How to Clean Cookware

You've just finished a delicious, filling meal. Good food, good company -- what more could you ask for? How about someone to clean up all those dirty pots and pans?

This article can't provide the "someone," but it does offer some great tips and guidelines for making your cookware cleanup easier.

Before we delve into each specific surface, here are some great tips for general cleaning of cookware.

  • Basic care for all cookware starts with reading the manufacturer's care instructions.

  • Wash all pots and pans thoroughly inside and out soon after use.

  • If baked-on food requires washing the pan in soapsuds, dry it thoroughly after washing over a warm burner and rub vegetable oil into the pan with a paper towel.

  • Prevent heat stains on the outside of pans by keeping gas flames low so that they cannot lick up the side of the pot.

  • Do not subject cookware to sudden temperature changes; allow all cookware to cool before washing or soaking.

Aluminum cookware has the added problem of becoming discolored. Let's find out more.

Cleaning Aluminum Cookware

Here are some great tips for cleaning aluminum, including how to avoid discoloration.

  • To protect aluminum cookware from discoloration, never wash it in a dishwasher or let it soak in soapy water for long periods of time.

  • To remove interior discoloration, fill the pan with water, add 1 tablespoon cream of tartar or 1 tablespoon lemon juice per quart of water, and simmer until the discoloration is gone. Complete the process by scouring the pan with a steel-wool soap pad. Caution: Wear rubber gloves.

  • Use a steel-wool soap pad to remove burned-on food on cast-aluminum cookware.

  • Liquid nonabrasive bathroom cleanser or a paste of baking soda and water used with a synthetic scouring pad will polish both cast and sheet aluminum.

Now let's take a look at cleaning cast iron without removing its seasoning.

Cleaning Cast-Iron Cookware

Cast-iron cookware has a tendency to rust if it is not kept properly seasoned. Some cast-iron cooking utensils come from the factory already sealed, but most will have to be seasoned before their first use. Season cast-iron cookware in the traditional way: Scour cast-iron pots with a steel-wool soap pad, rinse, then wipe the inside of the pot with vegetable oil, place it in a warm oven for two hours, and wipe off the excess oil. Repeat this procedure periodically and whenever rust spots appear.

A couple other things to consider:

  • Wash cast-iron cookware in hot sudsy water, then dry it thoroughly, and store in a dry cupboard without its lid in place.

  • Never wash cast-iron cookware in the dishwasher; it will remove the seasoning and cause rust.

Like cast iron, clay and enamel cookware have some unique cleaning requirements. Keep reading to find out about these requirements.

Cleaning Clay and Enamel Cookware

Clay and enamel cookware needs extra-special care. Follow these tips to get the job done right:

Clay Cookware

  • Soak new clay cookware in water for about half an hour before using it for the first time. Be sure to soak both the top and the bottom, then scrub them well with a stiff brush to remove any clay dust.

  • Line the cooker with parchment paper to prevent the porous surface from absorbing food stains and strong flavors.

  • If your clay pot becomes stained or takes on pungent odors, fill the cooker with water, add 1 to 4 tablespoons baking soda, and let it stand.

  • Never put hot clay cookware on a cold surface -- it might crack.

  • Never wash clay cookware in the dishwasher or scrub it with a steel-wool soap pad.

  • Carefully dry the cooker before storing it to prevent mold. Store clay cookware with its lid off.

  • If mold spots appear on a clay cooker, brush the surface with a paste made of equal parts baking soda and water. Let stand 30 minutes, preferably in strong sunlight; brush the paste away, rinse well in clear water, and dry.

  • If necessary, soak a dirty pot to loosen cooked-on foods.
Enamel Cookware
  • Always let enamel cookware cool before washing. Rapid changes in temperature can crack the enamel coating.

  • Enamelware can be washed safely in the dishwasher.

  • Use a synthetic scouring pad -- never abrasive cleansers or steel wool -- to scrub stubborn soil.

Like aluminum, copper cookware changes color without proper cleaning and polishing. Take a look at the tips on the next page for cleaning copper.

Cleaning Copper Cookware

A Homemade Copper Polish
To clean a discolored copper pot, use a paste of 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon flour. Caution: Wear rubber gloves. Because the vinegar is acid, wash the pot in hot soapy water and rinse it before vigorously buffing for shiny results. You'll have the same success with a paste made of 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon salt.

Copper darkens with use and exposure to air. If you prefer shiny copper, you can clean and polish it easily with commercial copper cleaner. Copper cookware is lined with some other metal, usually tin or steel, to prevent harmful chemical reactions with food. Use only wood, nylon, or nonstick-coated spoons for stirring to prevent scratches. Here are more suggestions:

  • Some copper cookware comes with a protective lacquer coating that must be removed before the utensil is heated. Follow the manufacturer's instructions or place in a solution of 1 cup baking soda and 2 gallons boiling water. Let it stand until the water is cool, peel off the coating, wash, rinse, and dry.

  • Protect copper pans from scorching by making sure there is always liquid or fat in the pan before it is placed on the heat.

  • When melting butter, swirl it around in the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Lower the heat as soon as the contents of the pot reach the boiling point.

Just because it's nonstick, doesn't necessary mean it's easy to clean. Go to the next page for tips on cleaning cookware with a nonstick finish.

Cleaning Nonstick Cookware

Nonstick finishes or coatings are relatively thin. That means they're easily damaged. However, if you use the following suggestions, your nonstick cookware will survive the daily wear and tear it suffers.
  • Use wood, nylon, or specially coated spoons and spatulas to prevent surface damage.

  • Most nonstick cookware can be safely washed in the dishwasher. Wash new pans before using them, and lightly coat the inside with vegetable oil.

  • Apply vegetable oil again after each washing in the dishwasher and after treating for stains.

  • Do not soak pans in soapy water; the coating can retain a soap flavor.

  • When you want to remove stains from nonstick cookware, mix 2 tablespoons baking soda with 1 cup water and 1/2 cup liquid bleach. Boil the solution in the pan for several minutes until the stains disappear, then wash as usual.

You won't get much cooking done without dirtying a utensil or two. Learn about cleaning plastic and rubber on the next page.

Cleaning Plastic and Rubber Cookware

Plastic and rubber utensils and containers should never be exposed to high heat, because some plastics will melt and warp, and heat and sunlight can cause rubber products to crack. Check the manufacturer's instructions to see if an item is dishwasher-safe. Do not use solvents, harsh abrasives, or scouring pads to remove stains from plastic or rubber.
  • A paste made of baking soda and water is very effective for removing stubborn soils and stains from plastic and rubber utensils. Apply the paste to plastic with a sponge or soft cloth; a synthetic scouring pad can be used on rubber.

  • Remove odor from a plastic container by crumpling a piece of newspaper into the container. Secure the lid tightly, and leave it overnight. The paper will absorb the odor.

    Place newspaper in plastic containers to remove odors.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Place newspaper in plastic containers to remove odors.

Finally! A surface that doesn't require much special attention. Keep reading to learn about cleaning stainless steel.

Cleaning Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel requires little special care. Of course, that doesn't mean you can ignore it. There are some things you need to do to keep your stainless steel in good shape.

  • Stainless steel is dishwasher-safe, but if you wash it by hand, dry it promptly to prevent water spots.
  • Letting a pot boil over high heat for a long period of time will discolor stainless steel.

  • Storing the cookware stacked with other pots and pans may cause surface scratches.

  • To polish stainless steel, sprinkle baking soda on the wet surface of a pan, and scrub the metal with a synthetic scouring pad. Caution: Wear rubber gloves. After rinsing and drying, the pan will be bright as new.

From cutting boards to spoons, wood is an important part of your cookware arsenal. Next, we'll learn how to best clean this tricky surface.

Cleaning Wood Cookware

Wood bowls, trays, rolling pins, spoons, salad utensils, and cutting boards need special care to prevent warping and cracking. Because wood is porous, it absorbs moisture. When it dries out, the wood may be rough because the water may have raised the grain. That is just one thing to consider when dealing with wood. Here are more:

  • Periodically clean and oil cutting boards to restore their smooth surfaces and to protect them from moisture.

  • Some salad bowls are finished with a waterproof varnish, but many people prefer to keep their bowls untreated to absorb seasonings and enhance the flavor of salad.
  • Wipe wood immediately after use with a sponge or paper towel moistened in cold water.

  • If the wood item needs to be washed, don't let it soak in water and never put it in the dishwasher.

  • Remove stains with a solution of 1/4 cup chlorine bleach and 1 quart warm water. Rinse and dry, then coat with vegetable oil.

  • Eliminate odors by rubbing the surface with a slice of lemon.

    Rub a slice of lemon over wood surfaces to remove odors.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Rub a slice of lemon over wood surfaces to remove odors.

  • Baking soda cleans and deodorizes wood. Mix 1/2 cup baking soda with 1 quart warm water, and rub it on the wood surface. Caution: Wear rubber gloves.

  • Use a synthetic scouring pad to clean a cutting board. Scour the gummy residue on the edges of the board. Rinse with clear water; blot the moisture with a towel, and air-dry.

  • Bring back the natural finish by giving woodenware a coat of boiled linseed oil or vegetable oil, rubbed in with a synthetic scouring pad. Apply two thin coats 24 hours apart, wiping off the excess 1/2 hour after each application.

The suggestions in our final section will enable you to keep your glass and ceramic cookware sparkling.

Cleaning Glass and Ceramic Cookware

Glass and ceramic cookware requires tender loving care. Follow these guidelines for giving your class and ceramic cookware what it needs.

  • Most heat-resistant glass and ceramic-glass cookware is designed for oven use only, but some can be used on stovetops.

  • Read the manufacturer's instructions carefully to make sure that you use your cookware appropriately.

  • All glass and ceramic-glass cookware is dishwasher-safe.

  • Glass cookware that is allowed to boil dry is likely to shatter. If a pot boils dry, turn off the heat and leave the pot where it is until it has cooled.

  • Remove mineral deposits from glass coffeepots and teapots by boiling full-strength cider vinegar in the container for 15 minutes.

Now that you've cleaned every piece of cookware in your kitchen, it's time to mess it up again with another meal! But if you follow the tips and guidelines mentioned in this article, keeping these pieces clean will be a snap.

©Publications International, Ltd.