Helpful Tips

How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware – Maintenance Tips & Tricks

washing stainless steel pots

Stainless steel is one of the more durable materials used in cookware sets. However, as everything else, it isn’t immune to staining and deteriorating over the years. Learning how to clean stainless cookware will help you avoid that and keep your cooking set in pristine condition. In this article, we will go over some of the best tips and tricks when it comes to cleaning your pots and pans. Moreover, we will discuss how to deal with cookware sets that are already bad or damaged.

Here are all the major aspects we will cover below:

  • How to clean burnt food off stainless steel cookware
  • How to deal with stainless steel cookware discoloration
  • How to deal with hard water stains
  • How to clean burnt stainless steel pots
  • General care & maintenance

If you’re on the market looking for good stainless steel cookware set for your kitchen, make sure you check out my full Buyer’s Guide on that topic. Now, let’s get into this!

How to clean burnt food off stainless steel cookware

One of the most common reasons for dark spots on your stainless steel pots will be food that has either dried up or burned on the surface. Certain foods are more prone to sticking to the steel surface than others, which under high temperatures will cause the food to burn and strongly bind to the metal. There are a handful of methods that will all work on different burned foods. Some of the best ones are:

  • The boiling water method
  • Vinegar and soda method
  • Tartar cream method
  • Using salt and lime

The boiling water method

One of the easiest and simplest methods to clean burned food is to boil some water in your pots or pans. Before you get into the boiling part, however, make sure you scrub away any food you can with a soft scrubber that won’t scratch the stainless steel surface. After that, fill the pan with water up to a level that will cover all the burned spots. Next, mix in some mild dish soap and put it on high heat until the water gets boiling. Once the water reaches its boiling point, make sure you scrub the submerged spots with a soft spatula. If that doesn’t work, you can try some of the next methods, which are a bit more aggressive.

Vinegar and soda method

Any time there is something harder to clean in the kitchen, most chefs will turn to their trusted friend – vinegar. Cleaning with white vinegar, to be more specific, is painfully familiar to anyone who has ever battled with a tough stain, be it on stainless steel or any other type of cookware. However, when combined with things like baking soda, it creates an even more potent solution that can deal with even the hardest burned food spots.

Just like we did with the previous method, here we need to cover the burned food with the vinegar, water, and baking soda solution. Fill the pan enough to submerge the burned spots. Then, add a cup of white vinegar and boil the water. When the water starts boiling, remove the pot from the heat and mix in two tablespoons of baking soda. Stir the whole mix a few times and then pour it away in the sink. Once the pot is empty, start scrubbing the spots lightly without pushing too hard. Use a non-abrasive sponge/scrubber to keep the stainless steel finish intact.

Tartar cream method

Using tartar cream to fight off nasty spots on your pans is an effective yet rarely used method. If all other methods fail, mix in some tartar cream with water to create a homogenous solution. Scrub that solution onto the burned areas and let the pan sit like that overnight. In the morning, rinse everything and scrub the remaining particles off the surface with a non-abrasive scrubber or a piece of cloth.

Using salt and lime

Just like the vinegar and soda solution, salt and lime go pretty well hand-in-hand. These two ingredients create the perfect mix to fight off hard spots on any type of cooking material, including stainless steel. The salt acts as a coarse agent that will scrub away any stuck particles while the lime binds to the burned food stain and dissolves it bit by bit.

Start off by squeezing a whole lime into a cup. Add a bit of warm water and salt to the lime juice and put it in a pulverizer. If you don’t have one, it isn’t a big deal. Next up, make sure you soak the burned stain with your solution and add some more fresh salt on top of it. As you do that, start scrubbing right away with something soft that will protect the stainless steel surface. Once you’re done, rinse the pot thoroughly. That last step is important as both lime juice and vinegar can leave spots behind if you don’t rinse them out well after you’re done cleaning.

If you also want to learn how to clean copper cookware, click here!

How to deal with stainless steel cookware discoloration

cleaning pots

Even if you clean your stainless steel pots and pans regularly, there might still be some discoloration after a few years. Steel is prone to discoloration and it is one of the major issues with cookware made out of it. There are quite a lot of reasons for the discoloration such as a build-up of calcium or other elements. Still, we are going to go through a few methods that will help you tackle that issue. The two most commonly used methods to treat discoloration are using vinegar and using tomato sauce. Let’s start with the vinegar method…

Vinegar is a great tool to use for any type of discoloration whether it is on copper or steel pots. The major reason for the discoloration itself is overheating a dry pot without anything in it. Typically, simply rinsing the pan with vinegar and then lukewarm water followed by a light scrub does the job. Thanks to the acidity of the vinegar, most discolorations spots will be dissolved. The same principle applies to calcium build-up spots. Mix vinegar with water (1:3) and boil that inside the affected pot. Wait for the liquid to cool off and rinse the pot well.

Tomato sauce acts in a similar way to vinegar thanks to its overall high acidity levels. That acidity allows the tomato sauce to react with the discoloration spots. To use this to your own advantage, fill the pot with tomato sauce above the level of the discoloration spots and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick to you, feel free to add more water. After the tomato sauce cools down, rinse it off as you normally would rinse the pan.

If the discoloration is persistent and stays after the boiling, leave additional tomato sauce over the discolored spots overnight (without boiling the sauce).

How to deal with hard water stains

Water spots will be one of the biggest issues with stainless steel cookware sets. They will happen almost anywhere where the house has “hard” water running. This type of water is well-mineralized and will leave watermarks when it dries out inside the pot. Even worse, if you heat the pot or pan without it being fully dry, it might burn the spot onto the surface, making it much harder to remove.

However, tackling these water spots isn’t as challenging as you might think. If the spot doesn’t easily fall off with just a damp microfiber cloth, use the baking soda method. Mix in some baking soda with a bit of water to create a paste. Rub that paste onto the walls of the pot and then rinse well with warm water. To prevent further build-ups of such spots, make sure you thoroughly dry your pots and pans after washing or rinsing them.

How to clean burnt stainless steel pots

Every now and then, every chef will burn his or her stainless steel pots and pans. These will seem like they’re impossible to fix. However, there are a few easy solutions that might help you out with the process. And while a burned stainless steel pot isn’t entirely ruined, that might greatly reduce its ability to conduct heat and cook food evenly. The two methods used to fix burned pots are:

  • Using baking soda
  • Using dishwasher soap and/or detergents

Using baking soda

Just like the previous methods to remove burned food, we will be using all sorts of binding agents and acidic substances to our aid here. Mix a bit of water and white vinegar in your pot or pan. If you’re treating a pot, make sure you add more water (and vinegar!). Bring the liquid to a simmer and remove them from the heat. Immediately after removing the pot, add 3-5 tbsp of baking soda to the water and vinegar mix. Pour away the liquid after a few minutes and scrub the burned area thoroughly.

If that doesn’t work, you can take things up a notch by mixing the same amount of baking soda with a little bit of water to make a paste-like solution. Rub that against the burned area and scrub well. After that, leave the pot or pan for 20 minutes and rub again under running water to rinse the paste off.

Using dishwasher soap and/or detergents

Another method to cleaned burned stainless steel cookware sets are by using dishwasher detergents. Fill a large container with hot water and mix in some detergent (could be dishwasher soap). If you don’t have a large container that will fit the pot/pan, use your sink. Put the pot inside the hot water and let it stay there overnight. The following day, scrub the pot/pan thoroughly until it gets its shine back.

General care & maintenance

Out of all the cookware set materials, stainless steel is one of the hardest to maintain. There are quite a lot of tips you could use in order to keep your set fresh and clean. Some of the best ones are:

  • Always dry your pots and pans thoroughly before storing them away. That will prevent water spots.
  • Avoid adding salt to the water before it’s actually boiling. This might create small pits of salt on the bottom that will promote corrosion in the long term.
  • If your pots or pans are hot, always clean them with warm or hot water. That will prevent them from warping or disfiguring.
  • If you’re cooking frozen or cold foods, bring them to room temperature before putting them in the hot stainless steel pot. COld foods are far more likely to stick to your pots and pans, so make sure they’re warmed up before you start cooking them.
  • While stainless steel is relatively tough, steel wool can still scratch it and leave scratch marks all over. Make sure you use non-abrasive scrubbers to clean the pots.

Apart from these general maintenance tips and do’s and don’ts, polishing your stainless steel sets is also something you should do from time to time. Let’s find out how that is done now…

Polishing your stainless steel pots and pans

When it comes to polishing, you can go either one of two ways – using a commercial polish cleaner or a DIY method that involves a few simple steps. For the DIY polishing, you will need mineral oil (or baby oil), olive oil, neutral pH dish soap, paper towels, and a micro-fiber cloth.

Soak the micro-fiber cloth in lukewarm water mixed with a little bit of dish soap. Then, wipe the pans thoroughly without missing a spot. It is advisable to wipe in the direction of the pan’s grain even if it isn’t easily noticeable. Rinse the cloth out of the soap and clean it because we will be using it again on the pans after that. Wipe the pans with the now-clean cloth one more time.

Now, add a few tablespoons of oil (baby or mineral) to your micro-fiber cloth. Start wiping the pots and pans all over with it, again in the direction of the grain if you can find it.

After you’re all done, wipe the pans dry with the paper towels until they are no longer greasy.

If you are in the middle of a cleaning session, the rest of your kitchen appliances are probably also on the to-do list. Apart from the cookware, knowing how to clean gas stoves is also important, and they are perhaps the second most dirty spot in your kitchen!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does vinegar damage stainless steel?

While most cleaning solutions work fine on stainless steel, a few of them can actually have the opposite effect if left to stay on the pot’s surface. For instance, you should never soak stainless steel in chlorine solutions or solutions containing table salt or vinegar. Long-term exposure to those solutions can damage and discolor the surface, sometimes beyond repair.

Which are the things you should never use on stainless steel?

Stainless steel is pretty tough and durable, especially the more expensive types. However, there are still things that can damage its surface. Steel brushes and steel wool are prime examples of something you should never use on your pots. The reason for that is because these brushes and wools can leave microscopic particle leftovers on the pot’s surface. These particles are prone to rust (since they are made out of steel) and will discolor your pot. Another reason to not use those is that they can leave scratches behind on the surface.

Can you use Windex on stainless steel pots?

Unfortunately, Windex contains ammonia which can damage the surface of the appliance. There are, however, products from the same company that does a similar job at cleaning but are ammonia-free, making them a decent alternative if you’re set on using SJ Johnson products.

What is the black residue on stainless steel surfaces?

In most cases, the fine black residue over your stainless steel set’s surface is carbon that is released from the metal during various chemical reactions or factory processes. Typically, it comes with the first cleaning, although in some cases it might need more efforts to be removed.

Final Words

If you spend a lot of time in your kitchen, then knowing how to clean stainless steel cookware is going to be of great use to you. There are plenty of issues such as discoloration, burned food residue, hard water stainless, and others that will require your attention and oftentimes immediate action. One of the best preventative measures for most of those issues is to clean your cookware sets regularly, dry them out every time you wash them, avoid cooking frozen or cold foods and clean the pots and pans with warm water. Additionally, avoid using harsh detergents or abrasive sponges or brushes. This will keep the surface in top condition without micro-scratches or rust.