Squeaky Clean Secrets: How To Clean Stainless Steel Pans 

 Last Update September 18, 2023

By Jenny Zhang

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Stainless steel pans are prized possessions in every kitchen, cherished for their durability, even heat distribution, and timeless elegance. Whether you're a seasoned culinary enthusiast or a home cook just starting on your culinary journey, these gleaming kitchen essentials can turn ordinary meals into extraordinary culinary creations. Nevertheless, maintaining these pans' luster and optimal cooking performance over time requires proper care and cleaning.

Below, we'll tell you how to clean stainless steel pans. From cleaning stainless steel pans with stuck on to cleaning burnt stainless steel pans, we'll equip you with practical tips and tricks that will elevate your stainless steel pan's longevity, so you can continue to craft delightful dishes with confidence.

How To Clean Stainless Steel Pans After Each Use

For your everyday messes from everyday cooking, all you'll need is some warm, soapy water and a non-abrasive sponge!

  1. Let The Pan Cool. Throwing a hot pan under cold water will produce a thermal shock, resulting in a warped pan. Even hot tap water is not going to match the temperature of a just-used pan! Let your pan cool down before starting to clean it.
  2. Scrub. To get the job done, all you need is some hot water, standard dish soap, and a little elbow grease! A quick scrub will handle excess oil or bits of food particles left over from your cooking.
  3. Rinse And Dry. After scrubbing the stainless steel cookware clean, rinse it in cold water and dry it with a clean towel.

Shining Up A Discolored Stainless Steel Pan

It's a misnomer, but stainless steel pans can become stained over time. A buildup of calcium and carbon typically causes this staining. Your pan can also start showing a rainbow discoloration - a "heat tint"- caused by overheating. Your stained pans will cook just as well, but you can get that shine back!

Using Vinegar

Vinegar is an effective way to remove that rainbow stain. To thoroughly clean your pan, simply scrub it using vinegar instead of water! Rinse it with cold water, and dry.

You can also use vinegar to tackle calcium buildup and remove discoloration. Heat a mixture of one part vinegar to three parts water until it boils inside your pan. After letting it boil for five minutes, take the pan off the heat, let it cool, and then dump out the mixture and wash the pan as normal.

Using Tomato Sauce

The acid in tomatoes is great at cutting through rainbow discoloration! Pour tomato sauce (or crushed tomatoes if available) into the pan and bring it to a simmer. Allow the sauce to simmer for ten minutes. As the moisture evaporates away, add more water to keep the pan's stained portions completely submerged in tomato sauce. Finally, remove the sauce and wash the pan as normal.

If it's been a long night and you just want to get out of the kitchen, you can also leave the tomato sauce in the pan overnight without bringing it up to a simmer first. Cold tomato sauce does the same work, just more slowly.

Using Stainless Steel Cleaner

Apply a stainless steel cleaner like Bar Keeper's Friend directly onto the stain. Mix it with a small amount of warm water to create a paste, and then gently scrub the paste into the stain using a soft sponge. The cleaner's soft abrasive will take out even the most stubborn stains, but it might take a little more elbow grease than other methods.

Removing burn stains

Image Source: Flickr

Tackling Scorched Stainless Steel Pan

Mistakes in the kitchen can happen to the best of us. We've all been there – engrossed in cooking, only to be distracted and return to find a pan covered in burnt food and unsightly scorch marks. But fear not! We're here to save the day with some invaluable cleaning tips that will help you tackle those stubborn burnt areas and banish the scorch marks for good.

Remove Burnt Food

There are a few different ways to tackle burnt food. If one doesn't work, just move on to the next one. You will succeed!

Using Commercial Cleaner

Barkeeper's Friend is a great cleaner for tackling stainless steel pans because it won't scratch and damage the surface.

  1. Wet The Pan. Get the stainless steel pan wet enough to fully saturated the burnt food.
  2. Add The Cleaner. Simply sprinkle the cleaner onto the bottom of the pan, and as it mixes with the water, it will form a paste.
  3. Scrub. Take a soft sponge and use it to scrub the paste into all the burnt bits.
  4. Rinse And Repeat. It may take several rounds as you work through the layers of burnt food! Rinse the pan with clean water every so often, and repeat.

Using Boil Water

Boiling water is very effective at loosening the burnt food enough that you can scrape it off.

  1. Add Water. After cleaning off as much food as possible using the commercial cleaner method above, fill the pan with water and a small drop of dish soap. Be sure that all of the food bits are completely submerged in soapy water!
  2. Boil. Bring the dish soap water to a boil and allow it to simmer for ten minutes. Then, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.
  3. Scrape. Use a spatula or other scraper to remove the food. It should have loosened enough to scrape off.
  4. Rinse And Repeat. Stubborn stuck-on food may need another round of boiling.

Using Vinegar And Baking Soda

This method is similar to the boiling water method, but you're now going to add vinegar and baking soda to the boiling water.

  1. Add Water And Vinegar. Once more, fill the pan with enough water to cover the stuck-on food. This time, add a cup of vinegar to the water.
  2. Boil. Bring the pan with the vinegar-water mixture to a boil.
  3. Add Baking Soda. Once the mixture is boiling, promptly remove it from the heat and add two tablespoons of baking soda. Mix the soda in with the vinegar and water.
  4. Dump And Scrub. Dump out the mixture, and scrub away any remaining food particles.
  5. Rinse And Dry. Hopefully, you've got the burnt food off! If not, repeat this process again. Otherwise, rinse your pan and dry as normal.

Removing Burnt Liquids

Here's a special trick you can try when it comes to cleaning off burnt-on oil or other sticky liquids (like caramel)!

  1. Add Soda! Yep, that's right - good old Coca-Cola. Although any soda pop will do. The acid will cut through the burnt food. Pour enough soda into the pan to completely cover the burnt areas.
  2. Bring To A Simmer. Bring the soda to a gentle simmer and let it continue simmering for ten minutes.
  3. Remove From Heat. Take the pan off of the heat. While the soda is still warm, use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape away at the burnt-on bits. When finished, rinse and dry as normal.

Removing Burn Marks

Once you've taken care of the stuck-on food, you likely still have a pan with black burn marks. It will take a good deal of scrubbing to take care of those carbon scorches, but it's possible!

  1. Sprinkle Baking Soda. You need an abrasive to tackle these stains, and baking soda is perfect. On a completely dry pan, sprinkle baking soda over the burn marks.
  2. Rub It In. Take a dry cloth and thoroughly work the baking soda into the burn marks.
  3. Add Water. After an initial scrubbing with dry baking soda, add just enough water that the baking soda forms a paste. Continue scrubbing.
  4. Rinse. After working the baking soda into the burn marks, rinse off any excess baking soda. You may be finished by this point, so dry off your pan and give your arm a rest.
  5. Add Soap. Otherwise, sprinkle more baking soda into the pan. You're going to make another paste - this time, with dish soap as your liquid. Apply this soda-and-soap paste to any remaining burns, and leave it to set for several hours (overnight is fine).
  6. Wash And Dry. Once you remove your burn marks (which might take several rounds), wash and dry your pan as normal.

General Care Of Stainless Steel Cookware

Non-Abrasive Scrubbers

It's important not to scratch your stainless steel pans! Stainless steel is a pretty hard metal, and most sponges or scrub brushes will be just fine. However, stay away from steel wool or wire mesh scrubbers. Steel wool can cause micro-scratches that lead to rust. Instead, reach for a non-abrasive scrubber or one listed as "stainless steel approved."

Scrub With The Grain

If you look closely at your stainless steel pan, you'll notice that the polish lines all run in one direction, similar to grain lines in wood—Scrub parallel with these polish lines rather than against them.

Avoid Chloride

Chloride is corrosive. Over time, exposure to chlorides will cause the stainless steel pan to become pitted - and those pits are a prime location for rust and corrosion to set in. Chlorides are commonly found in salt, hard water, and chlorinated cleaners. You might find people suggesting that you clean stainless steel pans with salt as an abrasive. Don't do it! It is effective at scrubbing, but you will damage your pan over time.

Handling Water Spots

Stainless steel pans are prone to water spots. They're harmless, but they do somewhat dampen that stainless steel shine. You can prevent water spots by always drying your stainless steel cookware immediately after washing them rather than setting them in a drying rack to air dry. If you notice a water spot later, you can rub it off with a moistened sponge and a sprinkle of baking soda.

Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.