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Stainless steel appliances rusting: why?

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Remember when stainless steel appliances first started showing up in homes 10 to 15 years ago? They looked as tough as nails, with a stainless finish that could last for decades.

But nowadays, more and more consumers are complaining about rusting or corroding stainless finishes.

8 Month Old Fridge Shows Rust

Mary Rust is used to seeing the word "rust," as it happens to be her last name. But she's not used to seeing it on her almost-new Maytag refrigerator.

Just months after buying the $1,200 French door fridge, Rust found corrosion spots.

"I said it's only 10 months old, and its stainless steel. Why should I have to worry about rust on the refrigerator?"

Not Covered Under Warranty

She called the company's customer service department, where she learned surface rust and corrosion is excluded from the one year warranty, as it is considered cosmetic.

So we contacted Maytag: The company promised to look into her complaint and try to help.
But many appliance brands, not just Maytag, are facing rust complaints. A Google search will find rust complaints about most major appliance brands. 

Click here for a report from The Consumerist about some of these complaints, and some ways to remove minor rust spots. Click here for another report about this issue.

What Has Changed?

Why is this happening, when there were no such complaints a decade ago?
Engineering professors at the University of Cincinnati say some of today's consumer grade stainless steel has less nickel and chromium in it than just a few years ago, due to rising prices.

They say an incredible amount of industrial strength stainless steel is now needed for aerospace and health care, and that is squeezing the consumer as well.

Engineering professor  Dr Veselin Shanov said "there is a lot of demand for nickel the past 3 or 4 years, and the price is going up."    

That may help explain why magnets stick to a lot of newer stainless appliances, unlike older stainless appliances and cooking pots that have high nickel levels, where the magnet won't stick.

While they say magnet test should not be considered a "quality" test, Dr Shanov and his colleague Dr. Vijay Vasudevan say less nickel, and less chromium in some cases, can mean less protection from corrosion.

"If it drops below a certain level, then it could become susceptible to corrosion," Dr Vasudevan said.

What You Can Do

The two professors suggest:

    -Use only stainless steel cleaner.

    -Never rub appliances with any abrasive soap or sponge.

     -Keep bleach and acid cleaners, such as bathtub cleaners, far away.  Even their fumes can cause metal to corrode.

     -Don't hang wet kitchen towels on dishwasher handles, as it keeps the front of the dishwasher moist.

Mary Rust is just hoping for a new door, saying "even a cheap refrigerator under 10 months old should not have spots of rust on it."

The bottom line:  Remember to keep your stainless appliances dry, and clean only with approved stainless steel cleaner so you don't waste your money.


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