A One-Minute Trick to Get Rainbow Stains Out of Your Pans

No heel-clicking or fancy cleaner required.

January 30, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

It’s sparkly. It’s gleaming. It’s perfect. You can’t stop admiring that stainless-steel cookware you made dinner with for the first time, and we don’t blame you. Then, suddenly, you notice—cue the Twilight Zone theme—a rainbow tint on the interior.

First of all, the good news:

This multicolored phenomenon is purely cosmetic. Yep. It has nothing to do with the quality of the materials of your pan and will not (we repeat, will not) affect its simmering/boiling/searing abilities. (It also won't affect the flavor—or edibility—of the food you cook in it.)

Turns out those vibrant swirls are widely known as “heat tints.” By design, stainless steel contains a touch of chromium (a very sturdy metal that helps protect your pans from corrosion and rusting), When chromium and air mingle, a protective layer appears on your pan—a protective layer that happens to be very thin, almost transparent, and slightly rainbow colored. In summary: when stainless steel is heated to high temps, the oxidized layer can thicken, resulting in, well, a little pan tie-dye. Nice of you to stop by, science.

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So, if your heart swells up at the sight of a rainbow, you get butterflies in your stomach while opening a new box of crayons, and if you view funfetti cake as an essential food group, then you’re in luck: You need do absolutely nothing about it. The pan will still work wonderfully, and it's completely safe to use.

A colorful rainbow, circling the pan.

OK, now for another (also good) newsflash. If rainbow-lined cookware isn’t your thing, we have a never-fail method to make those tints disappear…

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Top Comment:
“Such a great point! Anything acidic should do the trick (yet another excellent reason to make a big batch of marinara). ”
— Maggie S.

Splash a little white vinegar diluted with water into your pan, swirl the mixture around, and use a non-abrasive sponge to wipe away the rainbow stains. Vinegar's acidity will help break down that thin oxidized rainbow layer while still being gentle on your pans. (Alternatively, a sprinkle of Bar Keepers Friend, which is similarly acidic yet non-corrosive, will also do the trick.) Rinse, dry, and...voila! Your stainless steel will be gleaming good as new.

Have your own stainless steel cleaning trick? Let us know in the comments below.
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Maggie Slover

Written by: Maggie Slover


madgeypoo July 27, 2020
While it still warm, deglaze any pan with an acid like vinegar, white wine, or lemon juice.
Then employ the newest, and greatest detergent breakthrough: Dawn Powerwash Spray. Spray it on dirty pan, let it set for a minute or two, wipe it with a paper towel or dish brush, and rinse it clean. It is miraculous. Then, if you pan is water-spotted, you need only a teaspoon of Barkeeps or Bon Ami on a wet paper towel to make it sparkle.
mlsjazz July 27, 2020
Sprinkle baking soda onto the pan... Create paste by rubbing gently in circular motion with well moistened paper towel.
Rinse out and then finish washing with dish detergent.
Gordon February 2, 2020
I use Bon Ami. It is gentler than Bar Keepers Helper, which I also use. But my All Clad looks brand new and it is like 15 years old. Bon Ami is almost as gentle as regular old baking soda at getting stains out and off. Original Bon Ami is just feldspar, while the regular Bon Ami is feldspar, limestone and baking soda. Hard to find but worth it.
Author Comment
Maggie S. February 3, 2020
I grew up with Bon Ami (I always loved the little chicks on it and the saying 'hasn't scratched yet'). Thanks for pointing that out as an alternative!
Sherri January 31, 2020
If you were to use yoghurt or buttermilk or ketchup instead..same quantity?
Author Comment
Maggie S. February 3, 2020
A thin layer of ketchup works great too, but you'll probably need to leave it on there for about a half hour before wiping clean. Hope that helps!
alexis January 30, 2020
ketchup also works like a charm :)
Author Comment
Maggie S. February 3, 2020
Such a great point! Anything acidic should do the trick (yet another excellent reason to make a big batch of marinara).