How to Take Care of Your Pots and Pans, No Matter the Material

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated November 16, 2021
Woman cooking on the kitchen stove
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Give your pans a long lifespan

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Maybe you just bought a set of cookware and want to learn how to make it last for the long haul. Or you received copper pots as a gift but haven’t used them because you don’t want to ruin their shine. 

To keep your pots and pans in tip-top shape, you have to care for them properly—and that all depends on their material.

Caring for Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

The easiest material to maintain, stainless steel doesn’t corrode or scratch. And because it’s so durable, these pots and pans can go in the dishwasher for easy cleaning—just wipe out any excess oil with a paper towel first. If you’d rather hand wash, use hot water, dish soap, and a scouring pad or sponge. 

In general, try to avoid leaving dirty pots and pans overnight, since food can dry out and adhere to the surface. If you don’t have time to wash your cookware immediately, soak them in hot, soapy water. Just don’t fully submerge hot pans in cool water, since the sudden drop in temperature could cause them to warp.

Caring for Cast-Iron Pots and Pans

Unlike other types of pots and pans, cast-iron cookware needs to be seasoned. This means that you maintain a layer of oil on the surface to give it nonstick qualities and prevent rusting. Unless your cast-iron cookware comes pre-seasoned, you’ll need to season it before using for the first time.

Here’s how: Rub a very thin layer of cooking oil on the inside and outside of the pan. Place the pan upside down on the top rack of a preheated oven at 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, with a baking pan on a lower rack to catch any oil drips. Bake for one hour, then let cool. Rub the inside and outside of the pan with a very thin layer of oil, then wipe with a paper towel to remove any excess.

Never put cast-iron in the dishwasher, as this could degrade the seasoning and lead to corrosion. Instead, use hot water and a small amount of soap, scraping with a pan scraper or scrubbing brush to remove stuck-on bits of food. Also avoid soaking, which could lead to rusting. If you find any rust spots, scour them with hot soapy water and steel wool, then rinse and dry. Re-season the pan. 

After cleaning, dry thoroughly. Then, while the pot is still warm, very lightly coat the interior with vegetable oil. Wipe with a paper towel until no extra oil remains.

Caring for Copper Pots and Pans

Copper pots and pan on the counter
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Copper is highly reactive, meaning you should avoid cooking acidic foods, like tomato sauce, in your pots and pans.

Always clean copper cookware by hand, using hot water, dish soap, and a nonstick sponge or soft brush (never use abrasive materials, like steel wool or stiff brushes).

For stubborn stains, let the pans soak for 10 to 15 minutes in hot, soapy water and rinse. To remove the brownish-black tarnish that occurs over time—thanks to copper’s exposure to oxygen—dip half a lemon in kosher salt. Rub in and scrub all over with a scrub brush, then let sit for a couple of minutes. Wash well with hot soapy water, then rinse.

After cleaning, always dry copper thoroughly. If you skip this step, the copper could lose its red-orange color and sheen more quickly.

Caring for Aluminum Pots and Pans

Aluminum, like copper, is a reactive material, so don’t cook acidic foods in these types of pots and pans. When your aluminum cookware is ready to clean, hand wash with hot water, mild dish soap, and a non-scratch scrub sponge or pad (steel wool could scratch the surface).

To cut down on the discoloration that happens naturally over time, combine water and white vinegar or lemon juice in your pot or pan. Bring to a boil, let sit for up to 15 minutes, then pour out. Clean with hot water and dish soap, rinse, and dry.

Caring for Nonstick Pots and Pans

To maintain the coating of nonstick pots and pans, you’ll need to take care. Avoid using metal spatulas, tongs, and other tools as you cook, as they could scratch the surface.

Even if the manufacturer says this cookware is dishwasher-safe, it’s best to hand wash to give your pots and pans the longest lifespan. Otherwise, the high heat and strong detergents could make the surface deteriorate.

When it comes to cleaning, do so immediately with hot water, dish soap, and a soft sponge or cloth (stiff scrub brushes could compromise the surface). For stubborn bits of food, use a mix of baking soda and water. Or bring water and vinegar to a simmer, cook for up to 10 minutes, then cool. Wash and dry thoroughly.

After drying, protect the surface with about a teaspoon of oil. If stacking nonstick pots and pans, place a paper towel or dry dish towel between the layers.

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