How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans & Cookware

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Stainless steel cookware is amongst the most popular available. It’s durable, heats well, cooks food evenly, and it’s attractive – at least for a short time. Stainless steel is notorious for collecting burnt messes. staining and marking.

Learn how to clean stainless steel pans properly because it’s notorious for being hard to clean.

Proper cleaning, care and maintenance of stainless steel pans will help them last a lifetime.

If you’re struggling with getting your best stainless steel cookware to shine, here are some tips and tricks for removing almost any kind of mess or mark from your stainless steel pots and pans.

With luck and a little elbow grease, they’ll look as good as new!

How To Clean The Bottom Of Stainless Steel Pans

The bottom is usually the first area on any pan that takes a beating. In this case, baking soda can be your best friend. Simply sprinkle baking soda generously on the bottom of the pan and scrub with a non-scratching kitchen sponge.

If you need to, add a splash of water to the baking soda to create more of a paste-like consistency. Then give the pan a wash in soapy water and it should look brand new.

If you’ve never cleaned the bottom of your pans, or if the discoloration and burn marks are very deep, you may want to use a gentle abrasive cleaner, such as Bar Keeper’s Friend, Bon Ami, Comet, or Ajax. See our stainless steel cleaner reviews for more cleaning options.

Our Bar Keepers Friend review is so popular among the cooking blog crowd that it has somewhat of a cult following. Follow the instructions on the cleanser of your choice and admire your shiny pans.

How To Clean The Outside Of Stainless Steel Pots And Pans

Cleaning the outside of stainless steel cookware is a lot like cleaning the bottom. Your first line of defense is going to be some hot soapy water, a good scrubbing sponge, and elbow grease.

If you’ve got burnt on food, grease, stains, or discoloration that won’t come off, your next weapon should be vinegar, which can be effective at removing some of the discoloration and other spots.

After you’ve cleaned the outside with vinegar and re-washed with hot soapy water, you should have a pretty clean surface.

If stubborn stains remain, your next weapon is baking soda. Using old baking soda to clean stainless steel cookware is wise because it acts as a gently abrasive cleaning agent.

It won’t scratch the surface, but it’s gritty enough to scrub off food and stains.

If a good, hard scrub with baking soda still doesn’t work, try Bar Keeper’s Friend or another gentle abrasive cleanser.

How To Remove Stains From Stainless Steel

There are five types of stains that you’ll find on the cooking surface of a stainless steel pot or pan. Here’s how to clean them all.

1. Burnt-On Food

Before you tackle tough, burnt-on food, always try cleaning with soap and water first. A non-abrasive sponge and a little elbow grease can work well.

Make sure that when you’re done that you either, toss the sponge in the garbage or learn how to clean a sponge to prevent bacteria buildup or scratching your cookware.

If that doesn’t work, try putting just enough soapy water in the pan to cover the burnt-on mess, then heat the pan over low heat and try scraping the burnt bits with a rubber spatula.

If the stubborn mess still won’t come out, try salt.

  1. Put enough warm water in the pan to cover the mess.
  2. Bring the water to a gentle boil, then add a couple of spoonfuls of salt.
  3. Let this gently boil for a few minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit for at least four hours, or overnight.

Following this, you should be able to wash everything away with some soap and elbow grease. You can repeat this process a few times if the stains are very stubborn.

2. Discoloration

This type of stain calls for a high acid treatment. Some people swear by cooking something acidic, like tomato paste or vinegar, in the pan.

cleaning pans with vinegar

Cleaning stainless steel pans using vinegar and a dry cloth can undo all kinds of damage.

Discoloration stains are caused by overheating the pan. If they just won’t disappear, you may have to try a gentle cleaner. Again, Bar Keeper’s Friend, which is made for use on stainless steel, works well.

3. Water Spots Or Stains

Water spots are harmless on stainless steel, but it will dim the shine. Using baking soda to clean stainless steel water spots is effective. To clean, take some baking soda and a dry cloth and gently rub and buff out all the water stains.

You can avoid these stains in future by towel drying all your stainless steel cookware instead of letting it air-dry.

4. White Spots

These spots are the result of calcium from soft water building up on the pans. Cleaning pans with vinegar will remove these white spots. Just pour in a dash of vinegar, use a dry cloth to gently rub, rinse the stainless steel pan in warm water, and dry it off.

5. Surface Pits/Spots

Unfortunately, this is a type of defect that can’t be cleaned from stainless steel cookware. Pits result from a chemical reaction that occurs when you add salt to water that hasn’t come to the boil yet.

Although you won’t be able to undo damage, you will be able to prevent future pits by making sure that you only add salt to water when it’s come to a full boil.

Usage Tips

Proper cleaning will prevent your stainless steel cookware from becoming stained. Always wait until a stainless steel pan is completely cool before cleaning it. Submerging a very hot pan into the wrong water temperature could cause warping that cannot be undone.

Never use an abrasive cleaner that could scratch the surface of your stainless steel. Most often, dish soap with a little bit of baking soda can tackle any mess that has really been stuck on. And despite what you’ve heard, soaking stainless steel pans isn’t a good idea.

Martha Stewart warns to never ever soak stainless steel pans, as it can pit the surface of the steel and lead to further damage.

Another good idea is to allow your pans to preheat before cooking anything. Whether or not you season your stainless steel pan, preheating will allow the surface of the metal to expand, which creates less area for food to become stuck.

Doing a regularly scheduled deep clean on your pan is wise. Every six months or so, you should scrub your pan using the above methods until it is sparkling clean. Then you can season or re-season it for more months of use.

Final Thoughts

Stainless steel cookware can be a great source of enjoyment, but can also be a huge source of frustration. When used incorrectly, the result is a lot of stuck on and burnt messes that just won’t come off.

Luckily, you can use your own strength, along with some household cleaners like soap, baking soda, and vinegar, to get your pans to sparkle.

When you get desperate, turn to a mildly abrasive cleaner like Bar Keeper’s Friend to give your cookware a deep clean.

You should season stainless steel cookware properly and keep it maintained. This will result in cookware that lasts.

Written By Tara Williams

Tara is a food writer that has been editing and authoring articles for KitchenSanity since its founding. Her writing offers personal experience from experimentation with food and recipe creation. If you’re looking for simple tips, she will make your journey in the kitchen straightforward with a dash of fun.