How to Clean a Stainless Steel Pan, Inside and Out

Stainless steel pans are true kitchen workhorses. They are suitable for all hobs including induction, as well as in the oven. If you heat them properly, they will become ‘temporarily non-stick’ – which is to say, food will not cling to the pan in a way that makes cleaning onerous. That’s because proper heating and a thin layer of oil on the pan’s surface create a barrier that prevents stickiness, almost as well as a non-stick pan. (See our guide on making stainless steel pans stick less here.)

But still: a stainless steel pan is not 100% non-stick, and even if food does not stick to a surface, it can still leave marks. In the times when a sponge or a pot scrubbing brush do not do the job – or when your stainless steel cookware just needs a little refresh – look no further than two ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. This is especially helpful when food has burned onto the surface of a pan (it happens!).
After all, one of the things we love most about stainless steel pans is that even after years of use, with a good scrub, they will look good as new. Do keep in mind that the more grease has caked on to a stainless steel pan, the more difficult it is to clean. So don’t wait too long before deciding to deep clean your stainless steel cookware.

Ingredients You Need to Clean Stainless Steel

Our go-to solutions for cleaning stainless steel pots and pans are bicarbonate of soda and lemon. For those blue-ish rainbow stains that sometimes occur inside a pan, we've found vinegar works best, and for a final polish, we like the Mauviel Inobrill Stainless Steel Cleaner.

How to Clean the Inside of a Stainless Steel Pan

To deep clean the inside of your pan, first make sure to clean your pan with washing-up liquid as normal, so it is as clean as possible before following these tips. 

Use Baking Soda

Add enough baking soda to cover the bottom of your stainless steel pan. Boil a kettle of water, and pour it over the baking soda; the water should come a quarter of the way up the pan. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. If you have a very stubborn stain on your pan, like burnt food, you can add a few tablespoons of white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar to the water before it boils. Let the water boil for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and once the water is cool enough to handle, rinse the pan and wipe away the stains with a sponge. Then wash with washing-up liquid and sponge or scourer as normal (especially if you’ve used vinegar, so any odour is gone).

Use Lemon

Depending on the severity of the stains, place one or two halves of a lemon in a pan, submerge it with water, and bring to a boil. Let the lemons boil for about 10 minutes. Once the water is cool enough to handle, pour it out and use the leftover lemons and juice to rub the sides and bottom of the pan. Then use a scourer (like a pot brush or copper cloth) to wipe away any remaining stains and rinse under warm water. Use washing-up liquid and clean a sponge for a final clean.

How to Remove Those Blue-ish Rainbow Stains

Sometimes you’ll find a blue-ish, prismatic ‘stain’ on your stainless steel pan that looks a little like a rainbow. This is called a heat tint, and happens when the chromium content in a stainless steel pan is activated as a result of very high heat. It has no effect on the function of a pan, but if the aesthetic bothers you, then fear not: there is an easy solution, no pun intended. Just add some white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar to the affected part of the surface, then dilute it with water and rub the solution into your pan with a sponge or soft cloth. The stain should come away easily. Wash your pan after with washing-up liquid, as normal, to remove any lingering odours.

How to Clean the Outside of a Stainless Steel Pan

Cleaning the outside of a pan requires a bit more elbow grease than cleaning the inside, since you cannot rely on the heat from boiling water to loosen up the stains. Before starting, make sure you clean the inside and outside of the pan thoroughly, taking off as many stains and marks as possible with washing-up liquid, a sponge, and a more abrasive scrubber – we recommend using a pot brush or copper cloth over steel wool or other metal scourers, which risks scratching the exterior of your pan.

Use Baking Soda *and* Lemon

Lay a tea towel on your countertop – it should be large enough to fit the size of the pan you are cleaning. Set a kettle of water to boil. Hold your pan over the sink, and carefully pour hot water over the back of the pan. Do not wipe off the water. Place the pan upside down on the tea towel and sprinkle baking soda over the back of the pan. (Use a tea strainer to do this for the best results; it will ensure even sprinkling.) Let the solution sit for 10-20 minutes for lighter stains or wear-and-tear; and longer for tougher stains, overnight if needed. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the pan, and use more if needed; you'll hear it sizzle. Use a wet pot brush or copper cloth to scour the dirt off the pan. Rinse the pan and clean it with washing-up liquid for a final clean.

Final Step: Polish the Stainless Steel

We found that Mauviel’s Inobrill Stainless Steel Cleaner works best as a polish, especially if a pan is severely stained. After you are done cleaning the pan, use the sponge included in the container to polish Inobrill over the exterior of the pan. This will restore shine and make your stainless steel pan look virtually reborn.