Do you hate it when your beautiful stainless steel pots are discolored and look like you’ve used them for over 10 years? To be honest I really hate it. But, there is no need to get frustrated because of this. In this post we will discuss why discoloration happens, how to clean discolored stainless steel pots with different homemade cleaners as well as review of a few special products such as the Bar Keepers Friend you can get from Amazon now! For those in a hurry that don’t have time to read the whole post here is a quick tip:

Pour a little bit of 50% diluted white vinegar in the pot. Get a soft non-abrasive sponge and start slowly scrubbing the surface. After one minute of scrubbing, rinse it and let it dry. Polish it with a soft cloth and a little bit of olive oil.

Now for those who want to know more, before I can dive into the other different ways to clean your stainless steel pots and pans and return their initial shine and glory, let’s discuss why discoloration happens in the first place.

Stainless steel pots are very sensitive to high temperatures. Whilst cooking you must remember to cook on low to medium heat to avoid discoloration, also known as “rainbow stain”. Cooking oils can affect the surfaces as well. Especially cooking sprays. Their special formula tends to stick on the surface of the stainless steel pots and change their color. Instead, you can use vegetable oil or butter which will not only protect the pots, but give a much better taste to your food.

Another “troublemaker” that can affect your stainless steel pots is hard water. You will notice white spots due to calcium buildup (also known as limescale) after you take it from the dishwasher. The worst you can do is forget it on the stove with boiling water. Once the water evaporates, the bottom of the pot will get white and look like it is ruined forever. Be careful while leaving the pot with water on the stove, because that is very hard to restore it to it’s previous condition.

Since now you know all the things that cause discoloration, here is a “pro” tip: clean the stainless steel pots regularly. Once in a while a good old seasoning will do wonders, but we will talk about it later in this post. Now the thing that you came for, how to clean discolored stainless steel pots:

Vinegar and baking soda

Let’s face it, vinegar and baking soda rule! I can’t stress enough how well this combination works. In almost any cleaning battle I have in my home, these two are my front running solders. Same goes for cleaning discolored pots and pans. Here is what you need to do:

  • Pour equal amounts of water and white vinegar into the pot. Make sure you cover the whole surface.
  • Heat this solution until it gets to a boiling point.
  • After couple of minutes boiling, remove it from the stove and pour the solution down the drain. The vinegar will remove all hard water stains. While many homeowners will advice you to use CLR for cleaning hard water stains (and believe them, it is amazing product), it is not very safe option when cleaning stuff that you put your food in.
  • Add a tablespoon of baking soda (you can add 2-3 spoons, depending on the size of your pot, or the hardness of the stain). The baking soda acts as an abrasive and removes any burnt on stains. Do this by gently scrubbing the surface with a soft non-abrasive sponge. For maximum results you can create a paste of water and baking soda and leave it overnight, before scrubbing.

Cook away toughest burn stains

If you are facing some of the toughest burn marks, you might want to use the same thing that caused your problem, to make it go away. Pour water in the pot, put it on the stove and let it come to a boiling point. Add a few tablespoons of salt to the boiling water. Let it boil for a couple of hours. The water and heat will remove even the toughest stains. Make sure you put enough water, because it evaporates. You don’t want a different kind of stain (pitting stain).

If salt doesn’t work, you can try the same method with white vinegar or lemon juice. It all depends from the origin of the stain.

Salt

Salt can be a great stain remover if used in a combination with hot water and dish soap. Put a few tablespoons of salt on the bottom of the pot, add some hot water, dish soap and let it sit for 10 minutes. After this (when the water gets colder) gently scrub the surface with a non-abrasive sponge.

Ketchup

You may be surprised by this, but ketchup sometimes can really help. It may not be as powerful in removing hard burnt food residue, but will help with stain removal and discoloration. Simply cover the stained area of the pot and let it sit for 30 minutes. Rinse it and it will be as good as new.

Tooth paste

Put a bit of tooth paste on the stained area of the stainless steel cookware and start to scrub gently with a non-abrasive sponge. Do this for about 5 minutes. Rinse the tooth paste and wash it with dish soap. You don’t want to have a minty taste in your next meal.

Cream of tartar

In case you have cream of tartar, it can be used instead of baking soda. It will do the same job. Mix a tablespoon of cream tartar with hot water and pour it into the pot. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. Pour the content down the drain and gently scrub the pot. Rinse it afterwards or even better wash it with dish soap.

Dryer sheet

Take a few dryer sheets and place them in the pot. Pour hot water and make sure you cover the whole surface of the pot and the dryer sheets. Add a bit of dish soap. Let it sit for 30 minutes. The dryer sheets contain fabric softener, which will loosen up the burnt stains. Rinse it and it will be good to use again.

Aspirin

This works in a similar fashion to baking soda. Just put a couple of aspirin pills into a boiling water in the pot and let it sit away from the stove for about an hour. Pour away the solution and rinse the pot.

Seasoning the pot

One of the most efficient ways to remove any stains on your stainless steel cookware, or make sure they never occur, is regular seasoning. Here is the correct way to season your stainless steel pot:

  • Wash the pot with warm water and dish soap. Rinse it and dry it well.
  • Place the pot on the stove and let it sit on medium heat, until it gets hot. (Remember never put stainless steel cookware on very high stove temperatures)
  • Once the pot is hot enough, put a tablespoon of any kind of cooking oil (just not spray on) and let it melt to cover the whole surface of the pot.
  • Put the pot back to the stove and continue heating it. Now smoke will start to come up from the burning oil. Don’t be scared, this is the good part. As the pot gets warmer, the molecules of the stainless steel expand and let the oil to bond, thus forming a protective coat.
  • Turn off the heat after a few seconds since the smoke started and remove the pot. Let it cool of until it gets shiny.
  • Pour away the remaining oil. Now your pot is properly seasoned.

To keep the pot seasoned, make sure you don’t wash it with dish soap.

If you don’t have the time to try some of these methods mentioned above, you can always go to the option that will work 100% – get a specially formulated cleaner for stainless steel cookware. Below are the top 3 stainless steel cookware cleaners I am happy to recommend:

Bar Keepers Friend Superior Cookware Cleanser & Polish

Bar Keepers Friend Superior Cookware Cleanser & Polish
image source: barkeepersfriend.com

The first on the list of my top 3 stainless steel cookware cleaners is Bar Keepers Friend Superior Cookware Clenser and Polisher. This is an unique cleaning formula that works on every different kind of stain or discoloration you can find on stainless steel cookware. Amazing for removing stubborn grease stains. Works great on limescale stains as well. After just one use, you will see a huge difference, mostly due to the polishing power of this product. You only need 30 seconds of gentle scrubbing and you will see the effect. The other great thing about Bar Keepers Friend is that you can use it not just on stainless steel, but as well Porcelain, Chrome, Ceramic, Aluminum, Cooper etc… It will also come in handy while cleaning the grill outside. I was really impressed how well it removes those burnt marks on the bottom side of the pot. I just love this product. Here you can check the current price on Amazon.

Bon Ami Polish and Cleanser Powder

Bon Ami Polish and Cleanser Powder
image source: bonami.com

If you are concerned about the environment and using products that cause no harm, then Bon Ami Polish and Cleanser Powder is the product for you! It is dangerous for the stains but safe for the environment. There are no toxins in the formula and it is biodegradable. If you are sensitive to harsh chemical or even artificial smells this one has one more star. It is odorless. Best to use is with a dumped sponge and moving in a circular motion. Here you can check the current price on Amazon.

Steel Glo Stainless Steel Cookware Cleaner

Third on the list is Steel Glo Stainless Steel Cookware Cleaner. I haven’t used this one myself, but my sister does all the time. The results are very very good. She is so happy with this product and says she just hopes they never stop producing it. The environmental friendly formula works as a multipurpose cleaner, although it is stated as stainless steel cleaner. It doesn’t leave scratches, no matter the direction of rubbing. Here you can check the current price on Amazon.

How to clean the bottom of stainless steel  pots and pans

For the bottom, I say just go with a special cleaning formula for stainless steel cookware. It will save you a lot of time. Usually, the bottom side is more burned, dirtier and it will take forever to clean it without a powerful formula. The one I would go with (and the one I mostly use) is Bar Keepers Friend. There is nothing more powerful when it comes to fighting those nasty bottom side burnt stains.

How to polish a stainless steel cookware

Once you are done with the cleaning and all the stains are sucessefully removed you are in the final step – polishing the pot. There are three methods you can try:

1. Vinegar. Make a solution of 50% white vinegar and spray on the surface of the stainless steel pot. Take a microfiber towel and start moving it along the grain lines. After a few minutes you will see the results.
2. Olive oil. Put a few drops of olive oil on a clean microfiber towel and gently rub the pot along the grain lines. With the olive oil you can even go in circular motions.
3. Get a special stainless steel polisher for cookware. The one I personally use is Thor Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish. It is an amazing combination of cleaner and polisher. It will help you remove the leftover stains and give the final shine to the pot. I use it for a couple of years now and must say I am very happy. It says on the package that it is safe to use on a food touching surfaces, but I would avoid using it on the inside. Maybe I am being paranoid but that’s just me.

Is discolored stainless steel safe?

What if nothing helps (which in my experience I doubt), or you are too lazy to clean it, is it still okay to use your discolored stainless steel cookware? The short answer is YES. It is just a “cosmetic” problem. There is no need to worry because all the discoloration happens from heat or while cooking. It has nothing to do with harsh chemicals that will affect your health. If you used your pot only in your kitchen and for cooking purposes, you don’t’ have to worry. Keep using it.

I hope you found this post helpful, and time saving in your home duties. If you have other tips for cleaning and polishing stainless steel cookware, feel free to share them in the comment section below.