May 5, 2014

How to Clean Really Dirty Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

Stainless steel pans are a great choice for your kitchen. They are affordable, very durable, and don't react with acidic foods. But, as I learned the hard way, if you use spray oil on them, you will end up with some very ugly cookware. I tried everything to clean my stainless steel pans, including baking soda, vinegar, a heated combination of vinegar and baking soda, wood ashes, and Bartender's Keeper. Nothing got the ugly build up of the spray oil (now carbon) off my cookware. I thought I was going to have to live with ugly pans -  until I discovered this very simple trick:

Oven cleaner.

I know, I know. The trend right now is toward natural cleaners. Like our grandmothers used. (Well...not really. I collect antique and vintage home keeping books, and I can most assuredly tell you that women used a lot of really nasty and hazardous things to clean their houses, at least as far back as the 18th century.) But the fact of the matter is, safe, natural cleaners don't always get the job done. In the case of spray oil carbon build up, trust me: natural cleaners don't cut it.

So, just use some common sense. Work in a well ventilated area. Keep the kids out of the room. Wear rubber gloves. And you might consider wearing a cleaning mask, too.
You'll Need:

Cold oven cleaner (I used Easy-Off)
Rubber gloves

1. If you haven't already, clean the pan as best you can with ordinary dish soap (or run it through the dishwasher). Wipe clean. As you can see, my pan had a ton of build up.
2. Read the instructions on the oven cleaner. Be sure it's the kind that doesn't require heating. Spray onto the pan and set aside.
3. How long you leave the oven cleaner on depends upon how bad the build up is. Try wiping the pan clean after about 25 minutes. You shouldn't have to scrub. If the pan still has build up on it, spray it again and set it aside. My pan was in really bad shape, so I let it sit until evening, rinsed it, and repeated the oven cleaner spray, letting it sit overnight. I had to do this for two days and nights, but each time, I could see a lot of the build up had been cleaned off.
4. Once the build up is gone, wash the pan thoroughly before cooking with it.


Oh, and to avoid this carbon build up in the first place, avoid spray oils with stainless steel pans. Use a sliver of butter or a tiny bit of oil instead - put into the pan only after it is heated enough that a flick of water from your fingers makes a sizzling sound.


  1. I wonder if this would work on glass?? My glass loaf pans that I use to make bread are an embarrassing disgrace after a couple of years of using spray oil on them. Ugh!

  2. Chey, I bet it would. Easy Off says it can be used on oven doors that are glass.