Although it is called steel wool, it is not made from wool or steel.
Steel wool consists of several thin sharp metal strips that can be used for scrubbing or sanding different materials such as the pots and pans in your kitchen.
The flexible metal strips are often made of steel filaments even if they are not steel in totality.
But they can also be made from steel wire, stainless steel, aluminum, and even bronze.
When the metal is shaved into strands, it can be bunched up into a shape that resembles wool, hence the name.
This bunching will stay together unless the individual strands which are made up of thousands of fibers are pulled apart.
But, what are some common steel wool uses, and what do you use steel wool for?
Well, you have probably used steel wire wool for more than just cleaning the pots and pans.
But you may be surprised at the sheer number of uses they offer.
Let’s have a look at some of these applications – at least the ones that I have used them for…
1- Age Wood
Using steel wool on wood is one of the most popular uses for DIYers and homemakers.
If you want that aged appearance for wood, then mix vinegar and steel wool which will create a unique stain.
To use steel wool on wood, you can apply the stain to new bare wood which will give it a silver-like patina that makes it appear much older.
This stain is non-toxic and does not harm the wood. Instead, you get the aged appearance that you want quickly.
2- Clean Rusty Materials
Your metal tools in the garden, garage, or woodworking store can get rusty over time.
You can clean them using steel wool which will not only remove the rust stains but will also bring back the like-new shine.
This works on rusty metal surfaces as well such as your old metal roofs, furniture, pipes, etc.
When using steel wool for your cleaning projects, just make sure that you take proper precautions and do not touch it with bare hands.
It can badly cut your fingers so wearing thick gloves is highly recommended.
3- Clean the Oven
Steel wool works wonders in removing the rough stains from your kitchen oven, particularly burnt food inside.
The steel wool works better on burnt food compared to using cleaning chemicals.
Plus, if your oven has a self-cleaning cycle, it will shine when turned on after using steel wool on the surface.
4- Cover Drains
If you want to avoid a clogged kitchen drain, then cover the opening with steel wool.
The water will easily get through, but it will trap the particles and gunk.
If you are bathing your pooch, then using the steel wool will prevent the hair from clogging up the drain.
After you finish, just toss the steel wool away.
5- Fill Holes
Holes created by rats and mice in the house are the main source of entry of other rodents and pests into the house.
Mice can squeeze through cracks as small as a dime, while rats can squeeze through cracks as small as a half dollar.
To keep your home rodent-free, sealing any cracks or holes in the foundation, walls, or roofline is essential.
If you discover a mouse hole in your home, you can fill it using stainless steel wire wool with a MEDIUM grade.
The mouse will not chew through the wool. Although they can still chew through the wood if they find it.
So at least you can temporarily stop the problem until you can exterminate the mice.
6- Prepare Surfaces
Preparing your surfaces is important when you want to refinish them with other kinds of paint, stain, or varnish.
If you are ready to put varnish on wood, then rubbing it with medium-fine or coarse steel wool will prep the surface and allow the varnish to stick better.
The steel wool will remove the dust from the grain and bring out the best in the surface fibers.
Once you have rubbed the surface with the steel wool, use a clean cloth or Swiffer Sweeper cloth to remove all the dust and lose particles.
This will help prepare the surface and adhere to the finish better.
7- Remove Scuff Marks from the Floor
A dark-sole shoe can leave behind ugly black scuff marks on your floor.
Depending on the stains, you can use coarse to fine steel wool to remove the scuff marks, particularly on tiles, and restore the appearance of your floor.
So, it’s always good to keep some steel wool with the equipment and supplies you use to clean your floors.
You can sand wood using steel wool. It works as a kind of excellent fine sandpaper that can be used to remove a thin finish layer from the top of the wood.
Because you can compress the steel wool into virtually any shape, it can be used to reach difficult areas such as tight corners when sanding.
Plus, moldings and beveled edges can be sanded with ease when using steel wool.
Coarser grades of steel wool (00 to 3) can be used to remove paint, finish, or varnish.
While finer grades (000 or 0000) can be used for delicate projects.
9- Sharpen Scissors
It may seem counterintuitive at first, but you can sharpen your old dull scissors using a ball of coarse steel wool (number 2-3).
It will not work on scissors that have been damaged, but it can restore the sharpness to otherwise dull scissors when you use them correctly.
10- Start a Fire
If you need to start a fire but lack matches, then you can use steel wool in combination with a 9-volt battery and some kindling.
Touch the wool to both the positive and negative terminals of the battery. The current will heat the wool and cause it to glow.
Then gently press the wool into some kindling and it will start a fire. Add wood when needed to keep the fire going.
11- Tighten Screws
If the hole is a little too large for the screw, wrap a few fibers of steel wool around the screw.
This will provide enough of a surface to drive in the screw where it can be held firmly in place.
This is faster than trying to re-fill the hole and re-drilling the screw.
12- Remove Tough Stains
If you’ve ever had tree sap on your windows, you know how difficult it is to remove.
You can use very fine steel wool (000 grade) that is lubricated with a window cleaner to buff away the stains.
Just be sure that you are using the finest grades of steel wool and not the course grades.
13- Clean Wallpaper
If your kids have decided their crayons are meant for your wallpaper, you can remove their work by using steel wool.
Just be sure to test a small area first to see if the wool damages the wallpaper itself.
But for the most part, fine steel wool should remove the crayon marks and not damage the wallpaper.
14- Safeguarding Vehicles
Finally, if you have vehicles that are stored over the winter months, such as motorcycles or large camper trucks, then placing steel wool inside a plastic sandwich bag and stuffing it into the exhaust pipe and air intake will keep the little creatures from finding a home inside the engine.
The bag will keep the steel wood fibers from getting into the engine.
Just remember to use bright colored tape to remind you to remove the bags when you are ready to use the vehicle or motorcycle again when spring arrives.
When using steel wool in the garage or kitchen, remember not to store it near flammable liquids, stoves, or batteries.
Steel wool is flammable and can cause a fire if not used or stored properly.
Can steel wool rust?
Steel wool will rust if it is left in contact with water or moisture for an extended period of time.
And using rusty steel wool pads will only create a mess rather than help with your cleaning project.
To prevent rusting, store your steel wool in a dry, airtight container when you’re not using it.
You can also coat your steel wool with oil before storing it to help protect it from rust.
Is steel wool better than sandpaper?
While sandpaper is the more traditional choice for many woodworking and metalworking tasks, steel wool has a number of advantages that make it a better choice in many situations.
The major benefit of steel wool over sandpaper is that it may be compressed to a near-perfect form.
So you can use them much more easily on complex shapes and in places that are hard to reach.
Another advantage of steel wool is that it doesn’t produce as much dust as sandpaper.
This can be a big benefit when working in confined spaces or areas where dust containment is a concern.
What should you not use a ball of steel wool on?
You should avoid using steel wool on surfaces that you don’t want to scratch or damage.
This includes beautifully painted oak floors, softwoods, and any well-finished or varnished wood surface that is not meant to be sanded.
You should also avoid using steel wool on power tools and its blades made of stainless steel, as the steel particles can damage the moving parts.
Steel wool should also not be used to clean stainless steel surfaces of appliances or cooking stove tops as the abrasive nature of the steel wool will leave scratches and can leave the surface dull.
A few other surfaces not to clean with a steel wool pad include:
- Glass top stoves
- Porcelain toilet bowls
- Ceramic bathroom tiles and tub
- Non-stick pans and plastic items
- Cast iron cookware with protective seasoning
The Bottom Line
While sandpaper is the more traditional choice for many woodworking and metalworking tasks, steel wool has a number of advantages that make it a better choice in many situations, including the ability to compress to a near-perfect form and not produce as much dust.
When using the balls of steel wool, just remember that it can be dangerous to handle without proper precautions. It’s not edible and can even cause internal damage to organs if ingested by mistake.
So, be sure to take the same safety measures you would with any other power tool and always keep it out of reach of children and pets.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.