How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans & Cookware

Stainless steel pots and pans expertly conduct and maintain heat, making them a powerhouse addition to your commercial kitchen. There are various types of stainless steel and without the proper care and use, it can quickly acquire unsightly burn marks, stuck-on food, and discoloration. If you’re wondering what the best way to clean stainless steel pans is, read below to find a method that works best for you.

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How to Clean Burnt Food off Stainless Steel Pans

Even the most seasoned chef can experience stubborn food particles gripping the bottom of their stainless steel pots and pans. Below are several tried and true methods you can use to clean stainless steel pans with stuck-on food.

Remove Burnt Food with Boiling Water

Cleaning Stainless Steel Pan with sponge

When it comes to removing burnt food from stainless steel, using boiling water may be the simplest solution. The heat from the water helps to loosen the leftover food from your pot, making it easier to remove. If you're considering 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.
  5. Remove food: Once boiling, you can use a spatula to scrape away excess food with ease.

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.

Remove Burnt Food with Cream of Tartar

While it’s typically less available on-hand than baking soda, cream of tartar is an effective tool for ridding stainless steel pans of stuck-on food. Simply mix cream of tartar with water to create a paste and cover affected areas in your pan. Allow the mixture to soak overnight in the pan. Rinse and scrub the pan out to remove any remaining particles.

Removing Burnt Food with Salt and Lime

Salt and lime can be combined to create an effective cleaning solution when it comes to removing burnt food. The acidity of the lime works to combat tough particles burned onto the pan, while the coarseness of the salt makes it easier to scrub away loose food. To remove stuck-on food using salt and lime, follow these steps:

  1. Add salt and lime: Squeeze lime juice into your pan and add salt.
  2. Let the mixture rest: Allow the mixture to rest in the pan for several minutes.
  3. Add more salt: Sprinkle more salt into the pan.
  4. Scrub: Immediately begin scrubbing with a non-abrasive scrubber.
  5. Rinse: Once excess food is removed, rinse and dry as normal.

How to Clean Burnt Stainless Steel Pans

Overheating your cookware can easily lead to unpleasant burn marks on the bottom and inside of your pan. The following are a few easy methods you can use when wondering how to clean a burnt stainless steel pot.

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 Burn Marks by Boiling Salt

Generally, salt is more effective at removing burn marks from the inside of a pan rather than the bottom. It's important to note that in this method, lemon juice or vinegar can be substituted for the salt depending on what ingredients you have on hand. Adhere to the following steps to properly remove burn marks with salt:

how to clean burned stainless steel pans
  1. Add water: Fill the pan with enough water to cover the affected areas.
  2. Boil: Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Add salt: Once boiling, add a few spoonfuls of salt and immediately turn the heat off.
  4. Let the water sit: Allow the water to sit for a few hours.
  5. Remove water: Empty the water out of the pot or pan.
  6. Scrub: Using a non-abrasive sponge, scrub the inside of the pan.
  7. Repeat: If necessary, repeat steps 1-6.

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 in your 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.
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How to Clean Discolored Stainless Steel Pans

Cleaning stainless steel pans with vinegar

If you’ve managed to keep your stainless steel pots and pans free from burn marks and stuck-on food, you may still experience rainbow-colored discolorations or white calcium build-up. Here are a few simple methods for restoring your stainless steel back to its classic silver state.

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 excess tomato sauce leftover in your kitchen, consider using it to remove discoloration from your stainless steel pots and pans. The acidity from the tomatoes reacts with the discoloration similarly to vinegar, removing discoloration from the affected areas. If you're interested in using tomato sauce to clean your stainless steel pots and pans, follow these steps:

  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 as normal. Additionally, you can leave the tomato sauce in the pan overnight without simmering.

General Care for Stainless Steel Pans

Once you’ve made your favorite pans shining like new, there are a few general tips and tricks to keeping your cookware in proper, working condition:

  • Prevent water spots by always drying pans immediately after washing.
  • To remove water spots, dampen your pan and rub down with a moist sponge and baking soda.
  • Never add salt to water until it’s boiling. This can cause pitting corrosion, which leaves small dents in the bottom of your pan.
  • Cold food is more likely to stick to the pan. Bring meats and refrigerated foods to room temperature before adding to the pan.
  • Do not use cold water to clean a hot pan, this can cause warping and disfiguration.
  • Steel wool and other harsh scrubbers or cleaners can scratch stainless steel surfaces.
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Stainless steel pots and pans offer high-quality conductivity and effectively distribute heat. This makes them some of your most-used tools in the kitchen. And when it comes to keeping them clean, these simple tips and tricks can help you transform your oldest pots and pans into like-new cookware. This can extend the life of your stainless steel pans and keep you on-budget by eliminating the need to buy replacements.

Posted in: Cleaning Tips | By Rachel Jenkins
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