Keeping pots and pans in peak condition requires proper care. Your kitchen cabinets likely house a hodgepodge of different cookware materials that call for different cleaning methods. Extend the life of your cookware by learning the correct way to clean stainless steel, tri-ply, carbon steel, cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron, non-stick, and copper crockery below.
How to Clean a Stainless Steel Pot or Pan
From stockpots to saucepans, all stainless steel cookware is dishwasher safe, but washing this way can damage it over time. The only way to make sure you’re getting all the nooks and crannies clean—especially by the handle and rivets—is by handwashing.
First, wipe away excess oil and food debris with a paper towel. The New York Times recommends “deglazing” the pan by adding some hot water and loosening any stubborn bits of stuck-on food with a long-handled nylon dish brush such as the OXO Good Grips Dish Brush. Using a continuous circular motion, scrub the pan inside and out with a good old Scotch-Brite sponge and dish soap. Steel wool and abrasive cleaners will leave their mark. Softer sponges, such as a Dobie pad are less abrasive but require more effort. Rinse clean, then towel dry immediately to avoid water spots.
Overheating a stainless steel pot or pan leads to irreversible discoloration but does not affect the cookware’s performance. For burnt-on food or calcium build-up, break out the Bar Keepers Friend or white vinegar. Simply wet the surface, sprinkle some BKF, and gently rub with a sponge. Rinse, then wipe dry. No BKF? No prob. Boiling a 1:3 vinegar to water ratio forgives a multitude of sins. Let mixture cool, dump it out, then handwash as usual.
How to Clean a Tri-Ply Pot or Pan
Tri-Ply or three-ply cookware is similar to stainless steel but features three layers of metal that are bonded together to ensure even heating. Cookware brands like All-Clad layer steel on the inside and outside of the pots and pans, with another layer of aluminum (or sometimes copper) in between to help conduct heat. This way you get the advantages of aluminum—efficient, even heat—without the risk of aluminum leaching into your food.
While tri-ply is also dishwasher-safe, you’ll get more longevity out of your investment by handwashing. Let the tri-ply pot or pan cool for a few minutes, then wash with hot soapy, water. For stuck-on residue, let it soak in warm water for 10-15 minutes. Abrasive cleaners and scrubbers will scratch tri-ply just as it would stainless steel, so you want to stick to soft nylon pads or brushes.
Stainless steel cleaners, such as All-Clad Cookware Cleaner and Polish, Cameo Aluminum & Stainless Steel Cleaner, Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser Liquid, or Weiman Stainless Steel Sink and Pots & Pans Cleaner and Polish condition, polish and protect both stainless steel and tri-ply. Three-ply construction means you never need to use high heat settings, even for frying or searing. Avoid discoloration damage by cooking on medium or low heat.
How to Clean a Carbon Steel Wok
Did you know that woks are supposed to be seasoned like cast iron? While some woks are actually made of cast iron, carbon steel is lighter and more popular. We’ll go over how to care for cast iron shortly, but carbon steel care and cleaning is pretty much the same. Several stir-fries develop a deep patina and natural non-stick coating that seasons the pan and adds flavor to your dishes. According to The Kitchn, “Seasoning can look splotchy, feel gummy, or develop rust spots (especially if you live somewhere humid or go a few weeks between uses). This is all fine. Just keep cooking and the patina will develop.”
Protect the seasoned surface by avoiding abrasive cleansers and metallic sponges, and never put your wok in the dishwasher. Instead, soak in warm water for about five minutes and scrub with a gentle sponge or cleaning pad. Use dish soap if necessary, but nothing stronger. To avoid rust, dry completely on the stovetop over low heat.
If you do end up having to use steel wool to remove stuck-on stains, the only way to restore your wok’s natural nonstick surface is to re-season it. You will also need to reseason your wok if someone accidentally puts it in the dishwasher or if rust spots develop.
The Kitchn recommends cleaning yellowed, gummy, or rusted spots by heating the empty pan over medium heat. Next, take it off the heat and add a teaspoon and a half of oil and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Vanquish gumminess and rust spots by scrubbing in the salt and oil with a few layers of paper towels.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron care is super similar to the carbon steel wok maintenance since cast iron cookware is made of carbon and iron alloy. Whether in a skillet, pan, or dutch oven form—heavy, durable cast iron holds up to roasting hot oven temps. It can even be used for cooking over a campfire! Like carbon steel, the cast iron coating gets enhanced with each use. To remain non-stick, its surface needs to be regularly re-oiled and re-seasoned.
Contrary to popular belief, you can use dish soap on cast-iron if needed, it will just need to be seasoned again. However, no matter how messy your cast iron cookware gets, it cannot be soaked. Leaving it in water can cause it to rust.
To clean a cast-iron skillet, scrape off any caked-on food with a scrub brush while the pan is still warm. Le Creuset sells a round-shaped nylon brush for such purposes. Get in between grill pan grates with an old toothbrush. Other products that can help clean cast iron include the Scrub Mommy dual-sided sponge and Lodge pan scrapers. Next, scrub hard-to-remove particles under hot water. If that’s not working, use the oil and kosher salt trick mentioned above. Rinse with hot water then put in the oven on low or on the stovetop on low heat to evaporate all the moisture.
How to Clean an Enamel-Coated Cast Iron Skillet or Dutch Oven
Enameled cast iron is just like cast iron except it is coated in porcelain enamel. Brands like Le Creuset, Staub, and Lodge carry non-reactive enamel-coated cast-iron cookware, from dutch ovens to skillets. While some may claim to be dishwasher safe, hand washing with warm soapy water and a nylon scrub brush is recommended. Avoid metal, which can scratch or chip the porcelain.
How to Clean Ceramic or Non-Stick Pots and Pans
Non-stick pans are so easy to clean because they are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), aka Teflon. Ceramic is a popular alternative to the conventional Teflon kitchenware. Everyone is probably guilty of throwing these pots and pans in the dishwasher, but hot water and harsh detergent can damage the nonstick coating. If your non-stick or ceramic cookware does make it to the dishwasher, re-condition it with vegetable or corn oil.
A soft sponge and warm soapy water should do the trick while maintaining the vessel’s appearance and performance. For tough stains, simmer water with a quarter cup of baking soda or vinegar over low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove debris with a sponge or brush. Never use steel wool or abrasive cleaners, which can scratch ceramic pans and ruin non-stick coating. Rinse, then dry thoroughly before storing.
How to Clean Copper Pots and Pans
Thanks to thermal conductivity, copper cookware cooks incredibly evenly. However, it does require regular polishing and maintenance. Since copper pots and pans do conduct heat so well, you should allow them to cool completely before washing (unlike most of the materials on this list, which are advantageous to clean while warm.) Wash with warm, soapy water and a soft sponge.
Copper pots tend to develop a natural patina which can be removed with a paste of lemon juice or vinegar and baking soda. Coat the pot with the paste, then buff off with a soft cloth. Avoid any cleaners that contain bleach, which is corrosive and causes pitting.