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How to remove stains from stainless steel frying pan?

The insides and even the outsides of stainless steel pans can develop white, cloudy spots, like the well-used All-Clad® saucepan shown below.

These spots come from mineral deposits left in the pan after boiling water, and the white spots can come from both salt and/or calcium deposits. It may help to make sure you bring water to a boil before you add salt.

Stainless Steel’s Best Friend

If you want a general cookware cleaning product for taking care of stains on your stainless steel and aluminum pots, as well as to clean many other surfaces such as Pyrex and even ceramic cooktops, you can do no better than Barkeeper’s Friend. Safe to use on pots and very effective at removing discoloration from stainless steel without scratching. Barkeeper’s friend will also remove the stains that some folks call “rainbow stains” from your stainless steel pots, the almost translucent streaks of pink to blue that form on stainless steel cookware.

Other Stainless Steel Cleaning Solutions

There are many things that can damage the appearance of stainless steel, and some things that can actually damage the steel itself, but unless you’re a real stickler, the appearance of your pans is no big deal.

However, after mineral deposits are “baked on,” an automatic dishwasher or routine washing will not always remove white spots. Bon Ami and some elbow grease will remove them, or scrubby sponges with cleaning soaps already in them, but the easiest way is to use a little vinegar and a plastic scrubby.

Vinegar is acetic acid, which makes a very good cleaning solvent, and is strong enough to dissolve those stubborn mineral deposits off the pan.

If you have particularly tough stains, try actually boiling a solution of water and vinegar in the pan, but for typical stains, use the quick steps below. Don’t let vinegar sit in a stainless steel pan for a prolonged period, as it will end up doing the opposite of what you want, and may damage the pan somewhat. Salted liquids boiled in stainless steel pans can also, sometimes, produce little pits in the pan. This is permanent and there is nothing you can do about it.

Keep in mind that these days, the care instructions that manufacturers include for stainless steel pans have become super-cautious, as if you are caring for a newborn baby, instead of a tough material like stainless steel. Although many things, including the alkaline detergents used in dishwashers, can damage the appearance of stainless steel, unless there is some special coating that calls for specific care, the only reason to treat your pans with kid-gloves is to preserve that shiny, like-new appearance, and, although your pans might not look new anymore, they will perform just fine.

Vinegar Cleaning Steps

This battle-worn All-Clad® saucepan has developed white deposits and cloudy stains from mineral deposits. Time for a quick clean-up.

Apple Cider vinegar and a piece of scrunched aluminum foil for scrubbing.

Most people reach for white distilled vinegar for cleaning chores. This makes sense around the house. But cleaning your stainless steel pans is a good way to use some of that apple cider vinegar you’ve had in your pantry for five years. Yes, it’s still good. Especially for cleaning mineral deposits. White distilled vinegar is diluted with water to about 5% acidity. Whereas this apple cider vinegar I used has 10.5% acidity. That’s right, apple cider vinegar is stronger than white vinegar, although the acidity may vary. You can use one of those green plastic scrubbies, but if you don’t have one handy, use some scrunched up aluminum foil. No, aluminum foil will not scratch stainless steel as it is not as hard as the steel. This pan already had lots of scratches! By the way, scrunched up aluminum foil will also work on the chrome parts of your car.

Minerals are in the vinegar, not in the pan.

After just a couple seconds of easy scrubbing, the vinegar has picked up all the mineral deposits, turning it a darker color. Some of that color comes from the aluminum foil reacting with the vinegar, as well.

Nice clean pan, free of spots.

A quick wash with some warm water and a bit of dishwashing liquid (not strictly required) and the pan is clean and shiny, albeit not “as good as new.” Time required, about one minute, at most, not counting snapping the photos.

Bonus Tip: Burned On or Stuck On Foods

If you have a crusty situation because food burned onto the bottom of your stainless steel pan, of course, you’ll just go ahead and soak it in the sink with some dish-washing liquid. That works, but slowly. Instead, try sprinkling a layer of baking soda over the surface of the pan, coating the stuck on food and then adding enough water to cover all the food deposits. The baking soda solution should take care of that crusty mess in a couple of hours.

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