Step away from the dishwasher. 

By Betty Gold
January 06, 2020
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With a crowded marketplace and endless metals, coatings, and price-points to sift through, finding great-quality cookware is a tremendous undertaking. There's a reason everyone registers for a set when they get married—whether you cook daily or once a year, a reliable range of pots and pans is pricey and yet absolutely necessary in every kitchen.

That being said, once you have a sturdy skillet, saucepan, and stockpot et al. on hand, they should last you. There are a number of factors that determine how long your pots and pans will last—particularly whether they're nonstick, stainless steel, cast iron, or copper and what materials were used to manufacture them—but one of the best ways to maintain your cookware is to use the right cleaning method. 

For starters, avoid the dishwasher, even if the manufacturer says it’s OK. Though cookware is more durable now than ever before (nonstick in particular has come a long way), the temperature fluctuations and harsh detergents used in the dishwasher can dull and damage the finish of your cookware over time.

To preserve your precious pans as long as possible, simply use warm water, dish detergent, and (if need be), some elbow grease. And to prevent warping due to thermal shock, be sure to allow your pans to cool to room temperature before giving them a rinse. Here are specific ways to clean cookware, based on materials.

RELATEDThis Simple—and Very Common—Mistake Is Ruining Your Cookware

Cast Iron

The most effective way to preserve the hard-earned seasoning on your cast iron pan's surface is to limit the amount of time that you expose your skillet to water. Read: whatever you do, don't soak. For the best results, rinse your pan as soon as you're finished cooking once it's had a chance to cool off. (FYI, cast iron is excellent at retaining heat, so this can take some time). 

For cooked-on debris that won’t budge with warm water, use coarse salt and vegetable oil to make a scrubbing paste, then rinse with hot water and a few drops of a mild dishwashing soap if need be. You can also enlist a nonmetal scrubbing brush, like this one from Lodge. To prevent rust from forming, dry the skillet thoroughly and lightly coat the surface with cooking oil. Cover with a paper towel to protect it from dust for storage.

If the pan forms a sticky coating or does start to rust over time, give it a scrub with steel wool and re-season it. Check out this helpful guide for the proper way to season cast iron.

Nonstick

Nonstick pots and pans are lifesavers when it comes to cooking sticky foods with minimal oil and almost no cleanup—omelets, pancakes, stir-fried veggies, and more slide right off the surface with ease. The slippery surface makes cleaning a breeze, too. With a soft sponge, simply wash with hot, soapy water. Avoid abrasive sponges or cleaning pads. Every time you use them, you’re scraping off the nonstick finish bit by bit.

One other big mistake we see time and again regarding nonstick pans is the use of cooking spray. Over time, the lecithin in the nonstick spray (PAM is the most popular) will cook onto the surface of your pan, build up, and become nearly impossible to remove. The result? A ruined nonstick skillet. The coating gets completely degraded from the spray and will no longer act as a nonstick surface. 

RELATEDThe Little-Known Trick for Making Your Nonstick Cookware Last Longer

Stainless Steel

So beautiful when you first buy! And when it comes to high-heat browning and super even heat distribution, nothing beats stainless steel. However, once you've finished searing your steak, you'll probably notice that the surface of your previously glistening pan looks about as brown as the meat. Start by washing with hot, soapy water. If that doesn't take the stains off (and it likely won't), scrub the surface with Bar Keeper's Friend using a dobie pad, and enlist lots of elbow grease.

Anodized Aluminum

Anodized aluminum is aluminum that's been treated with an electrolytic process to increase its durability. Unlike most other types of nonstick, some hard-anodized aluminum pans can be used over high heat. If you start to notice unsightly marks on the pan's surface over time, boil a mixture of 2 tablespoons cream of tartar and 1 quart water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. For the exterior, apply the solution with a sponge. This should be able to tackle the discoloration, even if it has been there a while.

Copper

Copper is absolutely gorgeous, but it's a beast to maintain because it tarnishes easily. First, wash it out with soap and hot water. To keep the exterior shiny, you'll need to polish it regularly. If you'd rather use a home mixture than buy a dedicated copper polish, try rubbing the exterior with lemon halves that have been dipped in salt. The acids in the lemon should help remove the tarnish.

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