Steel wool is a bit of an oxymoron, as it's can sometimes contain no steel and definitely no wool. Essentially steel wool, sometimes referred to as wire wool, is a bundle of metal strips with sharp edges. It is most commonly used as an abrasive and can be used in sanding applications amongst others.
Because steel wool is made up of thousands of metal fibres it makes the ideal abrasive surface. The metal fibres can come in various thicknesses to create different grades of coarseness, each suitable for different applications. Steel wool has uses in both woodworking and metalwork, and can even be used to clean jewellery, buffing it to a shine.
Steel wool is commonly made from either steel wire (a low-grade carbon variant) aluminium, bronze or stainless steel. Whilst it doesn't really come in many variants it does come in varying degrees of coarseness.
• 0000 A super fine grade used for polishing and cleaning delicate surfaces particularly metals which are prone to scratching.
• 00, 0, 1 Fine grades that can be used to prepare surfaces before polishing or waxing.
• 02 A medium coarse grade for heavy cleaning and polish removal
• 03 A coarse grade for removing paintwork and tougher polishes
**• 04 ** The coarsest grade used in heavy stipping jobs, this grade causes the most abrasion on a surface.
• The surface of the workpiece - Ensuring the right grade of steel wool is being used, is vital to the finish of the workpiece. For example cleaning a soft metal with a coarse grade will leave permanent scratches and could potentially damage the workpiece, in this instance a fine or superfine grade would be best. In the case of stripping paint from a surface then coarser grades are ideal as you'll need the extra bite from the thicker edges of the wire to remove things like paint and grime.
Is steel wool safe for glass?
Super fine grades of steel wool are ideal for cleaning glass as its flexible and coarse enough to remove grime without scratching the surface (at least visibly) however if the glass has a special coating other cleaning materials would be advised as the steel wool could remove the coating.
Will steel wool scratch porcelain?
Yes, if a coarse grade is used. However, 0000 super fine grades if used carefully can be used to clean porcelain items such as sinks and toilet bowls.