How to Clean Every Type of Pan

Can you use soap on cast iron? How do you restore shine to copper? Find out how to clean pans the right way—and what products to avoid.

Chances are, you don’t cook with just one type of pan. There’s Grandma’s cast-iron skillet for sizzling bacon, your trusty stainless steel bakeware and maybe a new nonstick you got last Christmas. This means you’re not just washing one type of pan either. Each material has its own quirks for cleaning and care.

If you’ve ever been stuck on how to clean certain pans—you’ve come to the right place. Find out the best cleaning methods for each one and what to do with those seriously burnt messes.

How to Clean Cast-Iron Pans

  • General Cleaning: Despite a common misconception, it’s okay to clean your cast iron with soap and water. Gently hand wash after each use. Here are some of our favorite products for cleaning cast iron.
  • Tough Stains: For stubborn residue, try the salt method. Sprinkle coarse salt on the pan and then scrub with a brush or sponge. The salt will work as a gentle abrasive to remove grime. Then dump out the salt and wash the pan like normal. Learn more about our favorite methods for cleaning cast iron.
  • Avoid: No matter how fickle the mess, try not to let cast iron soak in water for an extended period of time, as it will rust. However, if your pan has rusted, there’s a simple way to restore cast iron like new.

How to Clean Stainless Steel Pans

  • General Cleaning: Wipe away any excess oil with a paper towel, then hand-wash with soap and water. The dishwasher can damage your pan over time. Use a nylon dish brush or soft sponge and towel dry immediately to avoid water spots.
  • Tough Stains: Fill the pan with a mixture of vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Then scrape off stains with a wooden spoon or nylon dish brush.
  • Avoid: Steel wool pads or abrasive cleaners can scratch the surface of your stainless steel pan. (Check out these other mistakes to avoid when using stainless steel pans.)

How to Clean Copper Pans

  • General Cleaning: After using a copper pot allow it to cool completely; then wash with warm water, a soft sponge and gentle dish soap.
  • Tough Stains: Many cooks like their copper pots to have a natural patina. If you prefer your copper looking shiny and new, here’s how to clean it: Combine lemon juice (or vinegar) with baking soda and make a paste. Cover the pot with the paste and buff with a soft cloth. (You can also use ketchup!)
  • Avoid: Never use cleaners containing bleach to clean copper cookware. Bleach is corrosive and will cause your copper pans to pit.

How to Clean Nonstick Pans

  • General Cleaning: The great thing about nonstick pans is that they’re so easy to clean! Most food will rinse right off, especially if you tackle the job right away. Hand-wash with dish soap and a nylon brush or sponge to avoid scratching.
  • Tough Stains: For burnt-on food, fill the pan with water and about 1/4 cup of baking soda, then put it right back on the burner. Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, then wash with soap and water.
  • Avoid: Step away from the dishwasher! The hot water and harsh detergent in your dishwasher can damage the nonstick coating. (Here are even more tips and tricks for nonstick pans.)

How to Clean Aluminum Pans

  • General Cleaning: Wash aluminum pans with soap and water. Better yet, if you’re using an aluminum baking sheet, line it with foil or parchment paper before baking to save time on cleanup.
  • Tough Stains: Accidentally scorch your aluminum pan? Try this hack: fill the pan with water and throw in a dryer sheet. Let the pan soak for half an hour and remove the sheet to scrub away.
  • Avoid: Be cautious with baking soda when using it to clean aluminum pans. If you leave it on too long, it can oxidize your pan, causing discoloration.

How to Clean Ceramic Pans

  • General Cleaning: Pans with a ceramic coating are naturally nonstick, making them easy to clean with a soft sponge and soap and water. But remember to allow the pan to cool completely before washing.
  • Tough Stains: Simmer soapy water over low heat, then gently scrape away with a sponge or non-abrasive brush.
  • Avoid: Ceramic is durable, but it can scratch—so never use steel wool or abrasive cleaners to wash ceramic pans.

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Erica Young
Erica is a freelance lifestyle writer with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. Her favorite recipes are quick, easy and something her kids will actually eat. When she's not writing you'll find her organizing a closet, roaming the aisles at Target or nursing her third Diet Coke of the day.