How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware

stainless steel pot

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 5 - 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $10

Stainless steel cookware is found in almost every commercial and home kitchen. The pots and pans are durable, retain heat well, are suitable for all types of stovetops, and are non-reactive when preparing acidic foods. But even though they resist corrosion and rust, they can become discolored from burned food and develop unattractive water spots and streaks.

Learn how to properly clean stainless steel cookware with products you probably have in your pantry and tips on how to keep them looking their best.

How Often to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless pots, pans, and bakeware should be washed after every use. If they have been in storage or have become discolored, clean each piece thoroughly before using it in the kitchen.

Before You Begin

Stainless steel cookware requires some special cleaning considerations. You may have some dishwashing habits that need to be unlearned. Here are several rules to follow:

  • Do not use undiluted chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or cleaners containing chlorine on stainless steel. There is a chemical reaction that can cause pitting of the metal.
  • Do not use steel wool or brushes with metal tines to scour stainless steel. They can cause minute scratches that may rust and cause food particles to stick to the cookware surface.
  • Do not plunge hot stainless steel cookware into a sink of water. Extreme temperature changes can cause warping.
  • Always follow the grain of the metal as you clean it to prevent scratches and streaking.
  • If you have hard water, use a water conditioner or distilled water when cleaning stainless steel cookware, especially for the final rinse.
  • Always dry freshly cleaned stainless steel cookware promptly with a microfiber cloth to prevent water spots. Do not air dry in a dish rack.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Sink or large dishpan
  • 1 Stovetop
  • 1 Wooden spatula
  • 1 Nonabrasive sponge
  • 1 Microfiber towel

Materials

  • 1 bottle Dishwashing liquid
  • 1 container Baking soda
  • 1 bottle Distilled white vinegar

Instructions

How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware After Every Use

Warning

While some cookware manufacturers state that their cookware can be cleaned in a dishwasher, hand washing is the recommended method to keep the cookware looking its best. Some dishwasher detergents contain harsh ingredients that can damage stainless steel.

  1. Create a Cleaning Solution

    Fill a sink or dishpan with hot water and add a few drops of a good dishwashing liquid, preferably one with a degreaser as one of the main ingredients.

  2. Scrape Away Excess Food

    Use a wooden spatula to scrape away excess food left on the stainless steel cookware. Dispose of the food properly.

  3. Wash the Cookware

    Submerge the cooled cookware in hot soapy water. Use a non-abrasive sponge to wash the inside and outside of the cookware.

    rinsing stainless steel

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  4. Rinse and Dry

    Once the cookware is clean, rinse well with warm water. Immediately use a lint-free microfiber towel to dry the cookware thoroughly. This will help prevent water spots and streaks.

    wiping stainless steel cookware with a soft cloth

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

How to Remove Discoloration From Stainless Steel Cookware

Discoloration from overheating and white spots and streaks left by minerals in water can be removed to restore the finish on stainless steel cookware. If your tap water has a high calcium content (hard water), you'll probably notice chalky white residue on the cookware. To remove this residue, follow the instructions below.

  1. Clean With Vinegar

    Saturate a clean sponge with undiluted distilled white vinegar and wipe away the rainbow-hued discoloration that can appear on stainless steel cookware. Rinse well in warm water and dry with a microfiber towel.

    pouring vinegar and water into a stainless steel pan

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

  2. Remove Mineral Build-up With Vinegar

    To remove chalky white mineral residue from the bottom of stainless steel cookware, fill the pan with one part distilled white vinegar and three parts water. Place on a stovetop and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the pan to cool completely before washing as usual.

  3. Remove Water Spots With Baking Soda

    Sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and gently scrub the water spots on the stainless steel following the grain of the metal. Rinse with warm water and dry with a microfiber towel.

    don't scrub against the grain

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

How to Remove Stuck-on Food From Stainless Steel Cookware

  1. Boil Away Stuck-on Food

    If hand-washing the cookware just won't get rid of stuck-on food, let heat solve the problem.

    1. Add enough soapy water to the cookware to cover the stuck-on mess.
    2. Place it on a stovetop and heat until the water is boiling.
    3. Boil the soapy water for 10 to 15 minutes.
    4. Remove from the heating element and use a wooden spatula or nylon scouring pad to scrape away the food.
    5. Allow the water and pan to cool completely and then wash as usual.
    stainless saucepan filled with warm soapy water

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

  2. Tackle Burned-on Food

    If soapy water and heat didn't remove the food...

    1. Fill the pan with enough hot water to cover the burned-on food and add one-half cup of baking soda.
    2. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
    3. Let the pan remain on the stovetop simmering until the food begins to loosen.
    4. Use a wooden spatula to scrape away the food and wash as usual.
    5. Add a sprinkle of baking soda or a gentle abrasive cleaner like Bar Keepers Friend on a damp sponge to tackle any remaining stuck-on bits.
    Bon Ami cleanser and stainless pots

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

    Warning

    Don't use chlorine bleach on your stainless steel cookware. Bleach will stain and damage stainless steel. 

Tips to Keep Stainless Steel Cookware Looking Great Longer

  • Help prevent burned-on food by preheating the stainless steel cookware before adding the oil. Allow the oil to become hot before adding food.
  • If not using oil, allow any refrigerated foods to come to room temperature before adding them to a hot stainless steel pan.
  • Avoid pitting by allowing water to come to a boil before adding salt when cooking pasta.
  • Do not allow stainless steel pans to air dry. Dry with a lint-free cloth after rinsing to prevent water spots.
  • Use a non-abrasive cleaner—like Bon Ami Powder Cleanser or Bar Keepers Friend—for general cleaning, stain removal, and keeping the cookware shiny as new. Follow the manufacturer's directions for use.
  • Don't use metal scouring pads or abrasive cleaners. Although they do an excellent job of removing stuck-on food, all stainless steel cookware makers caution that abrasives can scratch the surface of the cookware.
Originally written by
Sarah Aguirre

Sarah Aguirre is a housekeeping expert with over 20 years of experience cleaning residentially and commercially. Over that time, she has been writing about tips and tricks for housekeeping and organizing a home for national publications.

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