Render of Stairs with Cleaning Products

How to Clean Aluminum Stairs

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Cleaning Untreated Aluminum Steps

Aluminum is a light but strong material common for outdoor stair applications because it is weather-resistant. It is weather-resistant in that it doesn’t rust, but it forms a natural layer of oxide through the process called “oxidation.”

Oxidation can be a baffling occurrence because it is a natural chemical reaction. Unlike corrosion on other metals, it does not weaken the aluminum but strengthens the material. This makes aluminum superior to other metals because of its inherent quality. The galvanizing process protects other metals, wherein a zinc coating envelops the base metal like iron or steel to slow down oxidation.

IMPORTANT – Do not use abrasive cleaning pads on aluminum stairs or ramps

Oxidation creates a protective barrier against water and rust, but it can make the aluminum less attractive over time. If you know how to clean aluminum stairs properly, it will decrease the chances of severe oxidation.

Step 1: The first step is to ensure that all debris, including mud, dust, and leaves, is cleared off the steps. To do this, you must start at the top landing of the steps with a stiff-bristled broom and sweep all the debris over the side of the platform or down the steps one by one; the stringers that run along both edges of the steps may make it difficult to push the debris over the sides. The stiff-bristled broom is recommended to clean out the grooves of the step treads, but don’t try to scrub them with the broom as it might scratch the aluminum.

Step 2: After sweeping the debris off the aluminum stairs, rinse it with water and a mild detergent such as dish soap. Use a generous amount of dish soap over the length of the staircase, and put a concentrated amount on tough spots. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Next, hose off or lightly pressure wash the steps to remove the soap and dirt. If possible, it is suggested to use filtered water because unfiltered water may contain sulfur, chlorine, fluoride, and other minerals that could damage the aluminum over time. Ensure all dish soap is washed off before the steps are used because the soap and water make the aluminum slippery.

Step 3: If dirt is still on the stairs, scrub the area with a towel and dish soap. Do not use steel wool or scouring pads because these materials can scratch the aluminum and give it a dull appearance. Do not use harsh cleaners like baking soda or alkali-based cleaners, as these can cause discoloration. If you want to try a new type of cleaner, test an area on the underside of the staircase to see if it discolors the aluminum.

Step 4: If the aluminum has already oxidized, try spot-treating the oxidized areas with an aluminum cleaner like Aluma Kleen or Aluma Bright.

Cleaning Powder-Coated Aluminum Steps

Cleaning aluminum metal stairs that are powder-coated is similar, but the powder-coating is a little more delicate than the aluminum. If the aluminum steps are powder-coated, there is less chance of oxidation because the powder-coating provides an extra layer of defense. However, if the coating is scratched, oxidation spots can still form.

Aluminum switchback ramp with powder coating

Step 1: Brush off the steps, moving from top to bottom, with a stiff-bristled broom. Do not try to scrub the steps with the broom, as it might scratch the aluminum.

Step 2: The most efficient way to clean outdoor aluminum steps with a powder-coated finish is by using filtered water at low pressure with a pressure washer. Use a mild detergent such as dish soap, and DO NOT use chlorine or harsh cleaning solutions. High water pressure and aggressive cleaning products can damage the powder-coated finish. The commercial cleaning solutions will clean the surface, but they also remove micro-layers of finish. The layer might later become hard and crack while losing its protective barrier.

Step 3: As stated above, use a soft brush or cloth to clean the surface; do not use anything with stiff bristles or a scratchy pad.

Step 4: To keep powder-coated steps looking nice, try a high-grade, non-abrasive car wax that contains a U.V. blocker and/or U.V. inhibitors. Be sure to wipe off residual wax because it could bake in the heat and cause permanent staining. As with any other product applied to the staircase, making a test area on the underside of the steps is recommended.