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How to Rid Your Stainless Steel of That Pesky Chalky Residue

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Cooking with a high-quality piece of stainless steel cookware can be a little... unnerving. They're so pristine and shiny right out of the box! I will surely destroy this perfect thing, I thought to myself placing a Demeyere saucier gingerly on my cooktop last fall, and so I used it as nervously delicately as possible to start out: browned some chicken cubes, added spices, cauliflower, and coconut milk. In fifteen minutes it was dinner, and I cleaned and dried the pan instantly after finishing.

The next morning, I noticed cloud-like white spots had bloomed across its surface. Some were even rainbow-like, the way an oil slick can be. In distress, I did my research (and contacted the maker directly, as any crazy-curious cook would do).

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Our Guide for Caring for & Cleaning Stainless Steel Pans
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Our Guide for Caring for & Cleaning Stainless Steel Pans

The markings, I learned, are mineral deposits or "scale" from the tap water, also referred to as calcium deposits, lime deposits, and even protein deposits. (I'd imagine if you have extremely hard water at home, this issue becomes even more pronounced.) It's the same thing that sometimes happens to glassware in a dishwasher—the cloudy effect.

These chalky blooms aren't harmful to you or your cooking, but a buildup can encourage bacterial growth, which would be—so either way, it's smart to clean them up at first sign.

Calcium deposits, soon to be very magic-ed away.

Whimsical though these wispies may appear, they won't wipe away with plain soap and water. (I know, I tried!) The solution is to combat them with diluted white vinegar. Our Senior Staff Writer (and one of the most dedicated kitchen cleaners I know) Sarah suggested bringing a 1:3 vinegar to water solution to a boil in the pan, then letting it cool before washing and drying as normal, so that's what I did.

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I didn't even have to scrub; after the soak, a soft sponge wiped the wispies entirely away. (Scouring pad not needed and also not recommended—even gentle ones can scratch your stainless steel!)

Mission clean pan, possible.
Mission clean pan, possible. Photo by James Ransom

For heavier deposits (if you have very hard water, let's say), you might try discarding the vinegar solution, refreshing it, and boiling anew before cleaning the pan, or even leaving the solution to sit in the pan overnight before cleaning it. I admit to having also tried using a 50:50 solution on more dramatic deposits, which didn't hurt my pans a bit. There are also scale-removing products on the market, but you'd want to check to be sure they won't damage your cookware before using them (though why bother, when vinegar works so well?).

What kitchen cleaning conundrums are you facing, that you'd like us to tackle? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: kitchen cleaning, stainless steel, calcium deposit