Stainless steel is a popular material used in kitchen appliances and cookware. Stainless steel appliances give kitchens a modern look and can look like new for years after installation, while stainless steel cookware is known for its heat retention and durability. Like most things that are used regularly at home, the best way to keep stainless steel cookware looking new is to clean it after each use. Layers of burnt-on grease are much harder to remove from pots and pans and in some cases may never come off at all.
It may seem like a daunting task, but cleaning stainless steel pans is actually simpler than cleaning stainless steel appliances (no need to wipe with the grain here) and luckily, our experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care and Cleaning Lab have found the best ways to do it in the shortest amount of time. Reach for an expert-tested stainless steel cleaner and follow the steps below to keep your cookware in tip-top shape.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans after Everyday Use
The best way to clean stainless steel pots and pans after everyday use is with your usual dish soap and warm water. If you have stubborn spots or bits of food that could use a little bit of work, follow the steps below to get rid of them quickly.
What You’ll Need
- Dish soap
- Non-abrasive sponge
- Scrape away any leftover food bits from the pan. Use a wooden spoon to gently dislodge any stuck-on bits while the pan is still warm, but not hot.
- If there are any bits of food still stuck on the pan, soak the pan in hot water. After the pan has cooled completely, place it in a large pot of hot water or fill the sink with hot water and allow the pan to soak for at least 30 minutes. Any remaining food bits should loosen up.
- Scrub the pan with a scratch-free sponge. Dip the sponge in a soapy water solution and scrub the inside and outside of the pan thoroughly.
Expert tip: For extra-stubborn stuck-on bits, fill the pan with water, place it on the stove and bring it to a boil for several minutes to loosen up stubborn or burnt-on food.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans with Burnt-on Stains
You may be inclined to immediately go for a heavy-duty scouring pad or steel wool pad to get heavy, burnt-on stains off your pots and pans, but you may be doing more harm than good. These products are often too abrasive for stainless steel and can damage the surface of pans.
The safest way to get stained stainless steel pans back to their original shine is by using a dedicated stainless steel cookware cleaner. If you use a store-bought cleaner, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure that the product you use is safe to use on cookware, not just stainless steel appliances. Some stainless steel appliance cleaners often leave behind a protective coating that is not food-safe.
What You’ll Need
- Stainless steel cookware cleaner or baking soda
- Non-scratch sponge
- Add water to the pot or pan, place it on your stove and bring to a boil. Allow the water to boil for a few minutes then turn off the flame and use a wooden spoon to scrape away any stuck-on bits of food inside of the pot.
- Make a paste with your favorite stainless steel cleaning powder or baking soda and water. Allow the pan to completely cool, then pour a bit of the cleaner or baking soda right inside the pan and add just enough water to form a paste.
- Use a sponge to spread the paste and scrub the pan. Unlike with stainless steel appliances, you don’t have to scrub cookware in the direction of the grain. Scrub in a circular motion and work the paste into all parts of the pan.
- Rinse and dry the pan thoroughly. After you are satisfied with your scrubbing, rinse the paste off of your pan well and dry with a towel to prevent water spots.
Can you ruin a stainless steel pan?
Stainless steel pans can become scratched if they are cleaned improperly or discolored if they are not cleaned thoroughly enough. They can withstand more abrasive methods cleaning methods than stainless steel appliances, but there still are a few things you should never use to clean them. Steel wool pads and other very abrasive cleaning products can scratch the surface of pans and damage their smooth finish. Oven cleaners, grill cleaners and products containing bleach should never be used on stainless steel cookware as they are too harsh.
The same goes for using vinegar to clean stainless steel pans. Vinegar is much too acidic and can damage the look of stainless steel. If must use vinegar, dilute it with at least equal parts water and do not allow it to sit in the pan. The safest option is always to start with the most gentle approach — dish soap and a non-abrasive sponge — and work your way up to slightly more abrasive products as needed. Running cold water over a still-hot stainless steel pan can also cause the material to warp and lose its shape.
Tips to Keep Stainless Steel Pans Looking Like New
- Use a lower heat setting to prevent food from burning onto your pans and causing discoloration.
- If you have a gas stove, use a burner that is the same size or smaller than the base of your pot. If the flame reaches up on the sides of your pot, the surface can become damaged.
- Try to remove stains as they happen to prevent build-up. It’s harder to get rid of multiple layers of burnt-on grease than it is to remove just one stain at a time.
- Allow your stainless steel pots and pans to cool completely before running them under cold water. If not, you risk warping the material.
Home Care & Cleaning Lab Reviews Analyst
Jodhaira (she/her) is a product reviews analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Home Care & Cleaning Lab, where she tests and writes about home appliances, cleaning products and cleaning tips. Prior to joining GH in 2021, she graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelor’s degree in forensic science and spent two years as an analyst in an environmental lab in Queens.