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Despite being dubbed “stainless,” your favorite stainless steel pots and pans can actually become stained or discolored, especially if you frequently cook with them using high heat. But the good news is that you can also remove stains from stainless steel once they’ve made an appearance.
The most common stains are typically scorch marks on the bottom of the pan or a rainbow-hued discoloration, the result of when a pan’s chromium metal and the high heat from cooking combine and oxidize. Fortunately, both scorch marks and that rainbow staining are harmless and won’t affect the cookware’s heating ability or the taste of the food you make on it.
However, if you’d prefer to return to your stainless steel pot or pan back to its shiny, like-new appearance, the stains can be removed with a little bit of effort. Here are the best ways to remove stains from stainless steel, using supplies you may already have in your kitchen cabinet.
To remove stains from stainless steel cookware that result from scorching, you’ll first want to soak the burned pots or pans. Fill a kitchen sink with water and three cups of vinegar and allow the stainless steel to soak in the mixture. Alternatively, if the scorch marks are on the inside of the pan, you can simply fill the pan with water and vinegar and bring the solution to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer.
Both methods will help to loosen and remove any remaining bits of burnt food that may still be stuck. After soaking or simmering for at least 30 minutes, use a sponge to scrub the scorch marks in a circular motion.
For any lingering scorch stains, you can also try scrubbing the pans with a baking soda and water paste. (The reaction between the baking soda and any remaining vinegar may create a fizzing effect so don’t be alarmed.) Once the stains are removed to your satisfaction, make sure to rinse the pot or pan well or run it through the dishwasher to remove any baking soda or vinegar residue.
Getting Rid of the Rainbow on Stainless Steel
If rainbow discoloration on your pan is your chief concern, then you can skip the soaking process and go straight to the scrubbing to remove these stains from stainless steel. Using a diluted vinegar solution, scrub any rainbow discoloration with a non-abrasive pad or sponge.
The acidity of the vinegar will help break down and dissolve the oxidized layer that’s creating the rainbow effect on your pan. If you don’t have any vinegar handy, you can also try lemon or lime juice, which are other all-natural acidic cleaners. Some people also swear by using dish soap with baking soda to create a paste to scrub any discolorations away. Whichever method you use, make sure to rinse and dry the pan when you’re finished.
Special Scouring Pads Work for Extra-Tough Stains
For daily cleaning, it’s best to remove food and grime from stainless steel pans with a non-abrasive sponge so that you don’t risk scratching the metal finish and making it more susceptible to rust and future stains. However, if you have an extra-tough stain to remove on an uncoated pan or grill and a regular sponge is not doing the job, it might be worth trying a more abrasive scouring pad, like Scotch-Brite stainless steel scrubbers.
These scouring pads are designed specifically with uncoated stainless steel in mind and are said to be excellent at tackling scorch marks and removing rainbow stains on stainless steel. However, you may want to first test them out in an inconspicuous spot, like the underside.
What About Chemical Stainless Steel Cleaners?
Although it may be tempting to use a chemical cleaner specifically meant for stainless steel to scrub your pots and pans, many cleaning products are not safe to use on cooking surfaces. Due to this, it’s considered simpler to use all-natural, food-safe ingredients, like vinegar and baking soda, to remove stains from stainless steel cookware.
There are a few products that are an exception to this rule, including Barkeeper’s Friend. The manufacturer states that it is safe to use on dishes and cookware, as long as it is used properly and the cookware is thoroughly rinsed afterward.
Another popular stainless steel cleaner, Weiman stainless steel cleaner and polish spray, can be used on cookware and food prep surfaces, as well, but only if the cookware or surface is washed with a mild dish detergent and water afterward. In other words, you’ll want to make sure all traces of the chemical cleaner are gone before putting the pan in direct contact with food.
To avoid having to ever remove stains from stainless steel cookware, it’s recommended to cook with low to medium heat and clean pans as quickly as possible after use, while they’re still warm.
Have stainless steel appliances that also need to be cleaned? Check out our five best methods for cleaning stainless steel appliances.