How to Clean Cookware to Make It Last Longer

Step away from the dishwasher. Discover how to clean pots and pans the right way.

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A sturdy skillet, saucepan, stockpot, and Dutch oven should last a long time, but how can you make sure they do? By cleaning cookware properly. Sure, several other factors determine how long your pots and pans will last—particularly whether they're nonstick, stainless steel, cast iron, or copper—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 (and nonstick has also come a long way in terms of safety), the temperature fluctuations and harsh detergents used in the dishwasher can dull and damage the finish of your cookware over time. In fact, even when hand washing, allow your pans to cool to room temperature before giving them a rinse. Here's how to clean your various pots and pans to make them last.

How to Clean Cast Iron With Cooking Oil and Salt

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.

What You Need:

  • Warm water
  • Course salt
  • Cooking oil

Step 1: Rinse Pan ASAP

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).

Step 2: Make a Scrubbing Paste

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 mild dishwashing soap if need be. You can also enlist a nonmetal scrubbing brush, like the Lodge scrub brush ($9.50;

Step 3: Dry Thoroughly and Coat With Oil

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 starts to rust over time, give it a scrub with steel wool and re-season it.

How to Clean Nonstick With Hot, Soapy Water

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—a great choice if you're looking for an induction cookware set.

A big mistake we see 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.

What You Need:

  • Hot, soapy water
  • Cooking oil

Step 1: Sponge Down With Soapy Water

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.

Step 2: Rinse and Add Oil

Rinse the pan in hot water and dry with a dish towel. While nonstick pans don't require oiling, many cooks add this step to keep them from drying out. Lubricate your nonstick pan by adding 1 teaspoon of neutral cooking oil (like vegetable or canola) and wiping it down with a paper towel.

Step 3: Dry and Store

Allow the pan to dry completely before putting it away. If you stack your pots and pans, put a dish towel or paper towel in between to prevent scratching.

How to Clean Stainless Steel With Bar Keeper's Friend

So beautiful when you first buy it! 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 frying pan looks about as brown as the meat.

What You Need:

  • Hot, soapy water
  • Bar Keeper's Friend ($8,
  • Scotch-Brite Dobie Cleaning Pad ($15 for a 12-count pack,

Step 1: Wash With Soapy Water

As a general rule, stainless steel is dishwasher safe. But if you want to maintain the stainless steel finish, washing by hand is best. Scrub with the grain using a sponge and hot, soapy water to remove baked-on food, grease, and stains.

Step 2: Scrub With Bar Keeper's Friend

If that doesn't take the stains off (and it likely won't), scrub the surface with Bar Keeper's Friend using a non-scratch scrubbing pad like a Scotch-Brite Dobie Cleaning Pad, and enlist lots of elbow grease.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

Rinse in hot water and air dry (or dry with a dish towel).

How to Clean Anodized Aluminum With Cream of Tartar

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.

What You Need:

  • Cream of Tartar
  • Water

Step 1: Boil a Cleaning Solution From Cream of Tartar

If you notice unsightly marks on the pan's surface over time, boil a mixture of 2 tablespoons of Cream of Tartar (a baking powder that's also a powerful cleaning agent) and 1 quart of water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Step 2: Apply Solution to the Exterior With Sponge

For the exterior, apply this solution with a sponge. Because cream of tartar has mild bleaching properties, this should be able to tackle the discoloration, even if it has been there for a while.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

Rinse in hot water and dry completely.

How to Clean Copper With Soap and Water

Copper is absolutely gorgeous, but it's a beast to maintain because it tarnishes easily.

What You Need:

  • Water
  • Soap
  • Copper pot polish
  • Lemon halves
  • Salt

Step 1: Wash With Soap and Water

Hand wash with hot water and a mild dish soap after each use.

Step 2: Rinse and Dry

Rinse in hot water and wipe out any remaining soap residue with a clean cloth.

Step 3: Polish Regularly

To keep the exterior shiny, you'll need to polish it regularly. As a general rule, try to do this at least twice a year. Removing tarnish is not hard, but the longer you wait, the more tarnished it will be. If you'd rather use a home mixture than buy a dedicated copper polish, try this DIY method:

  • Cut a lemon in half and apply salt to the pulp.
  • Scour the pan with the salted pulp using the lemon as a sponge. The acids in the lemon should help remove the tarnish, while the salt is mildly abrasive for scrubbing off the stubborn spots.
  • Toss out the lemon, rinse the pan with warm water, and dry it with a clean cloth.
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