How to Maintain and Clean Your Cable Railing

Keep your cable railing looking it’s best. Use these cleaning techniques to clean your cable railing. Here are tips on what to do and a few precautions.

Cable railing systems significantly boost the aesthetic appeal of a home, particularly a home with a view. A cable rail is a view rail, but it also adds an invaluable safety barrier, especially on decks and stairways. 

As you are looking through the view rail, having clean material will enhance your enjoyment of your view rail.  Your cable railing needs simple care to maintain its luster and prevent damage. This is particularly true when used in exterior applications prone to harsh environmental elements, especially where exposed to saltwater, de-icing material, industrial pollutants, traffic film, and atmospheric dirt.

Home with clean cable railing around deck with a view of ocean and pier.

How to Clean Your Cable Railing

Good maintenance of a cable railing needs to start the day it is installed. Yes, it will look clean and shiny after install, but it will have contaminants on the surface that will attract and adhere to the fore mentioned harsh elements. A thorough initial cleaning followed by regular cleaning and general maintenance will help protect the cable railing systems and provide a prolonged lifetime of the railings. We recommend the following maintenance tips to maintain and clean your cable railing.

What Products “NOT” To Use:

Think of your car and what you might use to clean it, likely a good quality car wash soap. You should treat your cable railing system the same way and avoid harsh chemicals and never use anything abrasive. Certain chemicals are guaranteed to damage your cable railing including Methyl Ethyl Keyton, Acetone, Mineral Spirits, Acids, Chlorine, Bleach, Bartenders Helper, Toilet Bowl Cleaners, Lacquer Thinner or Paint Thinner (if not used properly), Stainless Steel Cleaning Kits,  and any other harsh chemical may cause irreversible damage.

What Products to Use:

We recommend cleaning your cable rail/view rail with a high-quality car wash soap such as McGuire’s. These products are made with mild agents designed to cut oils, salts and other contaminants without damaging the materials. If stubborn discoloration persists you may use a light passivation agent such as Citrisurf 77 (but only according to manufacturer instructions). To remove paint splatter, do not use anything harsher than Lacquer Thinner, and only per instruction below.

Routine Rinse and Wipe

Routine rinse and wipe refers to a light wiping and freshwater rinse every week or so. This cleaning process rarely takes more than a few minutes.

On the cleaning day, begin with a bucket of fresh water and lightly wipe the railing, ringing often, using fresh water and a clean cloth. This process helps to remove fingerprints, dust, and light dirt. It also removes environmental contaminants, such as salt crystals and buildup. Work in sections no more than 10 feet and rinse thoroughly after wiping each section. Aside from wiping, you can also use a light-duty pressure washer to spray your cable rail clean.

Full Cleaning

If your cable railing starts to show signs of brown discoloration or is not maintaining its luster, you need to do a full cleaning. This is usually only necessary every 3 to 6 months depending on the environment. The instructions are the same except you will add the prescribed amount of car wash soap to the bucket of water. NEVER use any harsh cleaners or abrasives.

  1. Rinse The Railing

Begin by rinsing your view rail with the instructions above or you can use a light-duty pressure washer. You don’t need too much pressure with the washer. Our recommendation is a low to medium setting. Immediately following the rise, soap the rails up with your car wash soap. Around fittings and particularly dirty or discolored areas, use a household squirt bottle with ¼ cup of car wash soap and water. Squirt this on after you have rinsed and before proceeding with cleaning. Let it sit for 10 minutes. 

2.            Bucket of Suds

Empty your rinse bucket and add your car wash soap to the manufacturer’s instruction. Using only a clean cloth or non-abrasive sponge, generously slather on the soapy water mix. Working in areas no more than 10 feet at a time, rinse the soap off after finishing a section. If you have any persistent discoloration you can try the spray bottle again.

3.            Removing Persistent Staining

Use Citrisurf 77 according to manufacturer instructions. Follow all treatments by a repeat rinse and do not skip it. Citrisurf 77 is a very light citric acid that will not harm the stainless steel if used according to the instructions. If left on the stainless steel, it can cause irreversible harm.

4.     Polish Optional

As an option, you may want to apply a “non-abrasive” marine polish to your railing. Some people find it easier to use a spray polish that does not form a chalky finish or haze on the stainless materials. It is recommended that you use a specific “non-abrasive” marine or stainless-steel polish.

Cleaning Off Specific Elements

Finally, sometimes you may need to deal with certain stubborn contaminants such as paint.

It is recommended that paint removal be done using a light application of Paint Thinner with immediate rewashing per above instruction. Paint Thinner should not be left on the railing or cables for more than a few minutes so you must work in small sections.

A Few Precautions

Never use Methyl Ethyl Keyton, Acetone, Mineral Spirits, Acids, Chlorine, Bleach, Bartenders Helper, Toilet Bowl Cleaners, Lacquer Thinner or Paint Thinner (if not used properly), Stainless Steel Cleaning Kits, or any other harsh chemical may cause irreversible damage.

Also, avoid abrasive cleaning pads, wire brushes, hard scrappers, and knives as they can cause permanent scratches to your railing.

By using these cleaning techniques, your cable railing will look brand new for years to come!