How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware

Three Methods:Clean Tough StainsSeason Your PansGeneral Maintenance

Stainless steel is one of the finest materials available for cookware, as it is durable and attractive. Unlike non-stick pans, however, stainless steel can present some tough cleaning challenges if used improperly. It is important to establish a regular cleaning routine for your cookware and to learn how to effectively clean tough stains. It is also possible to season stainless steel pans to give them a non-stick surface, which prevents food from sticking and makes cleaning your pans a lot easier. Several methods for cleaning and seasoning are outlined below.

Method 1
Clean Tough Stains

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    Clean any crusted or built-up food from the cookware. If the pan has food crusted onto it, start by soaking it for several hours in warm, soapy water (you could also let it soak overnight). Drain the water, and then scrub vigorously with a scouring pad. This will remove most food build-up.
    • Do not use steel wool pads or copper-based scrubbers - although they do a good job of removing burnt-on food, they will scratch the surface of your cookware.
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    Clean any burn marks from the cookware. If your pan has heat damage (for example, from being left on a lit burner for too long), you may be able to clean it off using baking soda. Make sure the pan is completely dry, then sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda onto the surface. Rub the baking soda around the pan thoroughly with a dry cloth or sponge.
    • You can also add a little water to the baking soda to achieve a paste-like consistency.
    • If you're really having trouble with burn marks, try a mildly-abrasive cleaner, such as Bar Keeper's Friend. Just sprinkle a generous amount onto the bottom of your pan and add a little water to form a paste. Scrub with a wet sponge, then rinse thoroughly. Your pans will look good as new.[1]
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    Clean any water spots from the cookware. Water spots are actually caused by the minerals in the water, not the water itself. These will occur more frequently if you live in an area that has mineral-rich water, but water spots can also result from added compounds like fluoride. If you hand dry your pans, water spots are not likely to be a problem. If they occur, swish some club soda around in each pan. Rinse them off, and then wipe them dry with a clean cloth.[2]
    • Alternatively, you can try soaking the pan in vinegar, then clean as usual with a mild detergent and soft cloth.
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    Cook away any serious burn marks. If the pan's burn marks cannot be scrubbed away with baking soda or soap, you can actually attempt to cook them off. Fill the pan with just enough water to cover the damage, and bring the water to a boil on the stove. Add a few spoonfuls of salt to the water, turn off the heat, and let the pan sit for several hours. Dump the water out and try scrubbing away the damage with a scouring pad. If the stains are really burnt on, you can repeat this process again.[2]
    • You should only add the salt when the water is already boiling. If you add salt to cold water, it might pit the metal.
    • Instead of the salt, you could also try adding lemon juice or white vinegar to the pan. Another interesting option is to boil 100% tomato juice in the burnt pan. The tomato's natural acidity is supposed to help remove stains.[2]

Method 2
Season Your Pans

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    Heat the pan. Heat your stainless steel pan on the burner over a medium-high heat, until the pan is very hot. This should only take about 1 to 2 minutes.[3]
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    Oil the pan. Once the pan is very hot, take it off the burner and add a tablespoon of oil (olive, coconut, peanut - whichever you prefer) and swirl it around the pan until the fat melts.[3]
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    Place the pan back on the heat. Continue to heat the oil until it begins to smoke. As the pan heats and the oil melts, the molecules on the surface of the stainless steel will expand and the fat from the oil will become embedded into the pan, thereby coating the pan with a non-stick surface.[3]
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    Turn off the heat. Once the pan begins to smoke, turn off the heat and allow the oil to cool completely. Once the oil has cooled and the surface of the pan becomes reflective and mirror-like, the pan has been properly seasoned.[3]
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    Pour off the oil. When the pan is seasoned, pour the cooled oil off the pan into a jar or cup. Wipe any excess oil from the surface of the pan using some paper towel.[3]
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    Maintain the non-stick surface. As long as you do not wash your pan with dish soap, the non-stick surface should last for some time. You will still need to use a little extra oil when cooking though, to prevent the existing oil from burning.[3]
    • Once the surface of the pan begins to turn brown or yellow, you can re-season the pan using the same method.[3]

Method 3
General Maintenance

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    Establish a regular cleaning routine. Buying good stainless steel cookware is an investment, and it's important to protect that investment by taking care of your pots and pans. If possible, choose a stainless steel cookware set which has copper or aluminum cores or bottoms. These metals are better conductors of heat than stainless steel, so they will prevent hot spots from forming during cooking, minimizing the amount of food that sticks to the pot.[4]
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    Clean the pans after each use. Cleaning the pans immediately after using them prevents stains and dried-on food from building up. If your pans are unseasoned, you can wash them with dish soap and hot water and scour them lightly with a scouring pad (the kind found on double-sided sponges) if needed.
    • If your pans are seasoned, just rinse them out with hot water and avoid using soap. Use some tissue paper to remove excess grease, if necessary.
    • Never use products containing ammonia or bleach on your pans, as these interact badly with the cookware and may cause damage or discoloration. [2]
    • Ideally, you should use a cleaning product designed specifically for stainless steel.
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    Wipe your pans dry by hand. After washing them, take the time to wipe each pan dry with a clean towel. As an alternative, you can air dry them, but this will allow water spots to form.
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    Avoid cleaning your stainless steel cookware in the dishwasher. Even if the pans are dishwasher-safe, washing them in the dishwasher will dramatically reduce their lifespan and keep them from looking their best.
    • However, if you must use the dishwasher, rinse the pots with club soda as soon as you take them out and dry them with a clean, soft cloth. This will prevent water spots from forming.[2]
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    Polish your stainless steel cookware. If you want your cookware to really shine, you can polish it with a stainless steel polish. Apply some of the polish to a clean cloth, and buff it into the cookware.
    • You can remove fingerprints from the outside of stainless steel pots using glass cleaner and paper towel or a soft cloth.
    • It is sometimes even possible to buff out small scratches on the exterior of the pots using a paste of water and a non-abrasive cleanser or baking soda.
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    Clean stainless steel knives. The best way to maintain stainless steel knives is to wipe off any excess food with a dish towel during and immediately after use. This prevents food from drying onto the knives, making it very difficult to remove.
    • Be sure to exercise caution when cleaning knives, in order to prevent cuts. Hold the handle of the knife, then draw the dishcloth along the length of the blade, using slow deliberate movements.[4]


  • Always wear gloves when using abrasive cleaning products, as they may cause damage to your skin.
  • Never clean stainless steel with bleach or ammonia. These products will react with the metal and cause accelerated corrosion.

Things You'll Need

  • Stainless steel cookware
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Scouring pad
  • Clean cloth
  • Club soda
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Stainless steel polish (optional)

Article Info

Categories: Care and Use of Cooking Equipment