A Guide to Cleaning Metal Railings

A spotless metal railing protects the public in more ways than one.

As much as our handrail products are designed to make life safer, some people avoid touching them altogether. Why? Because of germs.

We don’t always like to think about all of the bacteria-laden hands that may have touched a railing before we did. In one poll, 63 percent of respondents said they avoid touching handrails altogether because of germs. Businesses place hand-sanitizing stations near handrails and other high-touch fixtures, or at the very least, give them a good wipe down on a regular basis. Germ season or not, nothing takes the place of a sparkling clean metal handrail.

Keeping your metal railing clean is not just a matter of hygiene. Clean railings invite use and help to prevent falls on your property, indoors and out. Not only that, cleaning your metal railings on a regular basis can help them weather the elements, preserving them for years to come.

When to clean outdoor railingsCleaning Railings

While “fall” may be one of our least favorite words to hear in the safety industry – as a season, it’s a favorite for outdoor rail cleaning and maintenance, as well as spring. The main reason for that is the mild temperatures. For some products, as in aluminum railings, cleaning solutions on hot or cold days can cause unpredictable results. For example, during freezing temperatures, condensation on the metal can occur, leaving permanent streaks on the railing. Hot, sunny days are no better, as chemical reactions can happen as the sun heats the metal surfaces.

So instead of dealing with extreme temps of winter or summer, take advantage of the mild and shady days of fall or spring for cleaning your Wagner metal railing products. Here are a few tips to get you going based on the type of metal product you wish to clean.


Though relatively low-maintenance, aluminum railing, like any others, need cleaning from time to time. The most important step when cleaning aluminum is to first determine which type you are dealing with – mechanical (e.g., mill, satin, or polished), chemical (anodic), organic (e.g., paint or wax). If you are not sure, click over to our Cleaning Aluminum blog post which goes into detail on this topic. One important reminder is to never use aggressive alkaline or acid cleaners on aluminum finishes. Have you ever noticed how an aluminum pan can turn dark and dull after coming out of the dishwasher? That’s a result of highly alkaline dishwasher soap. The same thing can happen to aluminum railings. Never use abrasive scrubbing to remove stains on aluminum also. It can cause permanent damage.


Unlike some metals, stainless steel does well with frequent cleaning since there is no surface coating. But remember, stainless steel is corrosion-resistant, not corrosion-proof. Under certain conditions — salt spray, ferrous contamination or air pollutants — stainless steel will corrode. Occasional cleaning can prevent this from happening.

You may have heard the term passivation when talking about stainless steel maintenance. This is the removal of the oxide growth process. A non-electrolytic process typically using nitric or citric acid, passivation removes free iron from the stainless steel surface and forms an inert, protective oxide layer. Since there is less iron to react with the atmosphere, less rusting can occur. Check out Wagner’s Stainless Steel Maintenance Guide for detailed information on cleaning and passivating stainless steel railings.


When forged iron and steel need cleaning, the process is pretty simple. You can wash these railings with a damp cloth and then wipe dry. If you come across rust stains, carefully rub them with a bit of kerosene followed by a quick scouring with fine grade steel wool. If the rust is stubborn, you may need to allow kerosene to soak in to help it budge.


For tarnished brass, we recommend polishes and cleaners like Lido Lustre Metal Polish or Flitz, available at most hardware stores. These can help remove fingerprints and tarnish while leaving a protective coating to slow future tarnishing. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use a soft cloth for wiping off.

Is your project one where many people will come in contact with metal railings? Keep in mind these recommendations for maintenance and cleaning of our products. In the end, it helps to remember that caring for railings is caring for people.

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.


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