How to Care for Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

stainless steel pot

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Stainless steel is arguably the most versatile material for kitchen equipment, from pans to utensils to appliances to countertops. It's extremely durable, highly corrosion-resistant, and virtually heatproof. But that doesn't mean it's bulletproof. Stainless steel can be damaged by abrasive pads, the wrong kinds of cleaners, and even ordinary things like water and salt. Despite its name and reputation, stainless steel can both stain and rust. Following a few basic "dont's" will help keep your stainless steel kitchenware out of trouble.

How to Cook with Stainless Steel

Don't let these potential mistakes scare you away from cooking with stainless steel, however. There are countless benefits of cooking with stainless steel pots and pans.

  • Long-lasting: They're workhorses and last forever if they're taken care of the right way.
  • Lightweight: They can be more lightweight than enameled cast-iron pots and pans.
  • Non-reactive: They are non-reactive with acidic ingredients which means the cookware won't chemically react with any food and won't transfer any type of metallic taste into what you're cooking.
  • Non-stick: They can be coaxed into being non-stick by preheating the cookware, then adding a thin layer of cooking oil after two to three minutes—once the oil shimmers, it's set to cook.

Here are seven warnings to help you keep your stainless steel cookware beautiful and bright for years to come.

Don't Bleach Stainless Steel

While it may be second nature to bleach everything, stainless steel and chlorine do not mix. Be aware that bleach and chlorides can be included in different types of cleaners. If you accidentally get chlorine on your stainless steel, rinse it off and quickly and thoroughly.


Stay away from household chlorine bleach and other cleaners containing chlorine or chloride when you clean stainless steel.

bleach shouldn't be used on stainless steel

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Don't Forget to Rinse

Gritty or dirty water can leave a residue on your finish. It can also stain or pit the surface of your stainless steel. Be sure to rinse completely. Similarly, residue from cleaning solutions left on a stainless steel surface can stain or damage the finish. Rinsing is a key component of cleaning stainless steel.

rinsing stainless steel

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Don't Use Steel Wool or Steel Brushes

Steel wool and steel brushes leave little particles on the surface of the stainless steel. These particles eventually rust and can stain the surface of the steel. Steel wool and brushes are also abrasive and can scratch the surface of your stainless steel. Instead, use plastic scouring pads, scrubbers, or brushes, or use a soft cloth for general washing.

don't use steel or wool brushes

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Don't Assume It's the Cleaner

If you do have some spotting or staining, and you've followed all of the rules, it may not be the stainless steel cleaner. Water, especially hard water, can leave spotting and staining on stainless steel surfaces. Drying with a towel after rinsing usually prevents problems.

Don't Scrub Against the Grain

Some stainless steel has a brushed look made up of tiny lines in the metal; this is the grain of the finish. For best results, always scrub, wipe, or polish stainless steel "with" (parallel to) the grain rather than "against" or across the grain. Cleaning with the grain gets the surface cleaner and helps maintain the original finish and texture of the steel.

don't scrub against the grain

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Don't Oil a Cold Pan

Stainless steel, like other metals, expands when it is heated. Letting the pan heat up before adding oil or other fat results in a more non-stick surface than starting with oil in a cold pan. At the other end of the spectrum, burned-on oil can be very hard to remove from stainless steel. The best way to clean burned oil is to soak it overnight in hot, soapy water, then scrub with a plastic scrubber. Better yet, avoid the problem altogether by using cast iron or enameled iron cookware for deep frying and other cooking that uses a lot of oil heated for long periods.

cooking oil

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Don't Salt Water Before Boiling

Salting the water in a stainless steel pot before heating the water can lead to pitting. These tiny bits of rust on the stainless surface are permanent. Prevention is just as simple: let the water boil before adding salt. Just be careful to add a little bit at a time because adding salt to boiling water can make it boil over.