How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans – 13 Ways That Work

Stainless steel pans are the preferred cookware of many professional chefs due to the material’s unparalleled durability. But that doesn’t mean you can’t easily blemish or burn a stainless steel pain. Even some of the pros are guilty of this.

Luckily, if you burn food onto a stainless steel pan or scorch the bottom, there are many easy ways to bring your cookware back to its original shine.

In this article, we’ll show you how to clean stainless steel pans using a variety of proven techniques to tackle stain and food removal and to polish and restore. We’ll even provide some pro tips to help prevent food from sticking and burning to your stainless steel.

how to clean stainless steel cookware

How to Clean Burnt Food On Stainless Steel Pans

It is possible to cook on stainless steel without having food stick to the bottom of the pot. But this takes a lot of practice and patience. If you rush the process or add too much heat, food will quickly start sticking to the pan, leaving you one serious mess to clean up.

No matter how stuck on that food seems, it’s not a lost cause – you can make your stainless steel pans clean again! Below are six methods that we’ve personally used to remove a variety of burnt food messes. Best of all, they all use common household products that you are likely to have on hand.

Tip: When using each of the methods below, be sure to use a kitchen rag or non-abrasive sponge. Abrasive cleaning sponges can leave scratches on stainless steel and should not be used.

Soap and Hot Water 

using soapy water to clean stainless steel pan

The key to using soap and hot water to clean off burnt food is patience—you need to let that pan soak! The combination of hot water and a degreaser like soap softens burnt-on food and unsticks it from the bottom of the pan. 

Once the pan has soaked long enough, it usually takes only a minimal amount of elbow grease to get it looking like new.

What you’ll need:

  • Hot tap water
  • Dish soap
  • Wood or plastic spatula

Instructions:

  1. Place the pan on a level surface and add a couple of dollops of dish soap
  2. Using hot tap water, fill the pan to the brim
  3. Allow the pan to soak for about 30 minutes
  4. Use a spatula to scrape off the cooked on food
  5. Finish by washing the entire pan with clean soapy water

Tip: If there is still food stuck to the bottom of the pan after scraping off the softened debris, use one of the methods below to remove those tougher cooked-on particles.

Baking Soda 

before and after shot of dirty stainless steel pan

Baking soda is a great abrasive cleaner for stainless steel. It is coarse enough to scrape off food particles, but not hard enough to damage or scratch your pots. Baking soda works best to scrape off that thin layer of food that is left after you’ve already soaked and scraped your pan.

What you’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Wet rag

Instructions:

  1. After scraping off large food particles with a spatula, sprinkle baking soda on the pan
  2. With a wet rag, begin scrubbing the bottom of the pan with circular motions
  3. Re-wet and add more baking soda as needed until the mess has been removed
  4. Clean the pan with warm soapy water
Baking soda being used to clean stainless steel pan
Baking soda being used to clean stainless steel pan

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar, a form of tartaric acid, is a naturally forming acid. The salt compound of this acid forms during the fermentation of fruits and is commonly mixed with sodium bicarbonate and sold as baking powder.

By itself, cream of tartar makes a powerful cleaner. It is an acidic and abrasive cleaner all in one, making it the perfect substance for cleaning stainless steel.

What you’ll need:

  • Cream of tartar
  • Warm water

Instructions:

  1. Mix cream of tartar and water in a small bowl to create a thick watery paste
  2. After removing large food particles from the pan, dab a rag into the mixture and scrub the remaining burnt food away
  3. Repeat as needed until the pan is free of burnt food debris
  4. Clean the entire pan with soap and water

Tip: If you have a really stubborn mess, cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of cream of tartar, then add just enough water to make a watery paste. Allow the pan to soak in this paste for about 10 minutes, then scrub.

Salt and Lime

using salt and lime to clean cookware

Vinegar isn’t the only naturally occurring acid. Citrus fruits, especially lemons and limes, are naturally very acidic and make great cleaners. I love this method for removing stuck-on food because it comes with a built-in scrubbing device!

What you’ll need:

  • Whole lime
  • Coarse salt

Instructions:

  1. After removing the large food debris from the pan, sprinkle the bottom with coarse salt
  2. Cut your lime in half
  3. Place one lime half cut side down on the bottom of the pan and begin scrubbing
  4. Switch out the spent half for the fresh half if needed
  5. Wash the entire pan with soap and water once all food debris has been scrubbed away
lime cleaning off burnt food on cookware

Lemon 

dirty and clean stainless steel pot

Lemon is another great natural acid that works well for cleaning burnt food on stainless steel pans. You can use fresh lemon to clean your pan via the method above or simply by boiling the lemon as you would vinegar.

The latter method works well for thick stuck-on foods as well as that stubborn under-layer of burnt residue.

What you’ll need:

  • Whole lemon
  • Water

Instructions:

  1. Cut your lemon into quarters
  2. Fill the pot or pan with water and add the lemon pieces
  3. Bring to a boil
  4. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool
  5. Pour the mixture out and use soap and water to finish cleaning the pan
using lemon to clean stainless steel pot
Bring the water with the lemon in it to a boil

How To Clean Burn Marks Off The Bottom of a Stainless Steel Pan?

The food-contact surface of your stainless steel pan isn’t the only part you need to worry about. If your pot or pan gets too hot or is left on high heat without any food in it, you’ll likely end up with burn marks on the bottom.

Like the patina that sometimes appears on the inside of your pan, these marks can be difficult to remove. Luckily, we were able to find two methods that worked very well to restore scorched pans to their former glory.

Baking Soda Paste

As we’ve seen above, baking soda is a very abrasive powder, which makes it perfect for removing stuck-on particles from stainless steel. But this characteristic isn’t just limited to food particles. The black marks left on the bottom of your pan can also be scrubbed away with this handy powder.

What you’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Water

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine water and baking soda to make a thick paste
  2. Dab a generous amount of paste onto a damp rag
  3. Scrub at the black marks using a circular motion
  4. Repeat as needed until the black marks are gone
  5. Wipe the bottom of the pot down with a clean damp rag and dry thoroughly

Bar Keeper’s Friend

using barkeepers friend to polish bottom of stainless steel pan
Bar KeepersFriends was used to polish the small clean portion of the bottom of this pan.

Bar Keeper’s Friend, which is a similar product to Bon Ami, is like baking soda on steroids. In addition to being more abrasive, this mix of powders has acidic and detergent properties, both of which add to its cleaning powder.

If you have especially deep black or stubborn scorch marks on your stainless steel, skip the baking soda and reach straight for Bar Keeper’s Friend.

What you’ll need:

Instructions:

  1. Sprinkle some Bar Keeper’s Friend onto a damp rag
  2. Scrub at the burn marks using a circular motion
  3. Repeat as needed until all have been removed
  4. Wash the pan with soap and water

How to Clean White Spots On Stainless Steel Pans 

white spots on stainless steel cookware

White spots and white clouding can appear on your stainless steel pots and pans thanks to minerals in your tap water. Calcium is the biggest offender, but lime and other harmless minerals can also cause this discoloration. 

If you have hard water, you are more likely to experience these issues. Luckily, there are a number of effective solutions for removing white spots from stainless steel. Below are three that we’ve found to be the easiest and most effective.

Tip: If you have hard tap water, be sure to hand dry your stainless steel pots after every use. This will prevent much of that white discoloration from coming back.

Vinegar and Water

One minimal effort way to clean white discoloration from stainless steel pots is to boil a mixture of vinegar and water. The acid in the vinegar reacts with the basic nature of the minerals and pulls them off the surface. We love this method because it doesn’t require any elbow grease or scrubbing.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of white distilled vinegar
  • 3 cups of water

Instructions:

  1. Fill the pot with vinegar and water
  2. Heat the pot on high until the mixture boils
  3. Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool
  4. Use a rag to wipe the exterior of the pot with the mixture as needed
  5. Dump the mixture and wash the pot with soap and water as normal
  6. Dry the pot using a clean towel to prevent new hard water stains from forming

Baking Soda and Water

By mixing baking soda with water, you can create an abrasive paste that works very well to scrub white residue from the surface of your cookware. Don’t worry about scratches. This paste isn’t abrasive enough to scratch your stainless, so it is completely safe to use.

What you’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Rag

Instructions:

  1. Sprinkle baking soda onto a small plate and add a dash of water to create a paste
  2. Dab the paste with a damp rag and scrub the discolored areas of the pot
  3. Rinse well with cool water and hand dry the pot with a clean towel

Vinegar and Salt

salt and vinegar to remove white spots on cookware

This method combines the best of both worlds. The vinegar brings the acid that helps break down the mineral deposits while the coarse salt creates an abrasive texture to help scrub the stains from the surface.

What you’ll need:

  • Coarse sea salt
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Water

Instructions:

  1. Coat the bottom of the pan with coarse salt
  2. Add enough vinegar to create a thick mixture
  3. Use a damp rag to scrub the bottom of the pan, bringing the mixture up the sides to clean as needed
  4. Rinse the pot as soon as you have finished and clean it with soap and water
  5. Dry immediately with a clean dry towel

Tip: Do not leave the mixture of salt and vinegar to sit in the bottom of the pan for too long, as this might damage the surface of your pan.

stainless steel pan with salt and vinegar

How to Polish/Restore Stainless Steel Pans

Even with consistent attention and cleaning, your stainless steel pots and pans are likely to dull over time. Oxidation of the surface of the steel causes patina, or discoloration that is unsightly. Scratches, mineral deposits, and other dulling processes can also turn your shiny pots and pans into anything but dull.

If your cookware is looking older than it should, these polishing and restoration tricks will help. The following three methods work exceptionally well to revitalize dulled stainless steel cookware.

Baking Soda Scrub

Is there anything baking soda can’t do? This simple powder has been used for centuries to clean tarnished jewelry. The same characteristics that make it good for removing patina from gold and silver also make it a great product for cleaning stainless steel.

What you’ll need:

  • Baking soda
  • Dry rag

Instructions:

  1. Sprinkle the surface of your cookware with baking soda
  2. With a dry rag, polish the surface using wide, circular motions
  3. Wipe the pan down with a clean dry rag when done

Tip: For rounded surfaces and crevices, wet the rag slightly to get the powder to stick to it, then polish as you normally would.

Ketchup

One of the most unexpected but effective polishing products is ketchup. The acid naturally found in tomatoes reacts with the oxidation of the tarnished metal to remove it. Blended tomatoes would have the same cleansing effect but lack the right texture for polishing metal.

Ketchup is the perfect consistency for scrubbing with and is usually readily available in most homes. Alternatively, you could use tomato paste thinned with a little water.

What you’ll need:

  • Ketchup
  • Clean damp rag

Instructions:

  1. Slather ketchup over the entire surface you are hoping to shine
  2. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes (the longer the better, just don’t let it dry)
  3. Wipe clean with a damp rag

Stainless Steel Cleaner

stainless steel lid half polished
Stainless steel lid half polished

Stainless steel cleaner marketed for polishing up stainless steel appliances also works very well for shining up pots and pans. These products come in wipes and sprays; both work great for cookware. Just be sure to wash the pan with soap and water before cooking, as these chemicals are not meant to be consumed.

What you’ll need:

  • Stainless steel cleaner
  • Rag (if not using wipes)

Instructions:

  1. Apply stainless steel cleaner using pre-soaked wipes or a spray bottle
  2. Scrub using wide circular motions until moisture disappears
  3. Clean cookware thoroughly with soap and water
  4. Dry immediately with a clean towel

Also Read: Which is the safest cookware?

How to Take Care of Stainless Steel Pans

Using the right materials to clean your stainless steel pots is just one step you can take to assure they continue to look new for years to come. Here are a few more tips for keeping your cookware looking great.

Clean After Each Use 

Unlike cast iron, stainless steel pans need to be completely cleaned after each use. To prevent warping, be sure to allow the cookware to cool some before soaking or rinsing it in cold water. But don’t wait too long, or you will have trouble removing the cooked-on food.

Dry As Soon As Possible 

Stainless steel is prone to blemishes, which can make it hard to keep this cookware looking its best. The white spots left by hard water are especially noticeable on the shiny surface of these pots and pans. One thing you can do to reduce blemishes is to dry your cookware immediately after washing it.

By wiping these pots down with a clean towel, you’ll prevent white spots and watermarks from forming.

Add Salt When Pot Is Boiling 

Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel can rust. When salt and oxygen interact with the chromium in stainless steel, it causes pitting, which is a form of rust. 

Stainless Steel cookware is most at risk for pitting when exposed to cool salt water. This is because cool water holds a large amount of oxygen. To avoid pitting, do not add salt to your water until it has already started boiling and most of the oxygen has already escaped into the air.

When cleaning with coarse salt, be sure to wipe out the salt and wash the pot with soapy water immediately after you have finished cleaning it. This will prevent pitting from occurring.

Always Pre-Heat Before Adding Oil

As stainless steel heats up, its surface expands. Any material sitting on that surface, whether it’s oil or a chicken cutlet, can get caught within that movement. This is how you end up with stuck-on food residue even when you didn’t burn your meal.

By waiting until the pan has heated up, you’ll be adding oil and food to a slick, naturally nonstick surface, thereby avoiding stuck-on food.

Be sure to heat your pan on medium or medium-low heat only. After a few minutes, flick some water onto the surface. If the water sizzles when it hits, your pan is sufficiently hot.

Cook Room Temperature Food  

The tendency of stainless steel to expand and contract when exposed to different temperatures is also the reason you should never add cold food to a hot pan. The low temperature of the introduced food can actually cause the heated pan to rapidly cool and condense. 

Not only can this cause warping, but it is sure to trap some food on the surface and make your cleanup job that much more difficult. 

To avoid this, allow any refrigerated ingredients to sit out until they reach room temperature before adding them to your pan. Frozen food should be thawed in the fridge and allowed to sit out or heated in the microwave before being added to the pan.

Related Article: The best cookware for gas stoves

Keep Your Stainless Steel Pots and Pans Shiny!

Of all the cookware materials out there, stainless steel is one of the most durable and the easiest to care for. But that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally have to give it a little extra attention.

Luckily, there are plenty of effective, easy ways to clean stuck-on food, burn marks, and tarnishing from stainless steel pots and pans.

Having trouble cleaning your stainless steel cookware or think you have a better way to get the job done? Comment below to let us know!

About The Author

Aaron is the founder of and Essential Home and Garden. He likes to spend his spare time with his family, and doing DIY projects in the home and garden.

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