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Our Guide for Caring for & Cleaning Stainless Steel Pans

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If you've been lucky enough to acquire a high-quality stainless steel pot or pan—the kind that conducts, distributes, and maintains heat well and is meant to live as long as you—you're going to want to take good care of it.

Protect your precious pots and pans from dinks, damage, and debauchery by following these guidelines for caring and for cleaning.

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Best Practices for Caring for Stainless Steel:

  • To prevent water spots, dry your pot or pan immediately after washing. To clean water spots that do occur, simply dampen the surface of the pot or pan, rub it with a moist sponge that's been sprinkled with baking soda, and rinse as usual.

  • Only salt water once it's come to a boil. When water is salted pre-boil, "pitting corrosion" can occur, which leaves tiny but irreparable pockmarks, as if from a nail, in the bottom of the pot. So salt your pasta water, yes, but only once it's boiling.

Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Heat the pan before adding oil and then, once the oil is hot, add the food. According to Food Network, adding oil to the pan when it's hot causes the steel to become "static," which creates a temporarily nonstick surface.

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  • Take the chill off of cold foods. Cold food is more likely to stick to a hot pan, as the steel will contract when it comes in contact with a cooler temperature. So, if you'll be cooking foods like meat, chicken, or fish straight from the refrigerator, allow them to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. Before cooking, dab with a cloth or paper towel to remove excess moisture.

  • To determine whether your pan is hot enough for the oil, do a simple water test: Drop a tiny amount (about 1/8 teaspoon) water in the pan. When the water, immediately upon hitting the pan, comes together into a "ball" that glides and dances across the surface, your pan is preheated perfectly—add the oil! Note that this is past the point at which the water sizzles when it hits the pan's surface: When the pan is properly hot, the water shouldn't "sit" on the surface at all.

  • Do not rush the preheating process by using high heat. Since high-quality stainless steel is effective at holding heat, preheating on high might lead to overheating your pan (and burning your food).

  • Allow the pan to cool completely before washing it. Submerging or soaking a hot stainless steel pan in cold water might cause irreparable warping.

  • Only use non-abrasive cleaners and sponges. Coarse scrubbers and harsh cleaning solutions like bleach or household cleaners can scratch your stainless steel and damage its finish. And although baking soda and more abrasive scrubbers (like fine steel wool) can be useful in cleaning a burnished pan, beware that using these products might void your warranty.

Photo by James Ransom

How to Clean Problem Areas:

  • For cleaning chalky white spots (which can result from calcium buildup in the water): Bring a solution of 1:3 vinegar:water to a boil in the pan, let it cool, and then wash and dry as normal.

  • For stuck food bits (which can result from adding cold food to a hot pan—see above!): Scrub the pot with a non-abrasive sponge to get off any food bits you can, then fill the pot or pan with enough soapy water to cover the food, bring to a boil, and scrape (the food should come away easily).

Photo by James Ransom
  • For discoloration (often rainbow in appearance), which can occur from overheating: Try washing your pan with vinegar or using the pot to cook a high-acid food, like tomato sauce.

  • For hard-to-clean burnt or burnished pans:
    - If you have Barkeeper's Friend: Pour a small amount of water in the pan or pot, add a few shakes of B.K.F., and create a paste or slurry by mixing the two together. Scrub with a non-abrasive sponge to remove the stains.

    - If you don't have Barkeeper's Friend: Fill the bottom of the pan with water, then add 1 cup of vinegar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of baking soda (beware that this might void your warranty!). Empty the pan and scrub (some people even recommend using 0000 very fine steel wool, which should not scratch). For stubborn spots that still won't budge, you can make a paste of baking soda and water and leave it applied to the problem areas for a few minutes.

    -Look to a cleaner our community recommends: We've had success with Ajax, S.O.S. pads, Chore Boy Scrubbers, and Hagerty Stainless Steel Polish.

Photo by James Ransom

Will you share your stainless steel secrets with us in the comments below?