If you've been lucky enough to acquire stainless steel cookware—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.
And whether you're trying to get rid of burnt food, discoloration, a tough stain, or just general wear and tear, there's a handy solution. Protect your precious pots and pans from dinks, damage, and debauchery by following these guidelines for caring and for cleaning.
To prevent pesky water spots from forming, 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 has already 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.
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.
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.
Allow the pan to cool completely before washing it. Submerging or soaking a hot stainless steel pan in cold water could be the cause of 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.
Stick to a routine. Clean your stainless steel pans and pots after each use, to avoid a buildup.
For general buildup: Fill the pan with hot soapy water, and let sit a few hours, before scrubbing with a non-abrasive sponge.
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).