It might have occurred to you that stainless steel isn't exactly stainless. It's certainly highly resistant to permanent stains, but almost nothing is truly stainless. On the bright side, most discoloration on stainless cookware can be removed. Some stains, like water spots, are usually remedied with a simple change in the washing method. Others call for a relatively strong cleaner and some scrubbing. But with proper care and maintenance, stainless steel cookware can last a lifetime. And if you put in just a little extra effort, you can keep it looking almost new for the life of the cookware.
The best bet for everyday cleaning is hand-washing your cookware in hot, soapy water and drying it thoroughly with a soft cloth before storing. Using a dishwasher is controversial; experts are divided on the effect the detergents have on stainless steel finishes. If you do use the dishwasher and want to prevent spotting, remove your cookware after the wash cycle and dry it by hand.
Hard Water Stains
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, fill the pot or pan with one part vinegar to three parts water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then take it off the heat and let it cool to the touch. Wash the pan thoroughly with hot, soapy water and dry it with a towel.
To remove stuck, burned-on food, fill the pan with enough warm, soapy water to cover the mess and let it sit for an hour. Then put the pan back on the burner and boil the soapy water for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the water cool to the touch, then scrub the pan with a nylon scouring pad. Wash it out again with hot, soapy water, rinse, and dry. Repeat the same process for stubborn residue.
Dos and Don'ts
Stainless steel cookware often requires stronger cleaners and more elbow grease than other types of cookware. The good news is, it can take it. With that in mind, you should 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. Instead, opt for nylon-net scouring pads or plastic or nylon brushes.
Also, don't use chlorine bleach on your stainless steel cookware. Bleach will stain and damage stainless steel.
Restoring the Shine
To bring back that brand-new shine, wet the cookware's surface and sprinkle on some baking soda. Rub gently with a synthetic scouring pad, such as a Dobie (a sponge covered with nylon netting) or a Scotch-Brite green pad, then rinse thoroughly and hand-dry. You can also remove fingerprints using glass cleaner and a paper towel or soft cloth, but don't apply glass cleaner to surfaces that will contact food. You can try to buff out minor scratches using a paste of water and a non-abrasive cleanser.