Scrub all your troubles away.
So your well-loved stainless steel frying pan is starting to look a little too, well, loved. Don’t panic: Despite the name, stainless steel can, indeed, start to look burnt or discolored over time, so this is totally normal—and, luckily, these stains are rarely permanent.
Here are a few of our favorite cleaning tools and household products to use on stainless steel pans, depending on the degree or type of burn. So whether you’re dealing with nasty splotches of polymerized oil, burnt food, or heat tint, this list has you covered.
Topping the list of our favorite stainless steel cleaning products is our Make it Like New Cleaner. Specially formulated to gently but effectively clean stainless steel cookware, this cleaner is unparalleled at removing hard water (or calcium) stains, polymerized oil, and discoloration. Just add a small amount of cleaner and a splash of warm water, then scrub well with a soft sponge.
A close second to the Make It Like New Cleaner, Bar Keeper’s Friend is a multi-purpose cleaning powder that works by using oxalic acid to dissolve rust and calcium deposits, then a mild abrasive to help scrub away burnt food and oil. That oxalic acid sets Bar Keeper’s friend apart from something like baking soda, which—as an alkaline ingredient—isn’t as effective when it comes to tackling alkaline stains like rust, calcium and lime.
While the above two products will always be our options of choice for cleaning stainless steel, you may not always have them on hand. Here are the items we reach for in a pinch, all of which you can find in your pantry.
When combined, vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base) produce carbon dioxide bubbles that can help loosen bits of stuck-on food. First, sprinkle baking soda all over the affected area, then use a sponge to scour the inside of the pan. Once you’ve removed as much of the mess as you can, add a small amount of vinegar: the mixture should foam up immediately. Scrub thoroughly, then rinse and dry.
If you’ve ever used coarse salt to scrub out your unfinished cast iron skillet, you know that it’s an effective tool for scouring away charred, sticky messes. Sprinkle coarse salt over the areas that need cleaning, then let sit for about five minutes before scrubbing with a rough sponge or scouring pad.
While not quite as effective as our Make it Like New Cleaner or Bar Keeper’s Friend, baking soda is still a solid, cheap option for cleaning stainless steel cookware that you likely have on hand already. Make a paste of baking soda and water, using it to cover the burnt parts of your pan. Once you’ve gotten it as clean as possible, rinse out the pan, repeating the process if needed.
Vinegar isn’t just a natural disinfectant—it’s also an effective tool for tackling messes like grease, grime, and hard water stains. Simply boil water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar together in your stainless steel pan, then dump it out and wash with soapy water. For more stubborn messes, try the above method of combining vinegar with baking soda.
With the sheer number of options available for cleaning burnt stainless steel cookware, you can feel a little less nervous using your pan on a daily basis. So don’t be shy about cranking the heat—as long as you have a few simple pantry ingredients (plus a bottle of our Make it Like New Cleaner) on hand, you can almost always restore your pan back to its original shine.