May 11

How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans – From Grime to Shine

Written by: Nadia El-Yaouti


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One of the best types of cookware both novice and experienced chefs love are stainless steel pans. Stainless steel pans are versatile, easy to maintain, and don’t react with acidic foods the way copper and aluminum pans do.

Aluminum clad stainless steel pans are especially favored because of their ability to conduct and distribute heat while cooking. With any cookware, however, making sure you are taking care of it properly will ensure it lasts you a long time.

Let’s take a look at how to clean stainless steel pans and what you can do to make them shine like new no matter how old they are. 

How Stainless Steel is Restored so Easily


Unlike ceramic and non-stick coated pans, stainless steel pans have a more durable surface which allows them to last longer than other types of cookware.

Stainless steel cookware has a self-repairing protective layer made out of chromium oxide.

If this protective layer is dulled, lightly scratched, falls victim to rust, or otherwise compromised, the chromium found in the steel will react with the oxygen in the air to repair the imperfection.

Another Perk to Stainless Steel

Stainless steel pans also happen to be one of the safest and healthiest cookware materials available (as long as it's made correctly). For those skeptical about the teflon-laden nonstick pans, stainless steel is a fantastic alternative. 

How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans With Vinegar


Distilled vinegar can work wonders with your stainless steel pan. Vinegar contains acetic acid which is powerful when it comes to removing food that has burned onto the bottom of your pan.

It can also help buff up the metal, providing a nice shine after you clean your pan. 

Although it’s powerful, vinegar's acidic nature can corrode stainless steel if your pan is exposed to it for a long period of time.

The good news is, when you mix distilled vinegar with water, you can create a diluted cleaning solution that’s gentle, yet still effective. 

To clean your pan using vinegar, you will need to add in the power of baking soda. Here's what you’ll do...

1) Start by filling up your stainless steel pan with water so that it covers all the areas where food has been cooked on.

2) Next, add in about ½ to one cup of vinegar and heat up the solution until you bring it to a boil. You’ll know the mixture is doing its job if you start smelling a strong vinegar odor.

3) After the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add in about two tablespoons of baking soda. Continue stirring the mixture for about five minutes. After five minutes, empty the pan out and let it cool down.

4) Use a non-abrasive scrubber or a soft sponge and gently work out any leftover food or grime. At this stage, you can use a degreasing soap if you need to. Rinse your pan out completely and dry it with a cotton rag.

Get Rid of Discoloration on Your Stainless Steel Pan


Vinegar can also help get rid of any discoloration on your stainless steel pan. Discoloration can happen if you overheat your pan or if you allow it to boil dry.

Using caustic or corrosive ingredients like salt and chlorides can break down your stainless steel’s outer oxide layer, leaving it susceptible to discoloration as well.

The discoloration can appear in the form of burn marks, yellow stains, and even dark blue or purple tints. A vinegar cleanse can help lift away dull, light discolorations. 

To get rid of discoloration of your stainless steel pan using vinegar, you will need a kitchen towel or a terry cloth.

1) Soak your towel in distilled vinegar and wipe at the discoloration until it is fully removed. You can rub in firm circular motions or if you can see the grain, rub with it.  

2) Rinse your stainless steel pan using water, removing all traces of the vinegar.

3) This method works well to lift away light discolorations around handles and on the bottom of the pan.

If you have tougher discoloration spots, you can use baking soda and a bit of water to work at the stain stains.

1) Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda onto the surface of your pan where there is discoloration.

2) Spray on water and use a non-abrasive scrubber or microfiber cloth and rub with the grain of the steel.  

3) Rinse the area using dish soap and repeat as needed until the stain is removed.

How to Remove Burn Marks on a Stainless Steel Pan


You may have to deal with burn marks on your stainless steel pan if you cook using the wrong oils or if you cook at too high a heat. The burn marks can appear on the inside of your pan or on the outside.

Removing burn marks will require a little elbow grease, the help of Bar Keeper’s Friend, and a non-abrasive scrubber. 

1) Start by allowing your pan to cool completely.

2) Add some warm water to the surface of your pan where the scorch marks are. If the burn marks are on the inside of your pan, prep your pan by using a degreasing soap to remove as much of the burned on food as possible.

3) Sprinkle on a generous amount of Bar Keeper’s Friend and using your non-abrasive scrubber, work in a circular motion to work out the discoloration. You may need to press firmly as you rub the Bar Keeper's Friend into the steel.

4) Never use an abrasive scrubbing pad or a steel scrubber to scratch off burn marks. This will damage your pan.

How To Make Stainless Steel Pans Shine Again


You can restore the shine back into your stainless steel using a simple baking soda solution. Whether you are dealing with a dulled stainless steel pan or one with spots of rust, this method will work like a charm.

1) Mix together two tablespoons of baking soda and two cups of water. Dip a soft rag or soft sponge into the solution and rub in a circular motion to buff away imperfections.  

2) Rinse your pan with water and remove any leftover baking soda.

3) Dry your pan using a cloth rag.

Preventing Stains in the Future


The best way to make your stainless steel pan last its lifetime is by properly taking care of it. Your stainless steel cookware should be cleaned right after it is used and always wait until your stainless steel cookware has cooled down before you start cleaning it.

Follow these additional tips to help elongate the life of your stainless steel pan. 

1) Never use abrasive scrubbers such as a steel scrubbing pad. Harsh cleaning pads can damage the surface of your cookware and create scratches.

2) Always rub with the grain or the “polish lines” of your stainless steel pan.

3) Use the right cleaners. Household cleaners that have bleach, ammonia, and other chlorides can damage the surface of your stainless steel cookware.

4) Do not let your stainless steel pan soak overnight, this may lead to rusting.

Check Your Product’s Warranty


Whether you are purchasing a new stainless steel pan, or have damaged one that you currently have, it’s always best to check your product's warranty.

You can do this by flipping through your product manual or even calling the manufacturer. Some stainless steel cookware brands like the American Kitchen Cookware have limited lifetime warranties that will cover your cookware if it meets certain criteria.

Store Your Cookware Properly


After you clean your cookware, make sure to thoroughly dry it using a soft towel. Calcium and other miners in your water can compromise the protective layer of your stainless steel pan and leave behind ugly hard water spots if it is left to air dry.

Like any type of cookware, improperly storing your stainless steel pots and pans can result in accidental scratches. If your kitchen is big enough, you can store your cookware on hanging racks. If not, store them in cupboards or shelving and avoid stacking your cookware directly on top of other cookware.  

Cook With the Right Utensils

stainless steel sauce pan with wooden spoons

It’s important that when you are cooking with your stainless steel pan, you use the right type of cookware. Using metal cooking utensils can cause deep scratches on the bottom of your pan.

If you are cooking at low heat, you can use silicone cookware.

For higher temperatures using wooden cookware works best.


Stainless steel pans are one of the most versatile types of cookware to have in your kitchen. And while maintaining the integrity of your stainless steel pan is rather easy, you do need to be diligent in making sure you use the right type of cleaning tools and methods.

Thanks for listening 🙂



About the author

Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and three kids. When she's not exploring new and improved ways of cleaning and organizing the kitchen on a budget, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.

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