How to Clean and Care For Stainless Steel Cookware

Published on 02/14/2024 · 7 min readKeep your stainless steel cookware sparkling! Our guide covers effective cleaning methods and care tips to maintain its shine and extend its lifespan.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

A small stainless steel stockpot ready to steam some broccoli. Photo by Castorly Stock

TL;DR: Stainless steel cookware is highly versatile and durable, making it excellent for the stovetop, oven, and broiler. When caring for stainless steel cookware, be sure to avoid abrupt temperature changes, wash it by hand, and not use abrasive scrubbers.

While I admit to being partial to cast iron cookware, it’s hard to beat stainless steel cookware. Pots and pans made out of stainless steel are durable, handsome, and easy to clean, making them a must-have for any kitchen.

Thinking of adding a new stainless steel pan or pot to your kitchen? Have questions about how many plies it should have or how to care for it? Start a free chat with a Curated Kitchen Expert! Every Expert at Curated is familiar with and enthusiastic about their area of expertise, meaning that they’d be more than happy to offer suggestions, make recommendations, and answer any questions you may have.

Removing noodles in sauce from a stainless steel pan. Photo by Nadin Sh

How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware

Luckily, stainless steel is almost indestructible, meaning that it’s very difficult to damage. Still, proper care of your stainless steel cookware will lengthen its lifespan and ensure better results over the long term.

Stainless steel is made by taking iron and adding chromium to it to make it resistant to corrosion. This process results in a durable metal that won't rust, isn’t brittle, and holds up well to high heat. Most stainless steel cookware will have an additional layer of a highly conductive metal – most often aluminum, but sometimes copper – sandwiched between the stainless steel. This process, referred to as cladding (the layers are called plies), makes the cookware have more even heating and increases durability.

Here’s the best way to clean your stainless steel cookware.

Step 1: Let it cool

Make sure that you aren’t dousing a hot pan in cold water, as this can cause warping due to thermal shock. Most stainless steel pans are resistant to warping – especially if they’re well made and have several plies – but a warped pan can ruin your flat cooking surface.

Step 2: Hand wash

Photo by Monkey Business Images

While most stainless steel cookware says that it’s dishwasher-safe – and this isn’t a lie – it’s better for your pan to hand wash it. The intense heat, staying wet for long periods of time, and the harsh cleaners in dishwasher detergent are all hard on your cookware.

The best way to wash stainless steel is with some dish soap and a soft sponge. You can use some elbow grease to deal with stuck on food, but avoid abrasive cleaners like steel wool, as they can remove the chromium layer that prevents rusting.

Step 3: Dry it

Stainless steel is protected against corrosion, so there’s no reason you can’t leave it in your dish rack to dry. If you have particularly hard water (water with a high mineral content), you can end up with water spots or calcium deposits, which would mean that it’s better to dry it with a towel right away. Those spots won’t affect performance, though, so that’s a matter of personal preference.

A stainless steel pan with a wooden spoon. Photo by No Revisions

For more stubborn stains, there are other techniques you can use. Here’s what to do in these scenarios:

Stubborn Food

If you have food burned or adhered to your stainless steel cookware that refuses to come off with scrubbing, there are a couple of possible solutions.

  • Soak it: Soaking food causes it to soften and come off more easily. Depending on the type of food residue, you can either use plain warm water or soapy water – soap works better on fats and oils.
  • Stainless steel cleaner: The best-known version of this is Bar Keeper’s Friend, which works to both remove stubborn stains without damaging the chromium outer and shines up your cookware.
  • Baking soda and vinegar: Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda into the pan, making sure to cover up the affected area. Scrub it with a non-abrasive sponge. The baking soda should act as an abrasive. Once you’ve done that, add some vinegar. The resulting fizzing should loosen anything that’s still stuck.
  • Boil it: Put water in the pot or pan and bring it to a boil. Use a tool like a wooden spoon or spatula to scrub at the residue to remove it. If this doesn't work, try one part water to one part vinegar.

Tarnish

Tarnish is a natural result of aging in stainless steel. It doesn't affect the pan’s performance, but it does dull the exterior. If your cookware has been in the dishwasher, that’ll speed up the process. Using a stainless steel cleaner will bring back that shine.

Heat tint

You may have looked at one of your stainless steel pans and noticed a rainbow smudge on part of it. This is called a heat tint or rainbow stain and is caused by heating the pan to high temperatures. The high heat causes the chromium layer to thicken, resulting in a rainbow splotch.

If the discoloration doesn’t bother you, then it’s perfectly fine to leave it alone; it won’t affect performance. But if you like your stainless steel to be pristine, then go over it with a stainless steel cleaner. That’ll bring it back to shiny silver.

Calcium deposit

This is unlikely to affect you unless you live somewhere with hard water, but calcium can build up on the inside of your pans. These deposits are left over when water evaporates, leaving whitish stains on your cookware. If it doesn't bother you, then you can leave them alone, as they won’t affect performance.

If the buildup is large enough, it can make it easier for bacteria to grow. And if you like your pans to look like new, then there are ways to remove it. Distilled vinegar will dissolve calcium deposits. Depending on the severity and your preferences, you can either soak the pan in vinegar or boil it to remove the deposits. I don’t recommend using apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar, as they have sugars in them that can be burned onto your cookware.

Rust

Stainless steel very rarely rusts, and this could be a sign that the chromium layer is damaged. If you want to restore your rusted stainless steel cookware, your best bet is white vinegar. Acids remove rust, so lemon juice can also work, especially if it’s a small spot. Leave it to soak for fifteen minutes or overnight if it’s badly rusted, then wash the pan.

A lot of stainless steel cleaners will take rust spots off as well, like Bar Keeper’s Friend. If it’s just some rust spots, you’ll likely be fine. Avoid using anything too abrasive so as not to damage the protective chromium layer.

Two stainless steel pots in the same set: one after using a stainless steel cleaner and one before. Spot the difference? Photo by Di Doherty

Additional Care Tips

In addition to properly cleaning your stainless steel pots and pans, there are a few other ways to make sure that they stay looking new.

  • Storage: This material is known for its durability, meaning that you don’t need to be too careful when storing your clean stainless steel pans. That being said, if you want to avoid scratches, hanging them works well. If your storage options are better suited to stacking or nesting them, then make sure to put a dish towel or pan protector in between them to prevent dings or scratches.
  • Utensils: You want to make sure you’re using the best utensils for your cookware. Stainless steel is extremely tough, which means that you can use metal utensils with it. They can scratch the bottom of the pan, though, so most manufacturers recommend using wood or silicone utensils to keep your cookware looking pristine.
  • Avoid abrupt temperature changes: Of course, this includes letting the pan cool before washing it, as I mentioned above, but it’s also best to let frozen or refrigerated food come up to room temperature before adding it to a hot pan. Cold food dropped into the pan can cause thermal shock if the temperature difference is large enough.
  • Careful with salt: If you salt the water that you boil, wait to add it until the water is about to boil – or is boiling. Salt sitting on the bottom of the pan can cause pitting, which, while it doesn’t affect performance, is unattractive.

Find the Right Stainless Steel Cookware for You

A stainless steel wok in action. Photo by Margo Brodowicz

Everyone has a piece of stainless steel cookware in their kitchen, meaning that there are tons of options out there. If you want a suggestion of where to start looking for the best pan for you, reach out to a Curated Kitchen Expert! Every one of our Experts is well-versed in equipment and the surrounding terminology and will happily share their knowledge. And best of all, the service is totally free!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Kitchen on Curated

Misen Pan Protector
$7.00
Caraway Non-Stick Ceramic Fry Pan · 8 Inch
$85.00

Browse more Kitchen

Le Creuset Signature Oval Dutch Oven
$445.00
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet · Black
$26.00
Anolon Advanced Home Hard-Anodized Nonstick Frying Pan
$80.00
Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven
$99.90

Browse more Kitchen

Read next

New and Noteworthy