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How to Clean Nasty Stainless Steel Pans and Cookware (13 Methods)


Here's the ultimate list of ways to clean nasty stainless steel pans and cookware with regular household products. I'm talking burnt, caked on food that looks impossible to clean but when you apply these methods, your pots and pans will shine again.

Stainless steel pans and cookware on counter

Stainless steel can make for some wonderful cookware for several reasons. First, it resists corrosion. In fact, this is one of the most notable benefits of using stainless steel cookware. Second, it’s mostly non-stick. Third, it does a great job retaining the taste of your food. Finally, stainless steel is pretty easy to maintain and keep clean.

However, because it’s not totally non-stick like some other pots and pans, it does take a little effort to keep these stainless steel cooking items clean. So how do you clean them without harming their surfaces?

The good news is that you can clean discolorations, burnt foods, and even sticky or caked-on foods off your stainless steel cookware—and get your pans and pans looking shiny and new—with items you have in your kitchen right now.  You can also buy many great eco-friendly stainless steel cleaners.

The following are 13 ways to clean stainless steel pans and cookware that will help you clean your cooking set in order to keep it in top condition.

Related: How to clean stainless steel jewelry & How to clean stainless steel appliances

1) The Vinegar, Water, and Boil Method

bottle of white vinegar

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Half Cup Vinegar; Water; Wooden Spatula; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: 10 to 15 Minutes

Elbow grease rating: Minimal to Moderate

Step 1: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 2: Pour half cup of vinegar into the pan

Step 3: Add enough water to the pan to cover the burnt parts

Step 4: Bring to a boil

Step 5: Use a wooden spatula to scrape the burned particles off the pan’s surface

Step 6: Empty the liquids into a sink

Step 7: Rinse under warm water

Step 8: Use a sponge to work the burned particles off the pan’s surface

Step 9: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

2) The Barkeepers Friend Method

stainless steel pot with burnt food on the inside

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Barkeepers Friend Cleaner; Hot Water; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Clean, Dry Cloth; Rubber Gloves

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 30 minutes

Elbow grease rating: Moderate

Step 1: Fill the pan with enough hot water to cover the burnt or caked-on food particles

Step 2: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 3: Bring to a boil and turn off burner

Step 4: Empty the liquids into a sink, leaving in about a cup of water

Step 5: Sprinkle enough Barkeepers Friend cleaner into the pan to make a thick paste

Step 6: Wearing rubber gloves, use non-abrasive sponge to scrub particles from the pan

Step 7: Rinse under hot water

Step 8: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

3) The Cream of Tartar Method

Cooks' Ingredients Cream Of Tartar Waitrose 140g - Pack of 2

Click image for more info

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan. It also works for the outer side surfaces including burned bottoms of the pan.

What you will need: Cream Of Tartar (not tartar sauce for seafood); Water; Non-Abrasive Sponge, Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Overnight

Elbow grease rating: Moderate (due to the time it takes for this method to work)

Step 1: In the pan, mix enough cream of tartar with warm water to form a paste

Step 2: With non-abrasive sponge, work paste over affected surface of the pan

Step 3: Allow the mixture to soak in the pan overnight

Step 4: Rinse under warm water

Step 5: Wearing rubber gloves, scrub the pan to remove remaining burnt or caked-on food particles

Step 6: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

4) The Salt-and-Lime Method

Lime juice and sault for cleaning stainless steel pots pans and cookware

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan. It also works for the outer side surfaces including burned bottoms of the pan.

What you will need: Lime Juice; Salt; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 15 to 20 Minutes

Elbow grease rating: Minimal

Step 1: Squeeze lime juice into the pan

Step 2: Add a couple teaspoons of salt

Step 3: Mix into a paste

Step 4: Allow the mixture to sit in the pan for about 10 minutes

Step 5: Wearing rubber gloves, scrub the affected surface with a non-abrasive sponge

Step 6: Rinse under warm water

Step 7: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

5) The Easy-off Oven Cleaner Method

Easy-Off Professional Fume Free Max Oven Cleaner, Lemon 24 Ounce

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan. It also works for the outer side surfaces including burned bottoms of the pan.

What you will need: Easy-Off Oven Cleaner; Warm Water; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: 10 to 15 Minutes

Elbow grease rating: Minimal

Step 1: Spray a generous amount of Easy-Off onto affected surface of the pan

Step 2: Use a non-abrasive sponge to work the cleaner over the affected surfaces

Step 3: Rinse with warm water

Step 4: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

6) The Baking Soda and Dish Soap Method

Jar of baking soda for cleaning stainless steel pots and pans

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan. It also works for the outer side surfaces including burned bottoms of the pan.

What you will need: Baking Soda; Gentle Dish Soap; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 3 Hours

Elbow grease rating: Minimal to moderate (due to the time it takes for this method to work)

Step 1: Make a paste with baking soda and dish soap

Step 2: Apply the paste to the affected surface of the pan

Step 3: Leave on for approximately 2 to 3 hours

Step 4: Add warm water and scrub with non-abrasive sponge

Step 5: Rinse under warm water

Step 6: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

7) The Boiling Salt Method

boiling salt for cleaning stainless steel pans and cookware

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Salt; Water; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Several Hours

Elbow grease rating: Moderate to High (due to the time and effort it takes for this method to work)

Step 1: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 2: Fill the pan with enough warm water to cover the burnt surface of the pan

Step 3: Bring to a boil

Step 4: Add several teaspoons of salt and mix

Step 5: Immediately turn off burner and remove pan

Step 6: Allow salted water to sit in pan for several hours

Step 7: Wearing rubber gloves, scrub with non-abrasive sponge

Step 8: Rinse under warm water

Step 9: This method may need to be repeated

Step 10: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

8) The Cola Method

Man holding a bottle of Coca Cola

This method is good for removing burnt oil and sticky substances such as caramel from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Cola; Wooden Spatula; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 30 Minutes

Elbow grease rating: Moderate

Step 1: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 2: Pour enough cola into the pan to cover the burnt or sticky surfaces

Step 3: Bring to a gentle simmer

Step 4: Remove from heat

Step 5: Use a wooden spatula to scrape the burned or sticky particles off the pan’s surface

Step 6: Rinse under warm water

Step 7: Scrub with non-abrasive sponge to remove remaining particles

Step 8: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

9) The Vinegar and Baking Soda Method

Vinegar and baking soda for cleaning stainless steel pots pans and cookware

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Vinegar; Baking Soda; Wooden Spatula; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 30 Minutes

Elbow grease rating: Moderate

Step 1: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 2: Pour in enough vinegar to cover bottom of pan

Step 3: Bring to a boil

Step 4: Add about a half cup baking soda and allow to sizzle

Step 5: Use a wooden spatula to scrape the burned particles off the pan’s surface

Step 6: Allow to boil for several minutes

Step 7: Empty contents into a sink

Step 8: Rinse with warm water

Step 9: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

10) The Tomato Sauce Method

Tomato sauce for cleaning stainless steel pots and cookware

This method is good for removing discolorations from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Tomato Sauce; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Overnight

Elbow grease rating: Moderate to High (due to the time it takes for this method to work)

Step 1: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 2: Add enough tomato sauce to cover burnt or otherwise affected surfaces of the pan

Step 3: Bring to a simmer

Step 4: Allow to simmer for approximately 10 minutes

Step 5: Remove from heat

Step 6: Allow sauce to sit in pan overnight

Step 7: Rinse under warm water, scrub with non-abrasive sponge if necessary

Step 8: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

11) The Dish Soap and Dryer Sheet Method

Dryer sheets used to clean stainless steel pans

This method is a great hack that’s been making the rounds via the internet recently. It’s good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan.

What you will need: Gentle Dish Soap; Dry Sheet; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 1 Hour

Elbow grease rating: Minimal

Step 1: Place the pan in a sink

Step 2: Add warm water to cover all affected surfaces of the pan

Step 3: Add a dryer sheet

Step 4: Add dish soap

Step 5: Swish dish soap around in warm water to work up a little suds

Step 6: Allow to soak for one hour

Step 7: Wearing rubber gloves, use a non-abrasive sponge to clean off remaining particles (this step may not be necessary, as the dryer sheet and dish soap typically pull up all the particles during the soak)

Step 8: Rinse under warm water

Step 9: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

12) The WD40 Method

WD-40 Multi-Use Product with SMART STRAW SPRAYS 2 WAYS, 14.4 OZ [2-Pack]

WD40 has a lot of uses. For cleaning, it’s typically used for cleaning stainless steel appliances such as refrigerators, but obviously enough, the same concept works for stainless steel cookware. This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan. It also works for the outer side surfaces including burned bottoms of the pan.

What you will need: WD40; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 10-15 Minutes

Elbow grease rating: Minimal

Step 1: Spray WD40 over entire surface of pan, or just on burned or otherwise affected surfaces

Step 2: If necessary (and wearing rubber gloves), use non-abrasive sponge to work over sprayed surfaces

Step 3: Rinse under hot water (this is necessary because WD40 is a petroleum-based product that should not be left on surfaces that will contain food)

Step 4: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

13) The Simple Boiled Water Method

Cleaning stainless steel pot by boiling water in it

This method is good for removing burnt and caked-on areas from the inner cooking surface of your pan. This is a helpful method if you have no other products in your house, or you just don’t want to use any other product such as Barkeepers Friend, Easy-Off, etc. However, most kitchens do contain salt or dish soap, so using the simple boiled water method may not be necessary, as this method tends not to work as well as some of the others on this list.

What you will need: Water; Wooden Spatula; Non-Abrasive Sponge; Rubber Gloves; Clean, Dry Cloth

Estimated cleaning time: Approximately 1 Hour

Elbow grease rating: Minimal to Moderate

Step 1: Place the pan on a burner and turn on

Step 2: Pour enough water into the pan to cover all affected surfaces

Step 3: Bring to a boil

Step 4: Bring to a simmer

Step 5: Allow to simmer for approximately 10 minutes

Step 6: Take the pan off heat and allow to cool down

Step 7: Wearing rubber gloves, use a wooden spatula to work remaining particles off pan surfaces

Step 8: Rinse under warm water

Step 9: Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth

ADDITIONAL TIPS ON MAINTAINING YOUR STAINLESS STEEL PANS AND COOKWARE

Now that your favorite stainless steel pans and cookware are looking brand new again, you undoubtedly don’t want them to get messed up again. Here are some prevention tips and tricks on maintaining your cookware as you work in order to keep them in tip-top shape.

 Notice that every method listed above contains this step: “Hand-dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth.” Why? If water or any kind of moisture sits in your stainless steel pan for any length of time, water spots will form and discolorations will occur. Minerals and substances such as fluoride can cause discolorations on stainless steel. (It’s not the water itself that will cause these discolorations but the minerals.) For this reason, always dry moisture off your stainless steel cookware immediately.

 If you notice water spots, immediately add baking soda and a little warm water to your pan and scrub with a non-abrasive sponge.

 While cooking, add salt to your recipes only after the water begins to boil. Adding salt to water before it boils will cause corrosion that can create dents in the surface of your pan.

 While cooking, leave cold foods out of the refrigerator long enough for them to reach room temperature before placing them in a stainless steel pan. Why? Because cold foods are far more likely to stick to your stainless steel pans than room-temp ones.

 Never use cold water on a stainless steel pan, as cold water will cause warping.

 To remove white streaks from stainless steel cookware, simply soak any affected surfaces with vinegar before you wash them.

 For best results, use warm, soapy water to clean stainless steel pans as you use them, and always dry with a clean, dry cloth. This will keep your cookware looking new and shiny as you go, eliminating the need for using more serious cleaning methods later.

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