Why Stainless Steel Pans Get Discoloured & How To Fix It?

You are likely to choose stainless steel when buying cookware as it is least likely to rust and is hard to stain. If the cookware discolors, the discoloration changes the cookware’s surface finish.

Different factors contribute to this discoloration, and the good news is it’s curable. Tag along to learn why stainless steel pans discolor and ways to manage the stains.

Why stainless steel pans get discolored?

The discoloration effect on a stainless steel pan and other cookware is superficial results from black or white residue on the pan after cooking, pitting, or rusting.

Due to continuous use, turmeric stains, caramel-brown stains, and heat tint might affect your pan.

However, if you clean and care for the stainless cookware, you can prevent these stains.

Types of Discoloration Happen On Stainless Steel Pans:

The stainless steel is made to withstand rust and has chromium, preventing rusting. Although chromium fights rusts, it may react with oxygen forming a protective layer over the pan.

Thus without proper care, the oxidized chromium might form a bluish discoloration on the pan. Moreover, some steel alloy metals might oxidize when you cook at a high temperature leading to stains.

Therefore, it is better to cook at a low temperature when using stainless steel cookware.

Cooking sprays might stain the pan, leading to the accumulation of oil on the pan. The oil accumulation on the stainless steel pan might darken the surface.

Thus, you can opt for butter and vegetable oils when using stainless steel pain to avoid the stains associated with cooking sprays.

Different stainless steel alloys might react differently to chemical use; caustic chemicals may cause pan discoloration. Thus it is better to avoid excess chemicals when cleaning your pan to prevent oxidizing the pan surface.

For instance, a grade 304 stainless steel pan is more likely to face oxidation than grade 316 stainless steel, which is less susceptible to corrosion and oxidation.

Stainless pitting might occur when you frequently boil salty water, which might happen when you boil potatoes, rice, and pasta. Small grey dots can form on the pan after boiling the food.

The pitting occurs as chloride reacts with the oxidized layer on the pan. Bleaching the grey dots will worsen the grey dots’ appearance. Moreover, the pitting might not rust and will not harm the food quality.

However, excessive pitting leads to chemical leach, impacting the food taste and color.

Some stains on the stainless steel might occur due to burning food and do not degrade the pan quality nor affect its performance.

However, you should not leave the burnt food on the stainless steel pan as it might damage the pan over time and impact food quality.

Calcium bicarbonate from tap water might affect the stainless steel pan. When you boil the tap water on the stainless steel pain, the calcium bicarbonate might break down into calcium carbonate, which can stick to the pan leading to discoloration.

The calcium carbonate is not water-soluble and will form a whitish deposit at the bottom of the cookware. However, the stains associated with the tap water are not harmful to the pan and do not poison the food.

Although the stainless steel should be resistant to corrosion, it might rust. However, it is rare to see rust on a stainless steel pan, but rusting might occur if the stainless steel pan is free of nickel.

Pans that don’t contain nickel will rust, as nickel prevents rusting and is an essential feature in the stainless alloy.

Moreover, the quality of the steel might impact cookware rusting; the steel must contain 16% chromium to resist rusting effectively.

High-quality stainless pans have about 18% to 20% chromium and will be costly. Furthermore, cooking very acidic food frequently over the pan might rust.

Is Discolored Stainless Steel Safe?

Discolored stainless steel is safe for cooking, but the pan’s safety might depend on the nature of the stain.

For instance, if the stain results from calcium deposits, the pan will be safe for cooking as the calcium carbonate is safe for your health.

The calcium deposits will only affect the pan aesthetics and are not cause any concern for our health.

Pitting in small amounts is safe for your health as it results from the reaction between the oxidized metals and chloride in salty food.

The chromium will form another protective layer of the pits, and thus the pan will not lose function, even if it does look appealing.

However, severe pitting can lead to chemical leaching, impacting the food taste and color.

A bit of rust on the stainless steel cookware will not affect your health, but you should avoid consuming too much rust will lead to health issues.

On the other hand, heat tint, which results from chromium reaction with oxygen, does not lead to health problems.

Related : Best Stainless steel cookware brands.

Solution for Discoloration, Due To Over Heating:

You can remove the white stains from carbonate deposits with acidic mediums as the calcium carbonates dissolve in acid. You can use a mild oxalic acid paste or vinegar on the white discoloration on your stainless steel pan.

You can warm the mild acid in the pan to increase its reaction with the whitish layer on the pan. Then wash off the acid elements from the pan, rinse and wipe it clean.

However, you should not go a strong acid that can erode the pan; after the wash, there will be no white haze on the pan.

If the pan has rust or is pitted, you can grind off the rusted parts. If you don’t like scraping your pan, then there might be no other solution but to stick with it if it is pitted.

After grinding, you should be careful with it and avoid boiling salty water or letting the vinegar sit on the pan for an extended time.

Moreover, steel wool and stiff metal brushes might worsen pitting and rusting, and it would be better to stay away from abrasive cleaners.

However, you can use baking powder paste, scrub with a plastic scrubby, soft cloth, or toothbrush, and rinse the pan after a few minutes.

Stainless steel pans might come with a grey or black residue, a by-product of mechanical polishing in the factory.

It might be hard to remove the residue by handwashing, and you can spread cooking oil inside the pan, let it rest and wipe it out.

Then wash the stainless steel pan with warm soapy water or scrub with lemon juice.

How to Keep Stainless Steel Pans from Staining

Use low heat

High heat produces a tint on the stainless steel pans, and it would be better to cook food on low heat. Moreover, cooking food at a high temperature can burn the food leading to black stains on the pan.

It is practical to cook on low heat as you can control the cooking, leading to more flexibility in the kitchen.

Avoid oil spray

You can use butter and vegetable oil on the stainless pan to avoid oil accumulation which causes pan discoloration.

The cooking sprays are attributed to the oil accumulation as the spray splashes the oil on the bottom and sides, and some stray oils might land on the outer surface.

The oils form a tacky surface, making the pan lose its non-stick characteristic.

Moreover, the excess oils darken the cookware, and you can prevent discoloration by using vegetable oils and butter.

Clean with warm soapy water and a soft scrubber

Keep the stainless steel pan free from stains by regularly cleaning with warm and soapy water after cooking.

Oil can accumulate on the stainless steel pan if you use it consecutively without cleaning.

Avoid acidic cleaners

It would be better to avoid using high acid-contained cleaners, and they can erode the stainless steel pans after cleaning.

If you want to use vinegar to remove oil stains and burnt food, it would be better to dissolve it to avoid further damage to your pan.

Solutions used to clean the dishwasher might be harsh on your stainless steel; therefore, it is wise to stick with mild solutions when cleaning the stainless steel pots and pans.

Ensure the pots are dry before storing them

Before storing the stainless steel pans, you should ensure whether it’s dry or not, as water contributes to staining.

Thus you can let your pan air dry before putting it into the storage unit, and air drying ensures the pan stays in good condition.

However, when in a rush, you can use clean towels to dry the stainless steel pans and pots and store them in dry cabinets.

Smear olive oil on the pans

You can take the precaution one step further by smearing olive oil on your stainless steel pan and pots.

You can use a soft kitchen towel to spread the olive oil on the pan, as it improves its appearance and prevents discoloration.

Practice good cooking techniques

Practice good cooking techniques which prevent food burning and stainless steel pot staining. First, you can start by preheating your pan, then pour the cooking oil and heat preheat it.

Preheating the pan and oil prevents the proteins from the meat from sticking to the pan. The food will cook on the oil layer before touching the pan, thus preventing food burning and stain formation.

Moreover, you can pat the food to dry before placing it in the hot pan to accelerate searing, leading to a crispy and tasty meal.

How to remove burnt stains from stainless steel cookware?
How to cook in a stainless steel pan?

How to Clean Stains From Stainless Steel Pans

Basic cleaning for the everyday mess

Cleaning basic everyday mess on your stainless steel pan reduces staining, and you can start by wiping off excess oil.

Then, deglaze your pot with warm water and let it sit for a while to loosen food particles. It is better to let your pot cool after cooking before deglazing it with water to prevent warping due to rapid temperature changes.

Furthermore, wash the stainless steel pan with soapy water and a sponge, and scrub the outside and inside of the pan thoroughly in a circular motion. Finally, rinse the pot, dry it and store it in the cabinets.

Cleaning with baking soda

If the pot has stains, you can clean it after cooking with baking soda paste and slurry water. You can be generous with the baking soda and let it sit in your stainless steel pot before scrubbing the pot.

Baking powder works well for burnt food discoloration, and you can use a scouring pad for stubborn stains which will not come off.

You may repeat the soaking and scouring until all the stains come off the stainless steel pan.

Boil the baking soda to eliminate stubborn stains

Stubborn and more extensive stains which climb the stainless steel sides can be challenging to handle, and you can add extra steps for these stains.

Place baking soda mold on the middle part of the stainless steel pot and cover it with half a cup of water.

You may need more baking soda and water if the pot is large and let it boil. When the water boils and evaporates, baking soda film leaves on the walls.

The baking soda will come off with stains when you scrub it off from the walls. However, it would be better to scrub off the baking soda when your pan is still hot to remove the stains effectively.

Then, let the pan cool down before rinsing to prevent warping.

Boil the whole pan in baking soda

Boiling the whole pan in baking soda works for discoloration due to oil accumulation.

The oil accumulation mainly occurs when you use oil sprays for cooking. The oil sprays will fly off, landing on the outer surface. Thus, you can remove the grime on the outer surface by boiling the whole pan.

Use vinegar and mild acidic cleaners

Acid cleaners can dissolve some of the chemicals used to make stainless steel alloys. Thus it would be better to dissolve your vinegar or opt for a mildly acidic solution when dealing with stubborn stains.

You don’t want your cleaner to react with your pan, and it would be better to go for acidic cleaners meant for cleaning the stainless steel pans.

Final Thoughts

Although stainless steel cookware is stain-resistant, it can get stains from acidic food and chloride and calcium bicarbonate from the tap water. Moreover, excess oil, grime, and burnt food can lead to staining.

Acid corrosion and metal alloy oxidation might lead to rusts in cheaply-made stainless steel pans.

However, you can prevent these stains by washing the pans with warm and soapy water, baking soda, and mild vinegar. Good luck learning how to care for your stainless steel pan.

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