How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans & Cookware

When it comes to types of cookware, stainless steel is a common choice for commercial kitchens because it’s durable and non-reactive with acidic foods like tomato sauce. Even though stainless steel is touted as being non-corrosive, without proper cleaning and care, it can still become pitted or rusted. Follow our guide for cleaning your commercial stainless steel pots and pans to keep them in the best shape possible.

Shop Cleaning Sponges

Tips for Cleaning Stainless Steel Pots

The key to maintaining your stainless steel cookware is to avoid scratches, scrapes, and deposits of chlorides from cleaners, hard water, or salt. Follow these cleaning tips:

  • Use the Right Tools - Always use a non-abrasive or “stainless steel approved scrubber”. Stay away from mechanically abrasive scrubbers like steel wool or wire scrubbers. When stainless steel is scratched, it becomes vulnerable to corrosion.
  • Scrub with the Grain - Stainless steel has polish lines that look similar to grain lines. Always scrub parallel with the polish lines.
  • Avoid Chlorides - Exposure to chlorides over time can result in stainless steel becoming pitted, which makes the surface vulnerable to rust and corrosion. Chlorides are present in salt, hard water, and chlorinated cleaners.

How to Clean Burnt Food off Stainless Steel Pans

For routine cleaning of your stainless steel cookware, dish soap will work just fine. But what do you do if the pan has become scorched with burnt food? Follow these methods for removing burnt food from stainless steel pots and pans.

Use a Commercial Cleaner

Cleaning stainless steel pan with Barkeeper's Friend commercial cleaner

Before trying any other method, reach for a gentle but effective commercial cleaner like Barkeeper’s Friend. These cleaners are designed to clean without scratching or damaging stainless steel surfaces. If you're removing burnt food or scorch marks, the powdered formula works best. Follow these steps:

  1. Moisten: Wet the pan, making sure to saturate the burnt food.
  2. Add Cleaner: Sprinkle the cleaner onto the bottom of the pan to form a paste.
  3. Scrub: Scrub the paste into the scorched food with a non-abrasive scrubber or soft cloth.
  4. Rinse: Rinse the pan with clean water.
  5. Repeat: If the burn marks are still present, repeat the steps.

Note: For stubborn burn marks and carbon build-up, you may need to use a more powerful cleaner like Carbon Off.

Remove Burnt Food with Boiling Water

Cleaning Stainless Steel Pan with sponge

Boiling water is a simple cleaning solution when you don't have any commercial cleaners on hand. The heat from the water helps to loosen the leftover food from your pot, making it easier to remove. When using the boiling water method, follow these steps:

  1. Scrub: Begin by scrubbing away as much food as possible with a non-abrasive scrubber.
  2. Add soap: Fill the pot or pan with water and a bit of dish soap.
  3. Submerge food: For this method to work, you must ensure the stuck-on food is completely submerged.
  4. Boil: Bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes.
  5. Remove from heat: Remove the pot from the burner and let it cool.
  6. Scrape food: The food should be loosened enough to scrape with a spatula.
  7. Repeat: If this method doesn't work, repeat the process or try one of the techniques below.

Remove Burnt Food with Vinegar and Baking Soda

For this method, you’ll need two common cleaning ingredients: vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar is an effective cleaning solution for stuck-on foods thanks to its acetic acid content, which helps break down tough food particles.

  1. Add water: Fill the bottom of your pot or pan with water, enough to cover the stuck-on food.
  2. Boil: Once the pot or pan has been filled with water, add 1 cup of vinegar and bring water to a boil.
  3. Remove from heat: Once boiling, remove from the heat and add in 2 Tbsp. of baking soda.
  4. Mix: Briefly mix together and empty the pan.
  5. Scrub: Use a non-abrasive sponge or scrubber to rid the pan of any remaining food particles.

How to Clean Burnt Stainless Steel Pans

Scrubbing burnt stainless steel pan

Burnt food or carbon buildup that is heated up repeatedly can turn into stubborn burn marks that are more difficult to remove. Getting rid of burn marks on the inside and outside of a cooking pot requires a little more elbow grease.

Removing Burn Marks with Baking Soda

You most likely have everything you need in your kitchen to clean away burn marks with baking soda. For this method, start by making sure the pan is completely dry. Flip the pan over and sprinkle baking soda evenly over the bottom of the pan. Use a dry cloth to rub the baking soda into the burn marks. You can add a small amount of water to the baking soda to make a paste if you’d prefer. Once you’re satisfied, rinse off any excess baking soda and dry.

Removing Burn Marks with Baking Soda and Dish Soap

If you have gentle dish soap on hand, simply make a paste using dish soap and baking soda. Apply the paste to any affected areas and leave it on for several hours. When you’re ready, simply wash thoroughly and dry as normal.

Removing Burnt Oil with Soda

If you’re wondering how to clean burnt oil from stainless steel pans, soda may be a surprising answer. This method works well on sticky, stuck-on substances like caramel as well, thanks to cola’s acidic properties. Below, we've included a list of steps to help you remove burnt oil from your stainless steel pots and pans using soda:

  1. Add cola: Pour enough cola into the pan to cover burnt areas.
  2. Let soda simmer: Bring the soda to a gentle simmer.
  3. Remove heat: Once simmering, remove from heat and use a spatula to scrape away burnt oil or other burnt-on substances.
Back to Top

How to Clean Discolored Stainless Steel Pans

Cleaning stainless steel pans with vinegar

Even though it's called stainless steel, your stainless steel cookware could become stained over time. Here are a few simple methods for restoring the shine of your stainless steel cookware.

Removing Discoloration with Vinegar

Vinegar is an effective ingredient for ridding your pan of any unsightly discoloration typically caused by overheating. Simply wash your pan with vinegar and rinse with water to remove discoloration.

Additionally, vinegar can be used to rid your pan of white calcium build-up stains. Make a mixture of one part vinegar to three parts water and boil in the affected pot or pan. Allow the mixture to cool, empty the pan, and wash as normal.

Removing Discoloration with Tomato Sauce

If you happen to have tomato sauce left over in your kitchen, try using it to remove discoloration from your stainless steel pots and pans. The acidity from the tomatoes is effective at eliminating discoloration. Follow these steps to use tomato products to fix the discoloration on your stainless steel cookware:

  1. Add tomato sauce: Fill the pot or pan with tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes until the affected areas are completely submerged.
  2. Simmer: Allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 10 minutes, adding water if necessary.
  3. Empty the pan: Remove the sauce and rinse the pan clean. You can also leave the tomato sauce in the pan overnight without simmering.

General Care for Stainless Steel Pans

Once your favorite pans are shining like new, follow these general care tips:

  • Prevent water spots by always drying pans immediately after washing.
  • To remove water spots, dampen your pan and rub it down with a moist sponge and baking soda.
  • Avoid cleaning methods that recommend using salt. Repeated cleaning with salt or salt water can lead to pitting in stainless steel.
  • Cold food is more likely to stick to the pan. Bring meats and refrigerated foods to room temperature before adding them to the pan.
  • Avoid using cold water on a hot pan because it can result in warping and disfiguration.
  • Steel wool and other harsh scrubbers or cleaners can scratch stainless steel surfaces.
Back to Top

Stainless steel pots and pans offer high-quality conductivity and heat distribution. This makes them a popular choice for commercial kitchens. And when it comes to keeping them clean, these simple tips and tricks can help your oldest pots and pans regain their original shine.

Posted in: Cleaning Tips|By Rachel Jenkins
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.
Webstaurant TVProduct demonstrations, how-to's, & descriptions ArticlesIn-depth information and tips for running a successful restaurant Buying GuidesTools to help you find the perfect product for your business