How to Clean Pots and Pans: Everything You Need to Know

how to clean pots and pans

Cleaning pots and pans—especially when they are covered in stubborn grease stains or burnt-on food—is no one’s idea of a good time.

More so than your easy-clean ceramic dishes, pots and pans have a particular tendency to accumulate grime, meaning more elbow grease is needed to get them spick and span once more.

However, with the right cleaning products and techniques, you can restore your cookware to its fabulous former glory. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find out the essential cleaning tips and methods to tackle dirty pans and remove grease stains effectively and quickly.

Whether you’re hopelessly staring down at the burnt bottom of a pan or simply want to maintain the cleanliness of your cookware, these tips will help you achieve spotless results.

Essential Cleaning Products for Pots and Pans

To achieve optimal cleaning results, all you need is the right cleaning products at your disposal. Here are some essential products that can assist you in cleaning your pots and pans:

Dish Soap: A mild dish soap is a versatile cleaning agent that effectively removes grease and food residue from cookware. Anything too strong or abrasive can damage the surface, especially when it comes to frying pans. 

Baking Soda: This pantry staple serves as a gentle abrasive and can help eliminate tough stains and burnt-on food without scratching the surface of your pans. For a huge variety of kitchen cleaning tasks, baking soda is your secret weapon.

White Vinegar: Known in homes worldwide for its natural cleaning properties, white vinegar is super-effective in cutting through grease and removing lingering odors from pots and pans.

Lemon Juice: Since the surface of expensive pots and pans can be delicate, you might be hesitant about using something as acidic as lemon. However, it is exactly those acidic properties of lemon juice that make it an excellent natural cleaner for removing stains and freshening up your cookware.

Before You Start Cleaning

Before you start squeezing those lemons, take a moment to assess the situation. The type of dirt or damage will affect how you go about things, so make sure to take the following steps before getting down to it. 

Assess the Extent of the Damage

Not all stains are alike. You might be dealing with a grease spot that will lift right out with a bit of baking soda. Alternatively, you could be dealing with a severely burnt pan.

For example, if your frying pan has a small burn, this can be addressed with cleaning tips. However, if the whole bottom of the pan. feels burnt out and brittle, your best bet is to simply throw it out and start afresh. 

Ask Yourself Why This Keeps Happening

If you find your pans and pots are stained beyond recognition after every use, you might be the problem. While stains and spots are impossible to avoid forever, it is not usually normal if your pots and pans are in a terrible state after every meal.

Try and pinpoint the cause of the problem, as simply adjusting your cooking habits could save you a lot of labor further down the line. 

Give the Stain a Little Scratch 

Oftentimes, spots and stains look a lot worse than they actually are. Before you head to the store to buy your arsenal of cleaning products, take a moment and give the affected area a gentle scratch with your finger.

You might find that the stain, spot, or burn simply falls right off, and the damage is not as bad as you might have initially thought. 

Cleaning Tips for Different Types of Pots and Pans

First off, it’s worth noting that the term “pots and pans” is a pretty broad descriptor. Different types of cookware require specific cleaning techniques. Here are some tips tailored to each type:

Non-Stick Pans

Avoid using harsh abrasives or metal scrubbers that can damage that oh-so-delicate non-stick coating. Soak the pan in warm, soapy water for a few minutes to loosen stubborn stains.

Gently scrub with a soft sponge or non-abrasive brush to remove any remaining residue. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a soft cloth.

Stainless Steel Pans

Fill the pan with warm water and a few drops of dish soap. Allow it to soak for 15-20 minutes. Use a non-abrasive sponge or nylon brush to scrub away food particles and grease stains.

For tougher stains, create a paste using baking soda and water. Apply the paste to the affected areas and scrub gently. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a soft cloth to prevent water spots.

Cast Iron Pans

Avoid using dish soap as it can strip away the seasoning, which is what we call the special coating that ensures the pan does its job. Instead, use hot water and a stiff brush to remove food residue. If there are stubborn stains, sprinkle salt on the pan and scrub with a sponge or brush.

Rinse the pan thoroughly and dry it immediately to prevent rusting. Apply a thin layer of oil to the pan after you have finished cleaning it to maintain its seasoning.

The Brand Matters

Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that specific brands of pans might have tailored cleaning requirements.

For example, premium French cookware brand Le Creuset uses a unique enamel, which is why the brand offers detailed instructions on exactly how to clean them without damaging them. Always check if your brand of cookware offers specific cleaning instructions.

This is especially worth doing if you own high-end pots and pans that use special materials or seasonings. 

How to Clean Pots and Pans: Grease Stains

Grease stains can be particularly challenging to remove. Employ the following techniques to conquer those stubborn stains:

Baking Soda and Vinegar Method

Sprinkle baking soda over the grease stains and spray white vinegar on top.
Allow the mixture to fizz for a few minutes, which helps loosen up the grease.
Scrub the pan using a sponge or brush, focusing on the stained areas. Rinse thoroughly and dry the pan.

Lemon Juice and Salt Method

Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the grease stains. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt onto the lemon juice puddle. Use the cut side of the lemon to scrub the salt and juice mixture into the stains. Rinse thoroughly and dry the pan.

Tea Tree Oil Method

This might sound a little bit left-field, but hear us out. Tea tree oil is an amazing little potion for getting rid of grease and sticky spots on any surface, without causing any damage.

Apply the tea tree oil to the pan directly. No more than two drops should do the trick. Use a sponge or brush to softly scrub the affected areas. Rinse thoroughly and dry the pan. Note that tea tree oil is good for grease, but pretty useless for removing other stains. 

Dealing With Burnt Bottoms of Pans

When faced with a burnt bottom of a pan, these steps can help restore it to its former glory.

Boiling Water Method

Fill the burnt pan with water and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and add a generous amount of baking soda to the water. Allow the mixture to sit for a few hours or overnight. Empty the water and scrub the pan with a sponge or brush. Rinse thoroughly and dry the pan.

Salt and Vinegar Method

Cover the burnt area with a layer of salt. Pour white vinegar onto the salt and let it sit for a few hours. Scrub the burnt area with a sponge or brush. Rinse thoroughly and dry the pan.

Maintaining the Cleanliness of Your Pots and Pans

Regular maintenance can help prevent buildup and keep your cookware looking truly good-as-new. Here are some tips to maintain the cleanliness of your pots and pans:

Avoid Using Metal Utensils: Metal utensils can scratch the surface of non-stick and stainless steel pans. Use silicone, plastic, or wooden utensils instead. Trust us on this one. 

Clean Pans Immediately After Use: The longer you wait to clean your pans, the more difficult it becomes to remove stubborn stains and grease buildup. While we no-one wants to do the dishes right after a big meal, acting fast could save you a whole lot of time and elbow grease further down the line. 

Use the Right Amount of Heat: Avoid using high heat when cooking with non-stick pans as this can damage the coating. Although this might be hard to hear if you’re the kind of person that likes things a little crispy around the edges, use a low to medium heat instead.

Store Your Pans Properly: Avoid stacking your pans on top of each other as this can cause scratches and damage. Use a pan organizer or hang them on a rack. There are plenty of gorgeous pan racks that you can use to make your kitchen look like a stunning rustic show kitchen, all while ensuring that your expensive pots and pans stand the test of time. 

Extra Cleaning Tips for All Types of Pots and Pans 

If you’re a particularly savvy advocate of kitchen cleanliness, you could also add a few of these handy hacks into your everyday cleaning routine. 

Use a Magic Eraser

Believe it or not, those magic erasers can also be put to good use on your precious pots and pans. All you need to do is run the magic eraser under the faucet and then scrub any affected area, before rinsing and leaving to dry. 

Soak the Pans Overnight

This might sound obvious, but it bears repeating. If you cannot be bothered to break out the lemon juice and baking soda right after cooking, this is the easy option.

Just fill your sink up with hot water and dish soap and leave your dirty pans to soak overnight. When you finally do get around to cleaning them, those stains should lift right out. If you’re dealing with notoriously sticky spots such as those caused by parmesan, this could be a great option.

Use a Steam Cleaner 

Sometimes the most effective tools are those that you would least think to use. A little bit of steam can lift out pretty much any stain.

All you need to do is fill up your steam cleaner with water and then use the attached nozzle to direct the steam onto the affected areas. With a little patience, the grime should simply fall away. 

Some Foods to Watch Out For 

Unfortunately, your favorite meal might be part of the problem. Certain foods and dishes require special care when cooking if you want to avoid causing lasting damage or stains to your pots and pans. Here are some classic examples that require a little bit of extra care in the kitchen. 

Sticky Dishes

Rice and oatmeal are some of the most challenging dishes to look out for. These tend to stick to the bottom of even the most expensive non-stick pans, causing a thick coating that can be difficult to remove. With these, make sure to keep stirring and prevent the pan from drying out during cooking.

Sugary Dishes

We all love sugar, but this can come at a cost. Preparing sugar and syrups in the pan is especially fraught, as the sugar can either burn through the pan or caramelize and form a hard layer that will not come out easily. 

Acidic Dishes 

Cooking with citrus fruits, vinegar or even certain spicy dishes can cause lasting damage and stains. However, this is usually only a problem if you’re cooking with an aluminum pot or pan, so consider using a different material when cooking with these specific foods. 

Enjoy Your Favorite Dishes, Without the Drama 

Knowing how to clean pots and pans is an essential life skill that will save you time, money, and drama. With the right items on-hand and a little bit of know-how, there is no stain that is insurmountable.

Of course, sometimes we just want to enjoy our favorite meals without worrying about how we’re going to save our kitchenware afterward.

For this, we have got you covered. Make sure to check out our ready-made meals, lovingly prepared by local restaurants so that you can enjoy the food you love, without the labor. 

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