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How to clean stainless steel pans – your ultimate guide

Don’t despair about your dirty pots and pans. We show you how to clean stainless steel pans and remove all traces of grease and grime using simple, effective methods.

Updated

A stainless steel pot on a kitchen hob.

Are your stainless steel pans greasy, burnt and downright dirty? Does the thought of cleaning them fill you with dread? The good news is, gleaming stainless steel needn’t be a distant memory. Our ultimate guide shows you how to clean stainless steel pans with minimal effort and fuss, sharing tips and tricks along the way. From heavy build up to light use, we cover the different methods needed to get your pots and pans looking good as new.

You will need:

  • Sponge with scouring pad
  • Scrubbing brush (optional)
  • Kitchen roll
  • Cloth or tea-towel
  • Hot water
  • Washing-up liquid

How to clean stainless steel pans – the quick fix

This method is ideal for cleaning stainless steel pans straight after cooking, when there is only light staining or food residue left in the pan, and nothing is burnt in or welded on. It’s a simple method that will keep your pans gleaming and grime-free after each use.

It’s essential when cleaning stainless steel that you do not use abrasive cleaning tools – avoid steel wool in particular, which can scratch the surface. Read on to learn how to clean stainless steel pots and pans the easy way.

  1. Wipe out your pans

    Use some kitchen roll to wipe away any oil or food residue. You can use a scrubbing brush to break up any food that’s not immediately come off.

  2. Run under hot water

    This will help to remove any surface oil that’s been left. It’s important you use hot water if the pan is still hot, as if the water is too cool, it can cause the steel to warp. Likewise, if the pan has cooled down, use cold water.

  3. Apply soap and water

    Using a non-abrasive sponge (avoid wire-wool, which can scratch and cause damage to your pan), create a lather and scrub your pan both inside and out. If your stainless steel cookware has a grain or pattern, work the sponge along it, rather than against it.

  4. Rinse with water

    Run your pan under some warm water to rinse away any soap suds.

  5. Buff dry

    To avoid any water spots forming, dry your pan immediately after washing it, carefully using a clean cloth or tea towel to working with the grain.

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How to clean a burnt stainless steel pan

Sometimes soap and water isn’t enough to lift the dirt out of your stainless steel pots and pans, especially if it’s burnt in. But before you reach for a harsh chemical cleaner, give these tried and tested home remedies a try.

Cleaning stainless steel pans with baking soda

Bicarbonate of soda – or baking soda – comes up trumps again as a powerful cleaning agent, thanks to its mild abrasive qualities that can cut through dirt and grime.

As bicarb is abrasive, you should test this method first on a small, unnoticeable area to avoid any potential scratches or further damage. This is also a great method to use if you’re wondering how to clean the bottom of stainless steel pans.

  1. Place a tablespoon of baking soda into the pan, adding half a cup of water into the pan with the baking soda.

  2. Using the abrasive side of your sponge, start scrubbing in circular motions, following the grain and making sure you get every nook and cranny.

  3. Add more baking soda and water as required, and continue scrubbing. If the stain is particularly stubborn, leave the paste on overnight.

  4. Rinse the pan under the tap and dry with a cloth. Your pan should be gleaming on the inside, but if you need to get that all over sparkling finish on the outside, follow the next steps.

  5. Run your pan under water, then get a tablespoon of baking soda and scatter it around the sides of the wet pan.

  6. Use the soft part of the sponge and gently wipe around the pan, following the grain.

  7. Focus on the tarnished and burnt areas, applying more elbow grease to help lift the stain.

  8. Repeat the same process with the base of the pan.

  9. Rinse the pan off with soapy water, and wipe over with a clean, dry cloth.

For more great tips, check out our guide on how to clean burnt saucepans.

Cleaning stainless steel pans with lime and salt

Usually reserved for margaritas, this powerful natural duo works to clean away the burnt marks from stainless steel pots and pans by breaking down burnt-on food due to the lime’s acidity and the salt’s abrasiveness.

  1. Cut a lime in half, squeezing the juice of one whole lime into the pan. Then, add enough salt to form a thick paste. You can use coarse or fine salt.

  2. Cover the bottom of the pan with the paste and let it work in for 5-10 minutes.

  3. Add some more salt to the pan to create a courser paste and, using a scouring sponge (not wire wool), start to scrub the pan using circular motions.

  4. Once all the burnt-on foods has started to lift up, rinse out the salt paste and wash the pan in some warm water with some washing up liquid.

  5. Dry-off your pan straight away using a tea towel or cloth.

Cleaning stainless steel pans with oxygen bleach powder

This powerful cleaning agent is environmentally friendly, containing natural soda crystals and hydrogen peroxide, both of which are especially good at tackling stubborn burnt-on stains. When these ingredients come into contact with water, a chemical reaction occurs, releasing oxygen bubbles that help to break down dirt and debris.

  1. Scrape off as much of the burnt-in residue as possible, using a non-abrasive scouring pad or firm plastic spatula.

  2. Fill your pan three quarters full with hot water, adding one quarter of a cup of oxygen bleach liquid or powder.

  3. Put your pan on the hob and heat it up, stirring the bleach solution to help it dissolve.

  4. Once the water has come to the boil, turn off the hob and cover the pot with a lid. Leave it to sit for 30 minutes.

  5. Take the pan over to the sink, for out the bleach solution and give the pan a scrub with a sponge. The burnt debris should have all lifted off.

  6. Rinse your pan with warm water and some washing up liquid, drying straight after with a clean cloth or tea towel.

How to clean stainless steel pans that are discoloured

No matter how much you use your pans, marks will inevitably begin to appear. Over time, watermarks and residue start to accumulate, and you may find your pans beginning to discolour. This can be caused by calcium build up in the water, or by overheating the pan. Luckily, the acetic acid in vinegar works to break down stains, removing unsightly discolouration and restoring the gleam.

  1. For pans that have been discoloured by overheating (they will have rainbow-like markings), soak a sponge in vinegar and rub over the entire pan. Or, you can fill a large bucket or bowl with vinegar and plunge in the stainless steel pots to soak for 10 minutes.

  2. Next, rinse your pan under cool water to remove all the vinegar. Once done, wash your pan in warm soapy water and dry off straight away with a clean, dry cloth.

  3. For white water marks, boil a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water, adding the discoloured pot or pan.

  4. Boil for around ten minutes, before carefully removing the pan and allowing it to cool.

  5. Once cooled, wash the pan under cool water with using some washing up liquid.

  6. Rinse and dry off immediately with a cloth or tea towel.

Tip: If you don’t have any vinegar, the natural acids found in tomato soup, ketchup and canned tomatoes are great for removing discolouration on your steel pans. Boil any of these in the pan, then cool down, discard and clean for a shiny pan.

How to care for your stainless steel pans

Follow these tips to keep your pots and pans shiny, clean and stain-free.

  • Always try and rub any cleaning product you use into the grain or pattern of your pot or pan, being careful to follow any instructions.

  • Always heat your pan to a mid-temperature before cooking, and then add the oil. This helps to create a non-stick surface on the pan, meaning food won’t stick when cooked at higher temperatures.

  • Removing any excess moisture from foods before cooking will help avoid them sticking to the pan. Just pat the foods dry with a paper towel.

  • Water spots can be prevented by drying pans immediately after washing. A quick way to remove water spots is to rub some baking soda onto a damp pan and rinse off.

  • Only add salt to water when it’s boiling. If you add it before it can cause pitting corrosion and make small dents in the bottom of your pan that can’t be repaired.

  • Most stainless steel pans can go in the dishwasher, but it’s best to check first exactly which pots and pans are dishwasher safe in our handy guide.

To keep other steel fixtures in your kitchen clean, check out our guide on how to clean stainless steel.

Your top questions answered

How do you get burnt oil off a stainless steel pan?

The acidic properties in fizzy drinks mean they are surprisingly good at removing sticky, stuck-on substances like burnt-on oil. Pour the fizzy drink in the pan to completely cover the burnt oil and bring to a gentle simmer for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the liquid cool down before scraping the burnt areas with a spatula or large spoon. It should all easily lift up. Need more advice on removing burnt on grease from ovens and pans? Our top tips will show you how.

How do you keep stainless steel pans shiny?

Vinegar is a great way at cutting through grease, water spots and oxidised rainbow-like marks to leave your pans looking super shiny. Mix one part distilled white vinegar to three parts water in a spray bottle, spraying over the entire pan. Use a cloth to wipe the solution in the direction of the grain, then rinse with some warm soapy water and dry-off using some kitchen roll or a clean cloth.

What is the best cleaner for stainless steel cookware?

Depending on the level of staining or dirt on your stainless steel pots and pans, there are various methods that will work to get your cookware clean again. Two of the best are vinegar and baking soda. For treating discolouration, vinegar works wonders either as a spray-on and wipe-clean solution, or when added to boiling water containing your pan. Baking soda is great for removing burnt-on stains and can be applied as a paste mixed with water or, for tougher stains, added to a pan of boiling water containing your pan. These methods are mentioned in more details in the article above.

You can also use chemical cleaners, but always make sure you read the label and test on an inconspicuous area first to check for suitability.

Originally published