How To Polish Stainless Steel Watches

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Do you want to keep your stainless steel watch looking shiny and new? If yes, then polishing it can be the solution. With such a process, you can easily remove minor scratches from the metal, and it will help restore the watch to its former glory.

However, polishing the stainless steel watch yourself risks that the warranty will no longer be there for you. Using the wrong materials or applying uneven pressure can easily damage the timepiece if you’re not careful.

Don’t worry! I’m here to guide you in polishing stainless steel watches in seven easy steps. I’ll help you maintain your watch’s polished shine while preventing damage to the pieces inside. 

Let’s get started!

Why Do Stainless Steel Watches Require Special Care?

Timepieces made of stainless steel are comparatively durable, but they still require care and love if you want to keep them looking bright and fresh. 
Over time, stainless steel watches will have slight openings between the metal bracelets’ links, will start to dull, and will be privy to settling dirt and dust that lead to corrosion and wear. 
Even water-resistant stainless steel watches can be vulnerable to damage due to frequent saltwater exposure, sweating, and swimming.
Polishing a stainless steel watch removes scratches and smooths out the surface. This procedure does not alter the original shape and form of the wristwatch. What only happens is that when the metal is polished off, it evens the surface again by removing the scratch.
Before starting with the steps on how to polish stainless steel watches, keep in mind that a stainless steel material is a metal coated with conditioning that stops it from getting rusted. Therefore, you still have to be careful when polishing because overdubbing the outer layer of the metal may cause more damage.

Read: How To Take Links Out Of Watches

How to Polish Stainless Steel Watches (7 Easy Steps)

1. Get the right products or tools

When polishing a stainless steel watch, it’s essential to use the right products. Luckily, most of today’s timepieces can be polished using simple products.

The basic setup for polishing the bracelet/ watch band would be 1500-grit sandpaper, but if you have a gold-tone watch or use more exotic materials, this may not be the best approach. 

Other materials you’ll need would be a fiberglass brush (good for minor scratches), jeweler’s cloth, and never-dull (good to be used on timepieces with deep scratches)

2. Wipe the watch with a soft cloth designed for fine metals

Use one side of the jeweler’s cloth (one with red polishing powder) and wipe it on the scratches. The powder on the jeweler’s fabric can help remove the minor scratches from the stainless steel, while the other side of the polishing cloth gives final cleaning to the material.

A jeweler’s cloth is also called shino polishing cloth. You can also use this for other purposes, like cleaning silver, gold, and titanium pieces.

If your watch has deep scratches, use the never-dull. It’s a cotton cloth that smells like polishing compounds and is a strong cleaner. If the scratches are in a small area, you can use a jeweler’s cloth or a fiberglass brush. You have to rub the tip of the fiberglass brush on corners.

Using a soft cloth alone is one of the safest methods in treating your stainless steel timepiece.

3. Clean using soap water (not always recommended)

You can clean your watch using soap or water, but it’s not always necessary. It is only needed when you notice a lot of dust on the timepiece, or it has been kept in a place that held up a lot of dirt.

Get a liquid mixture of warm soapy water and a brush to rub on it. Next, brush the chains properly to remove visible dirt from them. You need to soak the water from the chain using a soft cloth. As much as possible, avoid letting the watch dry out of the water on its own. 

I do not recommend submerging the watch head directly in soapy water or any other cleaning agent unless you know what you are doing. It would be best to learn more about your timepiece’s water-resistant properties.

4. Pat the watch dry

Gently rub the entire watch with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove the water. This step is essential as moisture on the stainless steel watch can cause mildew. 

And as you know, moisture can cause movements to rust and destroy dials and screen readers (for smartwatches). If the watch face has crystals or face markings, use a cotton swab to polish or clean it. 

Screen reader users use the screen reader mode for easy accessibility of the timepiece.

5. Polish the watch with sandpaper (not always recommended)

Using sandpaper in polishing a stainless steel watch is helpful to make the surface smoother. It is also simple and affordable.

However, you can skip this step and proceed to the next one as this polishing method is more suitable for metal timepieces. 

To do this, carefully rub the area of the watch with scratches with sandpaper. Be sure to apply even pressure to prevent the timepiece from deforming. 

Thirty (30) seconds per watch link should be enough to polish the stainless steel bracelet. You can rub it a little longer if there are still scratches after 30 seconds.

Since the bracelet doesn’t require house mechanisms, this is the easiest part of the watch to polish. And even if you mess up in this part, you can buy another bracelet. You have to be careful in polishing the case and watching the face.

6. Clean using a metal polish or aluminum polish

If you decide to use a metal polish on your watch, get a small amount of that metal polish on the soft cloth or cleaning pad. Using the soft fabric is to keep the metal away from getting scratched.

Next, rub the metal polish on the watch in a circulation motion to prevent new scratches. Do this process until the stainless steel watch gets its shine and you’re already satisfied with its fresh, clean look. To get the best output, do this process on both sides of the watch.

The other option is to use an aluminum polish rich in oils that make the surface look glossy and smooth. Utilizing an aluminum polish helps protect the outer coat of the watch. Aluminum polish is best used when cleaning the crystal face.

Using a rotary tool when polishing your watch

If you have a rotary polishing machine or a rotary tool, then it’s best if you can apply a sufficient amount of polishing agent on the watch bracelet or case. Don’t overdo this process. 

Only remove an adequate amount of metal to level the scratch because too much polishing will deform the structure of the bracelet or the watch case.

7. Add shine or sparkle to your freshly polished watch

For the last step, spray glass cleaner on the cleaning cloth and wipe down the stainless steel watch case and bracelet to refresh the shine. 

Be sure not to use chemicals when cleaning your timepiece. There are chemical cleaners that contain benzene or similar substances, and they can ruin the stainless steel. Another concern is that these cleaners may cause skin irritation when not cleaned off properly.

Some Precautions When Polishing a Watch

Several stainless steel timepieces can be polished without being apart. However, these are some risks if you decide to polish a wristwatch without taking it apart:

  • If you drop the watch while polishing, it can be damaged or broken.
  • Crowns, clasps, and buttons can catch on the buff and get damaged.
  • Gaskets may fail and leak moisture and dirt
  • Components can be scratched or broken.

How Often Should You Polish or Clean Your Stainless Steel Watch?

If you wear your watch daily, it’s enough to give it a deep clean once a month or does a quick clean now and then to remove any excess lotion or moisture that rubbed off your skin and onto the timepiece.

Regular care and maintenance for your watch will make your monthly deep cleaning more manageable.

Nevertheless, watch collectors prefer if the watch has a vintage look, despite dings and deeper scratches. 

So, if you plan to sell your timepiece, later on, regular tune-ups (for example, gasket replacement) may be an excellent alternative to ensure that the watch is still in solid working order.

Read: Best Vintage Watch For Under $300

Should I have my watch polished if it has scratches?

The main goal of keeping your watch as new and shiny as possible is to remove any unsightly scratches and marks. However, this does not mean you should polish your timepiece once it gets a scratch.

A mark or two on the watch should not cause concern. Just polish your wristwatch when it has already amassed many nicks and scratches.

Can a jeweler remove scratches from a watch?

Yes. A jeweler can remove scratches from a stainless steel watch with tools. Jewelers are experts in this field, so they can do the work more effectively and more quickly than a DIY project. They are capable of removing deep scratches from polished surfaces.

Other Tips for Watch Care

As a watch collector myself for decades, I’ve been guided by principles to keep my timepiece in top shape, and I’m sharing them with you:

  • Keep your watch wound

Watches are designed with lubricants to protect the internal moving parts against wear and tear. Oils help reduce the friction in some wristwatch features, but they conceal or dry over time. Keeping your watch wound spreads the lubricants and keeps the watch in top shape.

  • Get storage right

Store your watches away from light as it can sometimes fade black dials to chocolate to tropical brown, depending on the aesthetics, model, and brand. 

It would also be wise to store your watches in temperature-controlled environments because dust and humidity are the main enemies of wristwatches.

  • Insure valuable pieces

Properly insure your valuable watches because they can be targets for theft. With this in mind, you may want to maintain a separate record of photographs and serial numbers of your timepieces to pass them on to your insurance agencies and authorities should they be stolen.

  • Use your warranty effectively.

Not many people look closely at the warranty when shopping for a watch, but it is good to consider it. 

If you’ll later have minor problems with your watch and a warranty still covers it, it often makes sense to send your wristwatch for a warranty “repair .”It allows you to get everything resolved at once.

  • Changing watch straps should be done carefully.

If ever you find the need to change the watch’s straps, you should do it very carefully. Learn how to do it, either by digesting an online instruction or having someone teach you. 

If it’s your first time doing this, consider first practicing on a lesser quality timepiece.

  • Take care of the crystal.

Take every precaution to prevent banging the crystal of your watch against a wall or other objects that may cause scratches.

Final Thoughts

Brand new and pristine condition watches are considerably more valuable than those in worn condition, except vintage watches. Of course, the shinier, brighter, fresher, and unused/unworn version of anything is almost always more desirable – like jewelry, electronics, clothes, cars, etc.

Luckily, restoring a slightly weathered and older stainless steel watch is possible by using suitable materials and following the steps mentioned above.

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