Stainless Steel Cookware Cleaners: How to Effortlessly Remove

Stainless steel pans and pots are durable, nonstick, and easy to clean – except when burnt food, grease, and mineral deposits adhere to the surface resulting in unsightly stains and discoloration. The good news is you can remove the toughest stuck-on residue and restore your cookware’s original brilliance through simple cleaning methods using common household ingredients.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about getting stainless steel pots and pans impeccably clean. You’ll discover the two best homemade cleaners that dissolve caked-on food, eliminate stains, and renew your cookware using items you already have at home. We also review commercial cleaners for tackling extreme cases of fouling. Finally, learn maintenance tips to prevent future soiling and keep your stainless steel looking like new.

Here’s what we’ll cover in detail:

  • Why stainless steel cookware is prone to staining and how food “bakes” into the surface
  • Two homemade cleaners that erase discoloration – one with mild abrasives, one with acid
  • Review of commercial cleansers Bar Keeper’s Friend and Bon Ami
  • Proper cooking techniques to avoid burning food
  • Care and cleaning best practices to maintain your stainless steel

Why Does Stainless Steel Discolor and Stain So Easily?

Stainless steel’s smooth, nonporous surface seems like it should repel food, grease, and other gunk. Yet despite this slick top layer, stainless steel is highly prone to stains, mineral etching, burnt-on residue, heat discoloration, and more. Here’s why:

Stainless Steel Isn’t Entirely Stainless

The word “stainless” refers to an alloy containing at least 10% chromium which provides corrosion resistance. But most stainless steel cookware contains other metals like nickel, carbon, silicon, manganese, and nitrogen.

While the chromium forms a passivation layer protecting against rust, the other metals can corrode. Food particles, salt, moisture, or cleaning agents break down the layer allowing oxidation and corrosion leading to staining or pitting.

Food Adheres and “Bakes” Onto the Metal

During cooking, sugary, starchy, or acidic foods essentially bake onto the stainless steel, bonding it to the surface. Proteins and oil also stick. This baked-on residue carbonizes turning into stubborn charred deposits.

Heat Discolors the Metal

Excessive heat subtly alters stainless steel’s color through oxidation. You’ll notice pans turn golden, brown, or rainbow-hued. These heat stains come from the metals blending in the alloy. Copper or yellow tints are normal, but excessive discoloration means overheating which damages the protective layer.

Minerals Etch the Surface

Hard water and dehydrating salts leach minerals like calcium and magnesium that bond to the metal, leaving cloudy spots and scaling known as etching or calcification. These water deposits are difficult to remove through regular washing.

Now that you know what makes stainless steel prone to fouling and oxidation, let’s get into the best methods that will restore discolored cookware to a pristine, like-new sheen.

1. Best Homemade Stainless Steel Cleaners

Before reaching for harsh chemical cleaners, try these two homemade pastes first. You likely have the ingredients on hand. The acids in vinegar or lemon juice dissolve mineral scaling while abrasives like baking soda or salt provide gentle scouring power to lift off burnt-on food.

White Vinegar and Baking Soda Paste

This stainless steel cleaner recipe combines the staining-fighting acidity of vinegar with baking soda’s polishing grit. Together they break down stuck on food, grease, and water spots.

You’ll need:
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Soft non-abrasive cloth or sponge
Step-By-Step Instructions:
  1. Pour a 1⁄2 cup of vinegar into a bowl. Gradually mix in baking soda until a thick paste forms with a gritty texture.
  2. Dip cloth or sponge in the paste then scrub stained areas of your stainless steel cookware using circular motions.
  3. Let the paste sit for 5 minutes before rinsing. Use warm water and a soft cloth or sponge to remove.
  4. Dry immediately with a microfiber towel to prevent water spots.

The acetic acid in distilled white vinegar dissolves alkaline mineral deposits while sodium bicarbonate lifts burned on food. This gentle abrasive clears and restores stainless steel’s original shine.

Before and After Using Vinegar Baking Soda Paste

Before and after images show dramatic transformation from stained pan to renewed brilliance.

Lemon Juice and Salt

Similar to the vinegar recipe, this one relies on citric acid to break down grime combined with salt for light abrasion.

You’ll need:
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Soft cloth or sponge
Step-By-Step Instructions:
  1. In a bowl, mix equal parts lemon juice and salt to form a grainy paste.
  2. Apply the paste to stained stainless steel cookware and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Gently scrub with a soft cloth or sponge, then rinse and dry immediately.

The natural acidity in lemon juice dissolves stuck on residue while the salt works to lift deposits. This ecological cleaner restores cookware without harsh toxins.

Before and After Images Using Lemon Salt Paste

You’ll be amazed by the revitalizing transformation after using this natural paste.

2. Best Commercial Stainless Steel Cleaners

For extreme staining or burnt on carbonized food, these commercial cleansers contain active ingredients that dissolve rust and tougher deposits:

Bar Keepers Friend

This cult favorite powder contains oxalic acid which cuts through stubborn mineral scaling, discoloration, and rust stains on stainless steel and other surfaces.

Pros:
  • Removes discoloration, heat staining, rust
  • Repairs damaged passive layer
  • Polishes to original shine
Cons:
  • Can scratch if used too aggressively
  • Avoid skin contact
Instructions:
  1. Make a paste with water and powder.
  2. Apply the paste and let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Gently scrub the stained area using a soft cloth or sponge.

Before and After Bar Keepers Friend

Bon Ami Powder

Around since 1886, Bon Ami is a non-toxic, biodegradable cleaner made of just feldspar, limestone, and soap. No bleach, dyes, or perfumes. The natural minerals give a gentle scrub.

Pros:
  • Food safe formula
  • Non-scratch powder
  • Restores shine
Cons:
  • May require repeat applications
  • Not as strong on mineral deposits
Instructions:
  1. Sprinkle powder directly on stained cookware.
  2. Dip wet sponge in powder and scrub.
  3. Rinse thoroughly.

As you can see, Bon Ami removes stains without damaging metal.

3. Stainless Steel Cookware Cleaning & Care Tips

Prevention is key for stopping future staining and burnt on residue. Follow these best practices when cooking and washing stainless steel pots and pans:

Proper Cooking Techniques

Use Lower Heat Settings

High temps cause food to stick and burn onto stainless steel damaging the protective layer. Always preheat pans gradually and reduce heat to medium or medium low when cooking.

Avoid Cooking Highly Acidic Foods

Tomatoes, vinegar, wine, and citrus break down stainless steel over time causing pitting. Use enameled cast iron or ceramic for these.

Deglaze Pans

After sautéing or roasting in stainless steel, deglaze the pan by pouring in wine, broth, vinegar while hot then scraping up browned bits. This prevents carbonizing which leads to stubborn stains.

Care & Cleaning Best Practices

Hand Wash Gently With Soft Sponge or Cloth

The harsh jets and heat of a dishwasher can erode stainless steel over time. Always hand wash gently with non-abrasive dish soap and soft cloth or sponge in direction of grain.

Rinse Pans Immediately After Use

Don’t let food, sauces, or liquids dry on surface. Rinse thoroughly after cooking to wash away acidic, starchy, sugary residues before they have a chance to bond and bake onto the metal.

Avoid Steel Wool and Harsh Scouring Pads

These overly abrasive materials scratch stainless steel compromising its protective layer making it prone to staining and corrosion.

Use Rubber Gloves When Handwashing

The oils and salts on bare hands can stain the stainless steel leaving fingerprint marks. Wearing rubber gloves prevents transfer of skin oils and improves grip when scrubbing.

Immediately Dry After Rinsing

Don’t let water or soap residue sit on stainless steel’s surface. Always thoroughly dry cookware with a towel immediately after washing to prevent mineral spots and water marks. Using a microfiber cloth helps absorb more moisture faster.

Apply a Protective Layer

Coating stainless steel pots and pans with a thin layer of mineral oil maintains the protective barrier helping repel residues during cooking. Reapply after cleaning. Oil polishes to a nice sheen.

Remove Pan From Heat Before Food Burns

Don’t walk away from stainless steel cookware on the stove. Even with lower heat, it’s easy to get distracted while simmering sauces. Always stay close to the stove and remove pans before food has a chance to burn onto the surface.

Use Non-Metal Utensils

Never use metal spatulas, spoons, or abrasive scrubbers on stainless steel as they can scrape away the protective layer leading to corrosion. Silicone, wood, or high-temp nylon are safe options.

Clean Promptly After Use

It takes minutes for foods to carbonize and bond tightly to stainless steel’s surface. Get in the habit of hand washing pots and pans shortly after cooking instead of letting them sit overnight. Soaking in warm water also helps loosen stuck on residue.

Remove Stubborn Stains ASAP

If you accidentally scorch or char food in a stainless steel pan, start cleaning right away while residue is still fresh. Waiting too long allows it to oxidize and stubbornly adhere to the metal, becoming nearly impossible to remove without harsh chemicals.

Consider Passivating Untreated Steel

For brand new uncoated stainless steel, have it professionally passivated by an electrochemical process to maximize chromium oxides in the alloy. This strengthens the protective barrier.

Following these practical stainless steel cookware care tips and cleaning methods will help maintain your pots’ and pans’ flawless appearance while restoring any discoloration back to a pristine shine. With the right techniques, stainless steel can resist staining and last a lifetime.

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