Your cookware is probably the hardest-working cooking equipment in your kitchen, and it can also be the most challenging to keep clean. Follow these tips for how to clean cookware, including cast iron, stainless steel, enamel cast iron, and nonstick. It's also a good idea to refer to the cookware manufacturer's instructions or website to find out specific recommendations on how to clean your cookware.
Stainless Steel Cookware
Use warm water, dish detergent and a sponge or a non-abrasive cleaning pad like O-Cedar's Scrunges to clean the interior and exterior of your cookware soon after you're finished using it. Leaving dirty pots and pans overnight can cause food to dry and stick, which makes them harder to clean.
Instead, if you know you won't be able to clean your cookware for a few hours, let the pot or pan cool slightly, then fill it with warm, soapy water and let it soak. Tough stains or stuck-on food can be tackled with a powdered cleaner like Bar Keeper's Friend or Bon Ami. Make a paste with the cleaning powder and a little warm water, then use a sponge or a soft cloth to scrub at the stains until they're gone. Rinse well with warm water, until you can no longer feel any grit from the cleaner.
Some stainless steel cookware is dishwasher safe; check your manufacturer's instructions or website to check if you can wash yours in the dishwasher.
Use warm, soapy water and a soft sponge or dishrag to clean nonstick cookware.
For stuck-on food, try making a paste of equal parts baking soda and warm water, and rubbing the paste onto the nonstick surface with a soft cloth or sponge. You can also clean nonstick cookware with a plastic scrubber, such as a Dobie pad, but never use metallic or abrasive brushes, scouring pads or cleansers because it will scratch or corrode the finish. Some manufacturers advise against putting nonstick cookware in the dishwasher; the hot water and harsh detergents can pit or destroy the nonstick coating.
Follow the instructions for cleaning stainless steel cookware. When copper starts to discolor, use a copper cleaner, such as Radiance, to polish the exterior of the pan. Cookware manufacturer Calphalon also suggests making a homemade paste from 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of coarse salt, which you can rub onto the copper with a sponge, and then rinse off.
Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware is at its best when it is seasoned or cured, which means it has developed a baked-on patina of oil which helps prevent rusting and also gives the cooking surface nonstick properties. To clean cast iron cookware without removing the seasoning, use a stiff brush, hot water and no soap or detergent, which can eat away at the seasoning.
Lodge Manufacturing recommends loosening stuck-on food by boiling water in the pan for a few minutes. After washing, you should dry the pan with a clean dishtowel (air-drying can cause it to rust) and lightly coat it with a little vegetable oil while it's still warm. If your cast iron cookware develops rust spot, these can be scoured off with fine-gauge sandpaper or steel wool, and the pan can be re-seasoned.
Enamel Cast Iron Cookware
Allow the cookware to cool before exposing it to cold water, which can damage the enamel. Then hand-wash it with hot, soapy water and a sponge or a soft abrasive pad or a brush. For stubborn residue, soak the pan in warm soapy water for awhile before scrubbing it with a soft, abrasive pad. Some companies, including Le Creuset, claim that their enamel cast iron cookware is dishwasher safe, but they warn that dishwashing can dull the finish of the enamel.