Stainless steel furniture can seem like a godsend to lab workers and managers alike. It’s durable, dependable, and, because any furniture made with it can be fireproofed and made resistant to chemical damage, it contributes marvelously to lab workers’ safety.
You shouldn’t let these wonderful features fool you into complacently thinking that stainless steel furniture is invincible and needn’t be handled with care, however. As with everything else, time, chemical spills, possible laboratory mishaps, and general accumulated use do take their toll on stainless steel carts, tables, lockers, cabinets, and workbenches. To maximize the working lives of all of these things, you’ll need a well-stocked cleanroom and a thorough, established routine of cleaning and maintenance procedures.
Here are 10 critical tips to follow in all stainless steel cleanrooms so that you can get the most out of your furnishings. Some of these will be suggestions about what to do, and others about what not to do.
1. Don’t Clean Your Stainless Steel Furniture With Chlorine
One of stainless steel’s most useful features is its imperviousness to oxidation or rust. Ordinarily, stainless steel tables and other furnishings are made using an alloy of both steel and chromium, the latter of which works to prevent oxidation by keeping oxygen molecules from reacting with the metal. Chlorine and solvents containing chlorine strip away this protective chromium and expose the furniture on which they are used to the dangers of rust.
Do not use anything chlorine-based to clean your lab furniture. That means no acetone, mineral spirits or isopropyl alcohol, among some other things.
2. Stick to Cleaning With a Warm Cloth, Water and Detergent
As simple as it sounds, a good, thorough wipe using some warm water and a damp cloth will be sufficient to handle most mild stains that show up on your stainless steel cabinets or other types of furniture. That should be enough to remove dirt and other simple things. To make sure that the furniture isn’t plagued by any water stains, rinse everything with water once more and gently wipe it down with a dry cloth.
3. Use Solvents for Tougher Stains
If there are fingerprints, oil stains, chemical stains or anything else that’s more difficult to clean on your stainless steel surface, use any good detergent or dish soap to get the job done. In a pinch, baking soda, vinegar and even toothpaste can also be effective.
4. If You Must Use Chlorine, Electropolish Your Furniture First
Let’s say that you’re in a bind. For whatever reason, your lab is fresh out of detergent, soap, baking soda and all other acceptable cleaning solvents. Also, all of the water at hand is dirty or unsuitable. The only thing within reach are those dreaded chlorine-based cleaners. What do you do then?
If you absolutely must use a chlorine-based solvent to clean your stainless steel furniture, it is essential that you electropolish the furniture first. Electropolishing is a process whereby minuscule jagged edges and stray ions are removed from a metal surface. In particular, electropolishing will remove metal ions from stainless steel workbenches or other kinds of lab furniture that would make that furniture vulnerable to corrosion, thus neutralizing chlorine’s chief threat.
5. Regularly Do Some Stainless Steel Passivation
Stainless steel passivation is a process whereby stainless steel can be made less generally reactive to external and environmental chemical influences, particularly to rusting. Oxidation can make your furniture weak and brittle, and you should obviously take steps to prevent it or arrest it. This is what passivation achieves.
The best and simplest way to passivate your stainless steel lab furnishings is simply to clean them with deionized water. You will probably also have to clean furnishings with a nitric acid solution or other mild oxidant to really kickstart the process. Doing this will lead to the formation of a passive film over the surface of your furniture.
6. Don’t Clean Against the Grain
All stainless steel furnishings, from simple cabinets to stainless steel tables with adjustable legs, have a wood-like grain to them. A close glance at any stainless steel surface will reveal that grain. When wiping down your furniture, always follow the grain. If you don’t, you will make it easier for dirt or chemical irritants to build up within the surface as the furniture experiences more and more use. That can cause damage in innumerable ways, from creating ugly and hard-to-remove stains, to cracking, corroding, destroying and breaking apart the stainless steel at its very foundations.
7. Try to Be Gentle
When dealing with particularly stubborn stains, some hard scrubbing may be warranted. Don’t overdo it, though. Scrubbing too hard will create scratches and abrasions on stainless steel’s surface, and these abrasions, however small, are openings through which chemical irritants can later seep in to cause yet further damage. You should therefore use only soft cloths made of materials like nylon or microfiber to wipe down surfaces. Do not use steel wool or any kind of abrasive cleaning pads, liquids or powders.
8. Get Special Stainless Steel Furniture for Cleanrooms
Even though your cleanroom is the place to clean your stainless steel casework and other furniture, the cleanroom itself can use certain stainless steel furnishings of its own. In addition to our quality-designed and factory-direct lockers, workbenches, carts, and stainless steel tables with adjustable legs, we at RDM also make special industrial-quality furniture that is specifically designed for use in cleanrooms. Among our stainless steel cleanroom furnishings are racks where you can store all of your various cleaning tools and solvents,stainless steel tablesof various shapes and sizes to keep things close at hand and stainless steel lockers to store yet more critical supplies. Take a look at our stainless steel cleanroom furnishingshere.
9. Make Sure to Keep Furniture Polished
A proper deep clean is always great, but to really put the finishing touches on your lab furnishings, you need to make them glimmer and shine. The glimmer of stainless steel is part of its allure, and you certainly wouldn’t want that to fade. To keep stainless steel lab furniture polished and shiny, we recommend using lemon oil, special sprays designed to let your furniture keep its undiminished luster, or any of the many commercial stainless steel polishers that are available on the market.
Truthfully speaking, polishing should really be the third step in a tripartite process. First, you wipe the furniture using some combination of clean water and a solvent, then you rinse it off and dry it with another cloth, and then you spread a few drops of polish onto the surface with another cloth — all moving with the grain.
10. There’s No Such Thing as Cleaning too Often
Cleaning, when done right, does no damage whatsoever to stainless steel furniture and does a great deal to prevent and even repair damage. You can clean your furniture as often as you like. How often to take things to the cleanroom is a personal decision for you to make, but we recommend doing it as often as possible unless some other pressing need prevents you. The more vigorous the work that goes on in your lab is and the more caustic substances and spills there are, the more often you should do so.
High-quality stainless steel furniture is indispensable to research and development labs, factories and types of businesses that are too numerous to mention. RDM’s stainless steel furniture is proudly manufactured in the USA up to the very highest design standards, but even it needs to be cared for. Since you’ll be making a significant investment when you buy stainless steel furnishings, our advice on how to keep things functioning properly should help you get more bang for you buck.