Stainless steel pans may look beautiful when brand new, but after a few uses, they look a little less brilliant. Chalky water spots, mineral buildup and scorch marks are just a few things that can ruin that shine. Thankfully, a few items already on hand in the kitchen can restore that pan's good looks without harsh chemicals.
Those chalky looking white spots make even the cleanest stainless steel appear dirty. When water evaporates, it leaves behind mineral deposits that may seem hard to remove at first. This could happen when boiling water or even if allowing the pan to air dry after washing. If the spots are on the inside of the pan, boil one part white vinegar with three parts water, using enough liquid to cover the affected area. Once the liquid cools, pour it out and wipe out the inside of the pan. Wash and wipe it dry. On the outside of the pan, mix the vinegar with hot tap water, then apply it to a dishcloth. Wipe the pan with the cloth, or let the cloth sit on the pan for several minutes before wiping away the spots.
Oops, you temporarily forgot about that pan of pasta and veggies reheating on the stove, and now the food seems cemented in place. Thankfully, it's not a permanent problem. Scrape out as much as possible, then fill the pan with enough water to cover the problem spots. Add a squirt of dish soap, then simmer the water for a little while. Scrape the inside of the pan carefully, while the water is hot, using a spatula, wooden scraper or large spoon. Be careful not to spill the water or get it on your skin as you work, as it's hot. If any residue remains, let the pan sit with hot water in it for a while with the burner off. Hot water works wonders when it comes to removing debris, especially with a little added soap.
If the caked-on areas are on the outside bottom of the pan, fill a larger pan with near-boiling water and a squirt of dish soap in the sink. Rest the affected pan inside the water so the water covers the food residue. Allow the pan to soak for 30 minutes or even overnight, then scrub with baking soda or a kitchen cleanser.
Scorch Mark Removal
On the shiny finish of a stainless steel pan, scorch marks can be obvious. Banish the burn marks by mixing just enough water in baking soda to make a paste. Apply the paste all over the bottom of the pan, then scour with a damp non-abrasive kitchen scrub pad. Rinse the pan bottom. If any scorch marks remain, sprinkle more baking soda over the wet pan, then pour a small amount of vinegar on top. The acid in the vinegar, plus the bubbling action, help remove any remaining marks. Wait a few minutes, then wipe with the scrub pad before rinsing.
A powdered cleanser designed for cookware also removes scorch marks and burnt-on debris stuck to stainless steel pan bottoms. Wet the pan bottom, apply the powder to the spot, then scour with a plastic scrub pad.
Just about everyone burns food once in a while, it's not a major issue, but the longer it sits, the harder it's to clean up. Soak that pan in warm, soapy water as soon as possible to make it easier to clean.
Avoid using harsh chemicals such as oven cleaners to clean up extremely dirty pans. You can only use oven cleaner on an oven surface that doesn't ever touch food. It's not safe for pots and pans.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.