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How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans in 3 Steps

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Restore your favorite Stainless Steel pans to their shiny best.

By Rachel Baron
Jul 27, 2023
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We love Stainless Clad Pans for their durability, excellent heat distribution, and, of course, that platinum shine. However, if you’ve been using your pan on a weekly (or even daily) basis, it’s probably starting to look a little extra well-loved, whether from discoloration, burnt-on bits of food, or scorched bottoms. And because some of these might appear permanent, it can seem a little intimidating to consider cleaning them.

Luckily, the right tools can have your stainless steel skillet looking brand new—or at least close to it. Here are some of our best tips for addressing some of the most common messes and stains you might encounter when cooking with stainless steel.

How to Clean 3 Levels of Stainless Steel Pans

While some messes require a few more tools and a little more elbow grease, this isn’t always the case. We’ve organized our tips for cleaning stainless steel pans by levels, ranging from easier-to-clean messes to tougher ones.

Level 1: Used Pans

For simple, everyday messes, i.e. grease and fond left behind from simple stir-fries or sauteed dishes, you probably won’t need more than a sponge and some warm, soapy water for cleaning.

Step 1: Let it Cool

If you’ve just cooked with your pan, allow it to cool first before attempting to wash it in cold water, as running a hot Stainless Steel Pan under cold water will produce thermal shock, causing the pan to warp.

Step 2: Scrub

This step is pretty self-explanatory. Whether you’re washing with hot water or cold, give your pan a quick, gentle scrub to remove extra oil or bits of food, then rinse and dry off with a clean dish towel.

Level 2: Discolored Pans

Despite the name, stainless steel pans can, indeed stain—or, more accurately, become discolored over time. Luckily, this discoloration is rarely permanent. Here’s how to tackle it.

Step 1: Quick Rinse

First, give your pan a good scrub with hot, soapy water to try and remove as much of the mess as possible. This works to remove some of the less stubborn stains, as well as giving you better access to the stains that require more elbow grease.

Step 2: Use Some Stainless Steel Cleaner

Once your pan is as clean as you can get it with soap and water, sprinkle on some Stainless Steel Cleaner and add just enough water to make a paste. Using a new sponge (or an old toothbrush), rub the paste all over the inside, as well as the bottom, of the pan.

Step 3: Scrub

Scrub the inside and bottom of your pan until you’ve removed all or most of the discoloration. Depending on how stained your pan is, you may need to spend a few minutes on this. To give yourself a bit more leverage, lay your pan on top of a towel on the countertop before scrubbing it.

Step 4: Dry Well

Once your pan is looking brand new, give it a good rinse and then wipe it dry before storing it.

Tip: If your pan has a rainbow stain on it—AKA “heat tint”—there’s actually a specific way to remove it. Here’s our dedicated guide.

Level 3: Scorched Pans

So you got a little distracted while making your pan sauce, and it’s turned the bottom of your pan into a blackened disaster. Don’t worry, we’ve been there—and we know how to help.

Step 1: Boil Water

Start by pouring a little bit of water into your pan—just enough to cover the bottom, about a quarter cup (more for larger pans)—and let it come up to a boil.

Step 2: Scrape

Using a Wooden Spoon or another non-abrasive tool, start gently scraping at the scorched parts of the pan. It may take a while to scrape all of it up.

Step 3: Add Vinegar

For seriously scorched pans, boiling water might not be enough. If this is the case, we recommend adding a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar to your pan. Bring that mixture to a boil, and return to scraping out your pan. Once it’s as clean as you can get it, give it another quick rinse with soap and hot water before wiping dry.

Other Methods

clean pans stainless

If none of these methods work for you, there are a few more approaches you can take. We’ve written about them in our dedicated guide to cleaning burnt pans.

How to Care for Stainless Steel

A good stainless steel pan is a workhorse that will last you for years. To help extend the lifespan of your pan for as long as possible, here are a few tips on how to care for it, as well as what to avoid.

Tip 1: Wait to Salt

Adding salt to your pan before it’s hot, like when salting water for pasta, can lead to pitting, or small calcium deposits in the surface of your cookware. While pitting doesn’t affect the performance of your pan, it is irreversible but easy to prevent. Simply wait for your pot or pan (and the ingredient inside of it) to get nice and hot before adding salt.

Tip 2: Dry Right Away

While stainless steel pans are resistant to rust, leaving a pan with water still clinging to it can still lead to issues like water spots. Make sure to give your pan a good wipe before putting it away.

Tip 3: Let it Cool Off

Like we mentioned earlier, sudden temperature changes can create something called thermal shock, which can cause Stainless Steel Cookware to warp. Never rinse a hot pan with cool or cold water—either wait for it to cool, or use hot water to clean.

Ready to Shop?

Now that you’re a professional at cleaning stainless steel cookware, maybe it’s time to outfit your kitchen with even more Stainless Steel. If you really want to commit, you can invest in one of our Stainless Sets, with your choice of 6, 10, or 13 pieces of our best Stainless Clad and Non Stick-coated Stainless Clad pots and pans.