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.
Don't Bleach Stainless Steel
While it may be second nature to bleach everything, stainless steel and chlorine do not mix. Stay away from household chlorine bleach and other cleaners containing chlorine or chloride when you clean stainless steel. 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.
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.
Don't Use Steel Wool or Steel Brushes
Steel wool and steel brushes leave little particles in 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, scrubbies, or brushes, or simply use a soft cloth for general washing.
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 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.
Don't Salt Water Before Boiling
Salting the water in a stainless steel pot before heating the water can lead to pitting, tiny bits of rust on the stainless surface. It's a simple mistake, but pitting is irreversible. 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.