources can also contain a bacteria that is capable (believe it or not) of causing rust in stainless steel.
Check your soap! Halogen salts (chlorine, fluorine, bromine, iodine), some antibacterial agents (ones that contain a chemical called Triclosan), and bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or bleach containing cleaning products are highly likely to cause rust in stainless steel. Check your soap and make sure it doesn't contain any of these materials.
Keep your stainless steel away from other metals! Avoid metal cleaning pads (like steel wool), avoid metal utensils, and make sure your bowl isn't resting on a nail or screw head or touching a metal door stop. These types of scenarios can causing rusting in stainless steel through a couple of mechanisms. Steel wool, for instance, is made from carbon steel and rusts very readily. Using it on a stainless steel material can deposit what is referred to as "free iron", which isn't protected by chromium, and can quickly lead to rusting. Sustained contact between stainless steel and some other types of metal can set-up a process called Galvanic Corrosion. While it's tempting to geek-out and discuss this process further, we'll spare you the suffering. Suffice it to say, this process can end badly for your nice stainless steel bowl.
Occasionally rotate water and food bowls. A wet environment, like you'd see in a bowl used as a water dish, is far more likely to lead to rusting than is a drier environment. Therefore, if you're using both a stainless steel bowl for water and for food, switching the two on occasion can help extend the overall life of the products.
Removing stains and rust, naturally
Sadly, accidents do happen, sometimes without you even knowing it. And the truth is that stainless steel isn't so much preventing the process of rusting as much as it's just slowing it down. So stains and rust are inevitable.
The good news is that minor amounts of rust, while unsightly, don't pose a significant health risk to pets. There's also a pretty simple and natural method that's capable of removing most stains and minor rust from stainless steel.
For a deeper clean and rust/stain removal, mix some baking soda with vinegar (apple cider or white vinegar) until you reach the consistency of a paste. Spread the paste over the surface of the stainless steel and allow it to set for about 10 minutes (up to a few hours if you have very stubborn stains or rust). Scrub the paste over the stainless steel surface with a mildly abrasive (fine for our bowls but not for polished stainless steel) or scratch free scrubbing pad using a circular motion. Rinse the bowl well with warm water, then perform a normal soap and water wash followed by a hand drying.
This deeper cleaning process can be used as needed (when stains or rust appear) or on a weekly/monthly basis as a preventative action.