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How to Clean Stained Cookware According to Experts

A stained sheet pan with a scrub brush and some baking soda sprinkled on top.

Taking a pot or pan out of the dishwasher and finding stains is the worst! Plus, if you don’t know the best ways to clean stained cookware, you could permanently damage them. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do.

To learn more, we spoke with Leanne Stapf, COO of The Cleaning Authority, and Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, about the best ways to remove stains from cookware.

Best Ways to Prevent Cookware Stains

Roasting beets an other veggies.

If you’ve ever wondered why your sheet pans and casserole dishes accumulate all those stains over time, there are a few explanations for this. Often, your pan becomes stained from grease build-up, especially when oil with a low smoke point is used. For example, if you use olive oil to roast veggies for a long time at a high temperature, that could be your culprit.

When food becomes overheated, a burnt residue will cause stains to form and cause discoloration. Even dark-hued foods like beets can cause your pans to gain pesky stains.

Stapf recommends using a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent stains on sheet pans and baking sheets. Once you’re all done, pull off the foil, crumble it up and throw it away. Parchment paper works in the same way. She also recommends avoiding the dishwasher, as pots and pans should be hand washed instead.

Reynolds Aluminum Foil

Place over your sheet pan to prevent stains.

Because each type of cookware differs so much by material, cleaning methods will vary too.

How to Clean Enameled Cast Iron Stains

A Lodge enameled dutch oven placed over a counter with ingredients surrounding it.

Enameled cast iron is known for its ability to go from stove to oven, cooking just about anything with ease. But even when you’re super careful, the enameled coating on the inside, which is a light tan hue, can become stained.

According to Lodge, enameled cast iron usually becomes stained, thanks to long cooking times. Many say the stains show your cookware is well-loved, but if you aren’t a fan, there’s a way to remove them.

Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

The piece of cookware everyone should own!

The stains on the enamel can be cleaned in a few different ways. Stapf recommends that you “soak the cookware in hot water, dish soap, and a couple of scoops of baking soda.” She says to “soak for 15-30 minutes before scrubbing clean with a soft sponge.”

Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Care Kit

Includes cleaner, pan scraper, scrub brush, and instructions.

Otherwise, you can look for a brand-name cleaner specifically formulated to clean enameled cookware. You’ll want to use the Lodge cleaner kit if Lodge is your go-brand. Otherwise, if Le Creuset is your brand, then be sure to grab their version. 

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware Stains

A cast iron skillet in need of a good scrape and scrub surrounded by various tools like a scarper and a scrub brush.
Bruce Peter/Shutterstock.com

Cast Iron cookware differs from enameled cast iron because it doesn’t have an enameled coating. The non-enameled version boasts a black textured surface, which surrounds the inside and outside of the cookware.

It’s harder to see stains on non-enameled cast iron cookware because the pan is so dark, and the “stains” we are referring to here can be a few things. Stuck-on food happens when the skillet stays on a heat source for too long, but using a scraper can help.

A sticky surface is also a sign of oil build-up. Fix this by placing the cookware upside down in your oven at about 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Otherwise, if you find yourself facing a rusted cast iron skillet, you might have a bigger task at hand. From minor touch-ups to significant seasoning overhauls, we’ve broken down all the essential steps to taking care of that cast iron skillet so you’ll know just what to do in every circumstance.

How to Clean Nonstick Skillet Stains

An all-clad skillet with a fried egg gliding off easily.

Nonstick skillets are great, but these convenient pans also come with a few caveats. Because they are made with a nonstick coating, food is less prone to attach, making them super easy to cook with, especially if you’re new in the kitchen. If not careful, though, nonstick cookware can easily be scratched, making them unsafe to use.

All-Clad Nonstick Skillet Set

This set will last for years.

“You should avoid using a scratched nonstick skillet. The coating can flake off, which is harmful if ingested.” Stapf told LifeSavvy. “To avoid scratching your nonstick cookware, use proper utensils when stirring food.”

When cleaning stains, avoid abrasive scouring pads and combine equal parts of baking soda with water and vinegar. Peterson recommends this “evergreen solution” for most cookware, including nonstick.

How to Clean Glass Cookware Stains

A stained rectangular glass casserole dish.

Most glass dishes, like the pyrex casserole dish, fall under the bakeware category. Regardless, they are prone to stain build-up, so we didn’t want to leave these out.

When cleaning glassware, Peterson and Stapf agree that soaking the glassware in warm water works well to remove any caked-on foods or pesky baked-on grease. From there, use a scrub brush to work away stains.

If you’re facing a few tenacious stains, another trick of the trade seems to work like magic, thanks to Mr. Clean Magic Erasers! The melamine foam is made of a porous material that helps take away stubborn spots without damaging the surface of the glass. You’ll have to give it a try.

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers

Made with extra durable dura foam!

How to Clean Ceramic Cookware Stains

A GreenPan ceramic skillet cooking up potatoes and onions.

Ceramic cookware can be cleaned similarly to other types of cookware. A solid soaking session, plus baking soda and vinegar paste to scrub away bits of food, usually does the job.

The Spruce recommends using hydrogen peroxide for any discoloration on ceramic cookware, as it helps “lighten” any discoloration that may happen over time. Like most other cookware, always wash your ceramic skillets by hand, and avoid the dishwasher.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware Stains

A cuisinart stainless steel skillet on a counter.

We hate to say it, but stainless steel isn’t always so stainless. You’ll notice this cookware sometimes becomes discolored with rainbow-hued patterns over time, but there’s a fix!

Both Peterson and Stapf agree that vinegar helps treat discoloration on stainless steel. Peterson says, “to use that same mixture of ½ cup of baking soda, ½ a cup of white vinegar mixed with hot water.”

Stapf suggests, “pour a small amount of white vinegar into your cookware and scrub with a soft sponge to treat discolored stainless steel.”

Cuisinart Classic Stainless Steel Skillet

A timeless piece to add to your collection.

Both methods use the acidity of vinegar to help break down the oxidation that has occurred. After a quick scrub, they’ll look shiny, silver, and like new again.

How to Clean Aluminum Cookware Stains

A stained sheet pan.
Irina Mos/Shutterstock.com

Stained cookie sheets might boast a rustic look in food photography, but those stains can be annoying if you’re not into snapping pics. Have no fear; there’s a fix.

First, if you have any caked-on foods, grab a bench scraper (sometimes also often called a dough cutter). It’ll work similarly to a cast iron scraper in scraping away any leftover food. You’ll have options for metal and plastic; we recommend grabbing a plastic to avoid scratching your pan.

Lasenersm Bench Scraper

Great for scraping bowls and cutting dough.

Like most other types of cookware, you’ll find that baking soda, vinegar, and water, plus a bit of dish soap, will get the job done, according to Peterson. She told LifeSavvy to “let the pan soak overnight in the sink and give it a good scrub in the morning.”

Stapf also agreed that a long soak with dish soap and baking soda would work well. She also said to “buff it out with a soft microfiber cloth. Remember to avoid abrasive scrubbing materials to prevent scratching the surface.”

MR.SIGA Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

Ultra soft material that'll clean without scratching.

Microfiber towels are designed to polish delicate surfaces but will help shine up some difficult spots that need a solid scrub. The tiny fibers work to pick up dirt and food residue better than regular dish towels.

Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are, we all end up with stained cookware sometimes. When selecting top-brand skillets isn’t enough, it’s great to have a few cleaning tricks up your sleeve.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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