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A soapy stainless steel pan next to a soap dispensing palm brush

Smart Tips for Cleaning Your Pots and Pans

Regular use can leave your cooking tools dingy and dirty. No matter which type you use, these tips for cleaning your pots and pans will have them looking like new in no time.

6 min read

We’ve all done it—left food in a hot pot for too long on the stove, creating a hardened, blackened mess on the bottom. Or maybe you’ve witnessed sauce boil over the sides of your pan, leaving sticky, greasy streaks down the sides. Even the tidiest cook knows that after multiple uses, pots and pans begin to look dirty. Whether you cook using stainless steel pots, non-stick pans, enameled cookware, carbon steel, or traditional cast iron, these cleaning tips will show you how to keep them looking like new.

Cleaning Non-Stick Pots & Pans

If you’ve ever burned food in a pot, you know how tough it can be to get your cookware looking like its old self—you may have even been tempted to throw it away and buy a new piece. If you’re dealing with a non-stick pot, the trick is cleaning it without scratching the delicate surface. You need to use non-abrasive techniques: Start by filling your pot or pan with water and bringing it to a rolling boil for several minutes. Then pour the water out and use a nylon scrubber and dish soap to gently remove baked on food—you’ll likely need to use a bit of elbow grease as well.

As for the exterior of the non-stick pot, the outside is usually comprised of coated aluminum and scratches can leave it susceptible to rust so you want to avoid using an abrasive cleaning agent. Did your sauce boil over the edge? Remove the sticky, baked-on goo by making a paste of baking soda and water and gently buffing the sides. For especially difficult stains, use a nylon scrubber and a mixture of Bon Ami and water.

A clean stainless steel pan next to a soap dispensing dish scrub brush.
Cleaning Stainless Steel Pan

Cleaning Stainless Steel Cookware

Cleaning the outside and bottom of your stainless steel pots and pans takes a little more abrasion and elbow grease. You’ll find that Bar Keepers Friend is your best bet when it comes to removing cooked-on food and discolorations on the bottoms of your stainless steel pots and pans. Simply sprinkle on the powder, add a little water to make a paste and use an abrasive scouring sponge to get your stainless steel sparkling again. For the interior of your stainless steel pots and pans, you can try the same cleaning approach as with non-stick. But if the boiling method doesn’t work, use an abrasive cleaning powder—like Bar Keepers Friend or Bon Ami—and a scouring sponge or steel wool to help you do the trick.

Enameled Cookware Stain Removal

Dutch ovens are great for cooking casseroles, but not so great to keep clean. The enamel can stain easily—if yours is looking a little discolored, try a gentle bleach solution to remove the stains. Begin with one teaspoon of bleach mixed with one pint of water. Leave it standing overnight, then pour out the solution and scrub the stain with a soft sponge because the surface can scratch easily. You may need to increase the strength up to one-part bleach to four-parts water (check with the manufacturer first to be sure it’s safe for your product). For caked-on food, try the baking soda and water concoction above, letting your cookware soak for several hours then using a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the sides without damaging the enamel.

A carbon steel pan cooking two salmon fillets as the cook stands over it holding a metal spatula.
CIR GrillingTim BlogImages SalmonRecipe LargeImage X

How to Clean Carbon Steel

First, let your pan slowly cool down after cooking with carbon steel. Then, wash the carbon steel cookware by hand. It’s ok to use a drizzle of dish soap on carbon steel, if necessary. Too much will remove the coating. Use a nylon or other not-too-abrasive scrub brush or pad (skip the steel wool). For food that’s super stuck, clean pans by adding a little water and simmering for a few minutes, then try again. Make sure to dry the pan right away after cleaning it, to help preserve the seasoning. 

Cast Iron Cleaning Tips

If you’re washing a traditional cast iron pot that’s been seasoned (meaning you’ve heated and reheated it with cooking oil to condition the interior), it’s fine to use soap—just avoid soaking the pot, as this will strip the coating that you’ve built up. Allow the cookware to cool first (never submerge a scalding-hot cast iron pot or pan in cold water as this may cause it to crack). Then use warm water and a nylon brush to gently scrub the surface. Dry it completely to avoid any possibility of rust. Discover more great advice and insider tips on how to get your pots, pans and bakeware looking like new.


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