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Cooking and Cleaning Tips for Taking Care of Your Pots and Pans

Woman washing scorched pot with soft sponge.

One of the most disheartening things that can happen in the kitchen with a favorite or new piece of cookware like a pot or pan is damaging it. All it takes is a simple slip up, such as forgetting the burner was on for a couple minutes to completely ruin a pan! Let’s not even get into the damage one can cause by trying to clean and care for their pan improperly. Certain pans and pots can cost you over a hundred dollars, so taking care of them is just as important as cleaning them. Storage and knowing what type of utensils to use can extend the lifespan of your cookware. So, what are the issues that can arise with inadequate cleaning or careless use of a pot or pan?

Why Cleaning and Maintaining Cookware is Important

So, your pans or pots get a little dirty or do not look as good as it should. It works, right? Well, heating a piece of metal is simply. Getting the same properties from years of use is not. For example, if you had a non-stick pan, you may notice after a couple of months, it is no longer as non-stick. The non-stick layer is sensitive to hard and sharp cookware. Many people rely on stainless steel cookware instead because of their longevity, but often use them with the wrong cookware. Metal spatulas are fine on polished steel, which does not have a non-stick layer. Often, non-stick layers are made of polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon.

While most non-toxic when on a pan, the plastic material is not always in the pan. Scrape the pan hard enough, and you may notice pieces flake off. These flaked off pieces are not safe to ingest. Most pan manufacturers will recommend you replace the pan if the layer of Teflon flakes off. The best way to keep your non-stick cookware in usable condition is to properly clean and use it following certain guidelines. Here are some of the best ways to care for your pots and pans.

  • Only use soap when necessary
  • Avoid long soak times
  • Hand wash and dry instead of using the dishwasher
  • Store in a safe and dry area
  • Avoid using abrasive materials when cleaning or cooking
  • Avoid quickly cooling your pots or pans from a high heat

Only Use Soap when Necessary

Woman washing copper pan with soap and water

This may seem like a strange tip, but not every pot or pan needs soap and water to be cleaned. In fact, soap can actually worsen a pan; particularly cast iron pans. Cast iron pans require something called “seasoning”. And no, not like seasoning a steak though the idea is similar. Just like food, your cast iron should be seasoned. Unlike food, however, seasoning is not only for flavor. Seasoning a cast iron pan also helps preserve it and avoid rusting. A seasoned cast iron will also be less prone to stuck on foods. Instead of using soap, many cast iron lovers instead recommend rinsing with water and salt followed by wiping down with extra virgin olive oil. This will get rid of food particles while also preserving the surface of your pan! Other types of metals like polished steel also sometimes require an oil wipe down after use to avoid rusting.

Avoid Long Soaking times

One thing that is easy to avoid is water damage and rust due to high moisture environments. For example, soaking pots and pans are sometimes necessary. However, long soaks can actually be detrimental to pot or pan. Water damage can cause rust to form in cracks or even start to warp the pan. Less thought about parts of the pan, like a screw that may hold the handle in place, can rust much faster when underwater. It is also typically harder to treat areas of the pan that can absorb water like handle holes. The best way to ensure your pan stays in tip-top condition is to avoid long soaking times. If you do need to soak the pan, you only need at most an hour to get rid of stuck on foods. Consider also buying a non-scratch scrubbing pad to remove any really stuck on food without damaging the pan.

Hand Wash and Dry, Avoid the Dishwasher

One of the quickest ways to ruin a non-stick pan, even those that are enameled instead of PTFE coated, is to throw it in the dishwasher. From my personal experience, the dishwasher is the destroyers of non-stick cookware. The pressure of the hot water jets shooting up can damage the surface of many pans. Sometimes the damage is noticeable after a single run! Instead of using the dishwasher, considering only washing your pots and pans by hand. This is great because you avoid the chances of something in the dishwasher or the high-pressure water damaging your pots and pan. You can also dry your cookware much faster. The less exposed to moisture your pans are, the less likely they will rust.

Store in a Safe and Dry Area

One factor many people do not consider when handling their pots and pans is storage. After all, if you stack pans on top of each other, you risk scratching surfaces! You could take the best care of your cookware, but bad storage will eventually catch up. One day, you may wonder, “where did all these scratches and dents come from?” The best way to secure your pots and pans is to make sure they are not scratching each other. If you do not have the space to set your cookware apart, a hanging system for your pots and pans may work better. You can also place paper towels or cloth between pans to prevent scratching. Stainless steel cookware is fine to stack, but non-stick and treated surfaces should be treated more carefully.

Avoid Using Highly Abrasive Materials like Steel Wool

Soft sponge, non scratch scrubber, washcloth

When removing stuck on gunk, one of the easiest way to do so is with scrubber. While some scrubbers are non-scratch, the most effective are going to steel wool pads. These pads are made using tough but thin strands of metal that can scrub cleaning nearly any surface. However, it is so rough it can even scrape off the protective layer on many surfaces. For example, using a steel wool scrubbing pad on a cast iron pan can cause damage to the cast iron seasoning layer. Instead of ruining your cookware, you should just use a non-scratch plastic scrubber or soak your cookware for a short period and use a sponge.

You will also want to avoid abrasive cooking utensils. Investing in bamboo or silicon utensil can be a great move to preserving your cookware. Of course, certain cookware, like polished steel pots, can handle abrasive utensils like stainless steel spatulas. However, any types of non-stick or enameled pan will have a protective coating that can be damaged. When the surface is seriously damaged, there is not much you can do besides throwing away the pan. You may end up eating particles of Teflon or enamel coating if you continue to cook on damaged cookware.

Avoid Rapidly Cooling Your Cookware

One of the lesser-known ways you can damage your cookware is by washing it with cold water. Yes, with simple cold water. However, it is not just the fact you are using cold water, it’s particularly when you cool a pan rapidly from a high heat. So, cooking on a pan and immediately throwing cool water on it while it is hot can damage the metal! The most obvious symptom of damage because of rapid temperature fluctuations is warping. The shape of the pan or pot may change. It may also crack and seem more brittle. The best way to ensure your pots and pans do not warp or grow brittle is to wait for the metal to cool down before washing. Simply take your cookware off the heat and let it cool down for half an hour before cleaning!


Maria Perez author blurb machika.com machika kitchen

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