Firstly, we will cover a brief rundown of maintenance of stainless steel boat fixtures. Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel benefits immensely from regular maintenance mainly polishing, to prevent unsightly 'tea staining '. This is mainly prevented for longer periods by having a greater degree of luster to the material when it is first fitted to the boat in other words the more it is polished the more resistant it is to staining. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop it completely and over time all stainless steel will stain in a marine environment. There are 2 types of stainless steel that are mainly used in fabricated items they are '316' and '304'. 316 is far more resistant to staining and should be used for all exterior fittings. 304 is commonly used on interior fittings such as water tanks and sink benches etc. Sink benches rarely stain because they are always being wiped down as for stainless tanks they are not often regarded as a polished feature on most boats hence the use of 304. 316 can be more expensive than 304 by more than 50%. There are other grades such as 2205 they will be covered later and are not as commonly used as the previous mentioned.
Polishing can be done a number of ways. Firstly, it can be electro polished this is the only ‘labour less' way of shining up your stainless. It basically is the reverse process of electroplating. Therefore, in technical terms it is the movement of material from the anode to the cathode in an electrolyte solution. In some instances, it is a very economical way of producing a desirable shine mainly on simple shapes that are produced in numbers. If you are considering unbolting your stainless fair lead and sending it away to the electro polishers, you may find it comes back looking exceptionally clean and free of stains but not quite to the level of shine that you may have been hoping for.
This brings us to the next type of polishing 'mechanical' the most popular method is buffing which is the use of a cloth buffing wheel and different types of wax. A hard wheel with a cutting wax is particularly useful for the removal of fine scratches and imperfections, whereas a soft wheel with a polishing wax will produce mirror finishes if done correctly. Unfortunately, there is no fast simple way of creating a mirror finish on fabricated items by mechanically buffing. It takes time and patience and a methodical approach.