How to Clean Even the Oldest Stainless Steel Pans

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March 19, 2021
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Midsection below view image of woman cooking food in pan. Utensil is placed on gas stove. Female is stirring dish in frying pan. She is preparing food in domestic kitchen.

Photo by: Neustockimages

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Even the most minimal kitchens should be equipped with a good stainless steel frying pan. They’re essential for everything from your first egg in the morning to your one-pan dinners at night. And, while buying a high-quality pan from the start can make a huge difference, knowing how to maintain your pans can keep even the most affordable options clean and functioning well for years to come. To clean most surfaces in the kitchen, professional and home chefs alike turn to Bar Keepers Friend to tackle both daily messes and caked-on grease — and stainless steel pans are no exception.

When we reached out to our test kitchen to see how they keep their stainless steel pans in the best shape, we were told that the first step is to manage your expectations when cleaning any cookware. If the goal is to make your pans look new, you’re going to be disappointed. Your stainless steel pans are meant to last a long time and therefore still function even with a little wear and tear. For the most part, the importance of cleaning your stainless steel pans comes down to aesthetics — but that doesn’t mean you can completely neglect taking care of them, either. Fat can build up on your pan, and the longer you leave it the tougher it is going to be to remove.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans

For general maintenance, two basic products are required. Recipe developer Amanda Neal sticks to Bar Keepers Friend’s Cookware Cleanser and a heavy duty scour pad from Scotch-Brite, stating that the, “cookware cleanser and polish is specifically made for stainless steel kitchen equipment, such as pots, pans and even stove tops,” meaning you can, “scrub away built up residue and tough messes with ease.”

Food stylist Michelle Warner also turns to Bar Keepers Friend and a tough sponge to get the job done, typically opting for either a Brillo or SOS pad. But, both her and Executive Culinary Producer Larisa Alvarez prefer Bar Keepers Friend’s powder cleanser for both daily maintenance and removing long-neglected fat and grease that has built up over time. Larisa’s favorite method for releasing any debris is using the powder cleanser (or baking soda!) and water to create a paste and letting that paste dry completely on your pan before rinsing and scrubbing. While this requires some patience, letting that paste dry will help any food scrapes stick to it and remove with ease.

Products to Avoid When Cleaning Stainless Steel Pans

There are also cleaning methods to avoid when cleaning your pots and pans, specifically any nonstick cookware you have. The heavy-duty material of the scour pad will easily scratch the nonstick coating, which you clearly do not want to happen. As far as products to avoid on stainless steel, Amanda also emphasizes the importance of not using cleaners with bleach or chlorine as these chemicals will ruin the finish of your stainless steel over time, and Larisa recommends steering clear of the dishwasher, as that can lead to pan deformities.

In general, when cleaning stainless steel, sticking to a sturdy sponge and Bar Keepers Friend is all you need to keep your pans in good shape no matter how long you’ve had them — or how long you've waited to clean them.

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