6 Common Stainless Steel Cookware Problems — Solved!

Stop annoying stains and win the battle of stuck-on food with these easy strategies for caring for stainless steel.

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How to Care for Stainless Steel

The advantage of stainless steel pots and pans lies in their versatility. This cookware is a workhorse that easily moves between the stovetop and the oven, and the surface allows food to develop a great crust, leaving behind flavorful browned bits ideal for making a pan sauce or gravy. However, even though stainless steel can easily tolerate a sinkful of soapy water, it's not as easy to clean as nonstick cookware, and it lacks the inexpensive durability of cast iron. Here are some easy ways to ensure you and your stainless steel have a smooth relationship.

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Problem: Food Sticks to the Pan

Solution: The trick to preventing food from sticking is to heat the pan until it's 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 only when the pan is hot, you allow the steel to become static, which results in a temporarily nonstick surface.

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Problem: Chalky White Spots

Solution: The unsightly spots on a gleaming pan are typically caused by a buildup of the calcium found in water. Remove them by boiling a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. Let it cool completely, then wash and dry the pan as usual.

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Problem: Dried, Stuck Bits of Food

Solution: If scrubbing away at the pan doesn’t work (use only nonabrasive cleaners and sponges, or you'll scratch the finish), fill it with enough soapy water to submerge the caked-on bits. Bring the water to a boil, then gently scrape at the stuck food with a flexible spatula. Once the water has cooled, the dried bits should wash away completely.

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Problem: Pitting in the Surface

Solution: Salting water in a stainless steel pot before it comes to a boil can result in pitting, which is a form of rusting. The science behind why this occurs has to do with the interaction of chloride in salt, oxygen in water and the chromium in stainless steel. Unfortunately, you can't remove the pits, but you can prevent future ones by salting water only once it has come to a boil. At that temperature, there isn’t enough oxygen in the water for the reaction that causes pitting.

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Problem: Discoloration

Solution: Stains that appear to be embedded in a pan's surface (they typically have a rainbow-like hue) are usually a result of overheating. Specialty nonabrasive cleaners designed to restore stainless steel should do the trick, but cooking high-acid foods like tomato sauce or washing the pan with vinegar may also help.

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Problem: Water Spots

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

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