12 Products That Actually Work To Clean Your Stubborn Pots and Pans, According to a Professional Chef

Photo: /Kristine Weilert
Using the same product to clean all your pots and pans isn't a great idea. Some materials, like stainless steel, require a good scrub with plenty of elbow grease, but cast iron (don't even think about dish soap) and nonstick skillets (stay away with the steel wool) need a little more tenderness.

Before you even turn on the faucet to start washing the dishes, the first step is recognizing that some products don't play well with certain types of pots and pans, says Kayte Billerman, chef and owner of meal kit delivery service The Good Bite Kitchen in Lake Placid, New York.

Billerman almost exclusively cooks with stainless steel and cast iron—two very different products. "For stainless steel, I usually use a stainless steel scrubby to get everything off," she says. "But if you use something like that on cast iron, you can scrub too much of the seasoning away and will end up having to do a total re-seasoning. It's important to be as soft and gentle as you can."

When it comes to sensitive cast iron skillets, avoid using anything harsh, like steel wool or abrasive scourers. Billerman says your best bet is to clean your cast iron as soon as you're finished cooking with it using a dry paper towel. If something is super stuck, like a runny egg or sticky gravy, she recommends using a soft sponge and some water to work it off. "If you use water, you have to re-season it," she says. "Heat it up so that the pores open, then oil it down so it stays seasoned and your food won't stick."

A similar, gentle approach should be used for cleaning nonstick pans, which often leverage a thin layer of polytetrafluoroethylene (also known as PTFE or by the brand name Teflon) or ceramic to keep food and debris from sticking to the surfaces. "Don't scratch it or scrub too hard," Billerman says. "Always use a soft sponge and never put it in the dishwasher."

Stainless steel, on the other hand, is durable and will stay scratch scratch-free no matter how much elbow grease you use. "If you keep up with it and don't let anything build up, you can keep it looking nice and clean for a long time," Billerman says.

Cleaning your pots and pans can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Here are 12 chef-approved products to clean all your pots and pans, including cast iron, nonstick, and stainless steel.

12 of the best products to clean your precious pots and pans

For Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

Barkeeper's Friend Cleanser — $21.00

Rust, stains, and tarnish are no match for Barkeeper’s Friend. No matter how rusty or crusty your stainless steel cookware is (or how long you let that bakeware “soak for”) this powerful cleanser will get it looking brand-new with minimal effort.

Dawn Dish Soap — $8.00

For everyday washing, Billerman sticks with classic Dawn dish soap: “It’s a de-greaser and is really great at getting my pots and pans clean,” she says. Use with a steel wool scrubby and some warm water to get your stainless steel dishes squeaky clean.

Steel Wool Scourer (Pack of 6) — $7.00

For stubborn spots and stains, get your hands on a steel wool scrubber, which is specifically designed to remove tough crud from stainless steel surfaces. But be warned: Steel wool will destroy cast iron skillets and nonstick pans.

Miracle Wipes for Stainless Steel — $15.00

Pots and pans aside, those pesky fingerprints on the ‘fridge and dishwasher can be ugly and annoying. If you have stainless steel appliances, these wipes are super convenient for cleaning larger surfaces without leaving streaks. Choose from a pack of 30 or 60.

For Cast Iron Pots and Pans

Caron & Doucet Cast Iron Oil and Soap — $23.00

Take care of your cast iron with this plant-based soap and conditioner set by Caron & Doucet. Made from natural ingredients like coconut oil and vegetable oil, this duo keeps your cast iron dishes clean and seasoned for the long-haul.

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 5-Piece Care Kit — $20.00

Lodge manufactures legendary cast iron products. The company is its high-quality skillets, griddles, and general cookware. This 5-piece care set has everything you need to keep your cast iron seasoned and scratch-free. Each kit includes a 6-ounce bottle of seasoning spray, a silicone pan scraper, a scraper handle, a nylon scrubber, and a booklet with care instructions.

Recycled Paper Towels — $13.00

Sometimes the simplest products do the best work. If there’s no stubborn debris, Billerman always wipes her cast iron dishes out with a basic paper towel. Same goes for re-seasoning. “Heat the pan up until it’s warm and then turn the heat off. Pour a little oil on it, and then wipe it with a paper towel so that it stays seasoned,” she says.

E-Cloth Non-Scratch Microfiber Scrubbing Pad (Pack of 2) — $8.00

You want to make sure that when you do scrub cast iron, you’re using something soft. Billerman uses a plain, cushy kitchen sponge to clean out her pots and pans. We also love these microfiber sponges that easily break down food and debris without scratching the surface.

For Nonstick Pots and Pans

Mrs. Meyers Dish Soap — $4.00

Similar to cast iron, nonstick pans will scratch and lose their nonstickiness if you use something too abrasive. Stick to a classic dish soap like Dawn or opt for an eco-friendly solution like Mrs. Meyers, which is biodegradable.

Dawn Ultra Dish Puff — $7.00

This ultra-soft sponge is like a cloud on a stick, so no worrying about marking up or ruining your nonstick pans. Its long handle also makes it easy for cleaning places hard-to-reach places, like inside canteens or water bottles.

Silicone Scrubber Dish Sponge (Set of 3) — $6.00

These silicone scrubbing pads are a bit hardier than basic kitchen sponges, but aren’t tough enough to leave a mark. The best part is, they’re dishwasher safe. So once they get a bit grimy, pop them in the dishwasher to wash them off and use again.

mamaforest Natural Soap Dish Bar — $25.00

If you want a really sustainable solution that will keep your nonstick cookware clean, try mamaforest’s Soap Bar, which is eco-friendly and plastic-free. Each dish soap bar is also made from completely natural ingredients and are safe for sensitive skin. Each kit comes with three dish soap bars and a sterilizing plastic tray.

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