How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans

Do you have stubborn stains or burnt particles on your pans? Here is a guide on how to clean stainless steel pans and prevent it from happening again!

A dirty stainless steel pan before being cleaned and polished

Oh dear, this is embarrassing to admit…yes, I did this horrible thing to my pan. My punishment involved scrubbing until my fingers were raw and flaky (use gloves!), but I promise you, the results were life-changing. I want to share with you some of my helpful tips for how to clean stainless steel pans.

Before we start, I want to tell you how my beautiful All-Clad stainless steel pan got this way, so you don’t make the same mistake. I had pan seared salmon and wanted to keep the skin crispy by roasting it in the oven at high heat (525°F) while it was still in the pan.

I made the rookie mistake of not reading the pans use instructions first (doh!). The result was the fat and proteins burned and stuck to the walls of the pan, and it was horrific. So please remember one simple rule as stated by the manufacturer:

Do not put your pans in the oven at temperatures above 500°F / 260°C!

Whew, now that we got that out of the way, this is what to do to clean those tough build up’s and discoloration on the pan… because we are only human, and it happens to all of us.

Container of Bar Keepers Friend clean and polish for pans

Cleaning Stubborn Stains, Residue or Burnt Particles

The tools you need:

To get rid of stuck-on food, discoloration, and stains from using too high a heat:

  • First, immerse pan in warm water.
  • Use Bar Keeper’s Friend with water to form a paste. Apply paste using a soft cloth.
  • Rub in a circular motion from the center outward. Do not let the paste sit longer than 1 minute in the pan.
  • Wash in hot, soapy water, dry immediately.

Cleaning SUPER stubborn burnt residue: If food is burnt to the pan and soaking does not loosen it.

  • Add water to a depth of one inch in the pan.
  • Add a tablespoon of dishwashing soap, bring to a boil and reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Let the liquid cool in the pan, then drain and rinse.
  • Loosen the residue with a nylon sponge or plastic spatula, repeat if necessary.
  • You can use the Bar Keeper’s Friend as described above to clean further and shine the pan.

A clean stainless steel pan after using Bar Keepers Friend

Daily Cleaning of Pans

  • Immediately after each use, fill the pan with hot water and liquid dish detergent and let stand until lukewarm. Use a sponge or soft cloth to remove the remaining food particles. Rinse thoroughly and dry right away to prevent water spots.
  • You can wash your pans in the dishwasher as long as it does not have burnt particles or stubborn residue on them.
  • To keep pans from becoming scratched do NOT use steel wool or steel scouring pads. Nylon scrubbing pads are safe to use.

How to Prevent Sticking, Burning, and Discoloration

A preheated pan and lower flames are the keys to stick-free stainless steel cooking! Stainless steel pans are highly conductive and are designed to be efficient, so they do not need high heats to cook food.

  • Start by pre-heating your pan on low heat for one or two minutes before adding foods. Tap the upper edge of your pan to test the heat. If it’s too hot, remove from the burner for a couple of minutes.
  • Pour 2-3 teaspoons of cold oil in your preheated pan-or enough to cover the bottom of the cooking surface. Add food, making sure that there’s an even sizzling sound when your food touches the pan. This indicates that your food is cooking on contact and creating a natural barrier to prevent sticking.
  • Allow food to cook without disturbing until the correct doneness is achieved. The natural sugars in your food caramelize on the prepared surface, developing great flavors and lifting your food off of the cooking surface naturally.
  • If the sound that food makes on initial contact with the pan is more of a crackle than a sizzle, your heat is too high, and sticking may occur.
  • Use low to medium heat for frying, braising, sautéeing and simmering.

Discoloration of pans may be caused by:

  • Overheating the pans resulting in brown or blue stains
  • Food films that are not removed and reheated
  • Large amounts of iron content in your water may cause your pot to look rusty.

I hope these tips help you with your stainless steel cooking journey!

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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25 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Andrew says

    Great article thanks. I was able to remove stains with just one boiling from a Stainless All Clad French Skillet. All Clad claims it’s good for searing which requires very high heat and I normally use a Cast Iron pan. I’m still experimenting if this pan is capable of doing what my CI pans do and not be ruined.

  2. AnneMarie says

    I am beyond frustrated with my very first All Clad pan that I used for the FIRST time tonight. $145! I was SO excited about investing in such an expensive pan for the first time and it’s been a nightmare.
    I followed cleaning instructions like the one on here – 20 min of scrubbing my new pan and it’s still awful. Inside AND out. I am ready to return it if this is what is going to happen EVERY stinking time I use it!
    I have a ceramic cook-top and did not let the heat go past a 5 to grill my homemade corn tortillas. I had “pre seasoned” my pan and the first tortilla was fine – slipped right out but the 2nd stuck and was a mess and from then on it got worse. The oil started to brown the entire interior of the pan and the parts where the tortilla stuck were not black.
    I scrubbed w a cloth my BKF paste but only some improvement…am SO frustrated. Am boiling water w dish soap now but is this going to be the deal each time I use the dang pan??? What the heck?
    HELP!!!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Anna Marie- Oh no! I had a similar experience the first time I used my stainless steel pans. One mistake I made was cooking on the stove or placing in the oven at too high of a heat for too long, and got bad staining on my pans. I’ve found that the pan is very efficient at heating so you only need to use low to medium heat. Heat the pan first, then add the fat. Once the fat is warmed then add the food and don’t move it until it naturally releases. You have to give it time to cook the surface and create a crust to help prevent sticking. It’s a little bit of practice but I know you got this!

  3. Keith says

    I have been cleaning my stainless pans, roasting pans etc with Bar Keepers Friend for years and it keeps them in great shape, like new.

    One trick I have discovered recently is to use a nylon dish brush (I use the OXO dish brushes that dispense dish soap, but I just use them soapless for my Bar Keepers Friend pan cleaning). It takes far less effort and time and is easier on your hands than using paper towel which I did previously.

    I have also found Bar Keepers friend to be the best way to clean a ceramic (glass) cooktop, again with a dish brush.

  4. Elizabeth says

    You advise that pans be placed in hot water directly after use, but I just wanted to note that cooling pans too quickly can lead to warping and you’ll end up with pans that are not flat on the bottom. This is irreversible and can really ruin the pan. It’s best to let pans completely cool before placing them in water. Even what we think of as very hot water directly after cooking is probably too cool.

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