Solutions for Common Issues with Stainless Steel Cookware


With some knowledge and a little TLC, cooking with and maintaining stainless steel is no problem at all.


The advantage of stainless steel pots and pans lies in its versatility — it’s a workhorse that goes from a stovetop to an oven to a sink full of water for easy cleanup, all without damaging the pan. Not to mention that the surface allows food to develop a great crust, even leaving behind flavorful browned bits ideal for making a pan sauce or gravy. The downside, though, is that it has neither the easy cleanup of nonstick cookware or the inexpensive durability of cast iron. Here are some solutions to common problems with stainless steel.

Problem: Foods sticking to the pan
Solution: The trick to preventing foods from sticking is to heat the pan until hot before adding the oil — then add the food. Steel expands when hot and contracts when it comes into contact with a cooler temperature, which is why foods stick to the surface. By adding oil to the pan when it’s hot, the steel becomes static, resulting in a temporarily nonstick surface.

Problem: Chalky white spots
Solution: This is typically caused by a buildup of calcium found in water. Remove it by boiling a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. Let it cool completely, then wash and dry as usual.

Problem: Dried, stuck bits of food
Solution: If scrubbing away at the pan doesn’t work (only use nonabrasive cleaners and sponges), fill it with enough soapy water to submerge the caked-on bits. Bring the water to a boil, then scrape away the bits. Once the water has cooled, the dried bits should wash right off.

Problem: Pitting in the surface
Solution: Salting water in a stainless steel pot that hasn’t come to a boil can result in pitting, which is a form of rusting. The scientific explanation behind why this occurs has to do with the interaction of chloride in salt, oxygen in water and the chromium in stainless steel. Forget about removing the pits, but prevent future ones by only salting the water once it’s come to a boil. At that temperature, there isn’t enough oxygen in the water for the reaction that causes pitting to take place.

Problem: Discoloration
Solution: Stains that appear to be embedded in the surface — typically a rainbow-like hue — are usually a result of overheating. Specialty non-abrasive cleaners designed to restore stainless steel or for stain removal should do the trick, but cooking high-acid foods like tomato sauce or washing the pan with vinegar may also help.

Problem: Water spots
Solution: Dry immediately after washing to put an end to these otherwise harmless stains. To remove them, dampen the surface of the pan, sprinkle baking soda onto a damp sponge, then rub the surface clean and rinse.

More cleaning tips: