Do Stainless Steel Pans Discolor? (Is It Normal + How To Clean)

Image of a modern stainless steel pan

Stainless steel pans shine and sparkle, and they also have an iron-based steel alloy that is corrosion-resistant. When you add these pans to your kitchen, you just can’t take your eyes off them. But the question is, do stainless steel pans discolor?

Yes, stainless steel pans do discolor. These pans are prone to discoloration because of various factors such as high temperature, pitting, calcium carbon deposits, and burnt food. Though it’s normal for stainless steel pans to discolor, these stains can sometimes be harmful and difficult to remove.

To keep their shine for a longer time, you need to take proper care of these pans. Let’s talk about this in greater detail now.

Why Do Stainless Steel Pans Discolor?

Stainless steel is a reliable material that has good heat conductivity. This is the reason why stainless steel pans are used in a lot of modern-day kitchens. They are also easy to handle when it comes to cooking and cleaning. However, stainless steel pans can discolor.

Given below are the main reasons why stainless steel pans discolor:

  1. Stainless steel has a small amount of chromium which helps in avoiding rust or corrosion. A protective layer forms on the pan because this chromium reacts with air. Since there are different types of stainless steel, without proper care, a “bluish” discoloration or a rainbow stain may develop.
  2. Some stainless steel alloys can lead to disruption in the oxide layer of the steel when subjected to high temperatures. Because of this disruption, rust can accumulate, leading to discoloration of the steel pan. In contrast, other steel alloys may resist oxidation even at very high temperatures. So, to be on the safer side, cook food on low heat in a stainless steel pan.
  3. Stainless steel pans can also discolor when exposed to frequent cooking sprays. Overusing sprays can lead to the accumulation of oil on the pan. This accumulation can create a tacky surface that can darken the shining stainless steel pan. So, it’s always best to use butter and vegetable oils on a stainless steel pan.
  4. Different types of stainless steel react differently to the use of chemicals. If you are using caustic chemicals, they may cause discoloration of stainless steel pans. When subjected to excessive chemicals, the oxide layer of the stainless steel pan can thicken. For instance, stainless steel of grade 304 may face discoloration when exposed to salt or other chlorides. On the other hand, stainless steel of grade 316 is less susceptible to discoloration from salt.

Related Further Reading:

Is It Normal For Stainless Steel Pans To Discolor?

Though stainless steel is one of the hardest and durable materials, it is prone to staining. So, it’s normal for stainless steel to discolor with different types of discolorations. These discolorations can make the pans lose their brightness. However, they usually do not have any ill effect on the food.

The different types of stainless steel discolorations can be caused by rainbow stains, pitting, or burnt food.

The rainbow discoloration is the ugly rainbow pattern that develops on the pan because of excessive heat. The rapid heating can lead to the thickening of steel’s oxidized layer. It is normal to have such discoloration when you are using stainless steel pans too often. At the same time, it has to be mentioned that rainbow stains are easy to remove, thereby restoring the shiny nature of pans. One of the best methods to remove such stains is by using white vinegar and water.

Stainless steel pitting or discoloration dots are a result of boiling the salt water. For instance, when potatoes, rice, or pasta are boiled with salt and then left for a while, small grey dots may form on the pan. These dots are known as pitting or discoloration dots. They are caused due to the chloride effect on the oxidized layer of the stainless steel. The thin layer of chromium oxide prevents the steel from rusting and corrosion. We recommend using a cleaning agent free of bleach to remove such stains. Though pitting doesn’t harm the quality of the food, excess pitting can leach more metal into the food, making the pans unsafe for use.

Though stainless steel pans are corrosion-resistant, they are not corrosion-proof. So, you may witness rust spots on the pan. Rust is oxidized iron and can be harmful only if the iron doesn’t wear off effectively. These rust spots can be caused by excessive use of steel wool, metal brushes, or abrasive cleaners. For cleaning such spots, you need to cover the rusted area with a thick paste of baking soda. Using a soft brush or scrubber, you can rub the mixture to remove the rust stains. Also, keep in mind that you should avoid the rusted pans as much as possible.

If some stain is caused by burnt food, it does not affect the performance of the pan nor degrade its quality. But to remove such stains, you should either opt for cleaning them with baking soda or use products such as Bar Keeper’s Friend. If you are using baking soda, cover the base of the pan with water and sprinkle baking soda gently. After 30 minutes, you need to scrub off the stain of burnt food with a plastic scrubber. If the stains are hard, you need to keep the pan for a longer time.

Sometimes, there might be white stains on stainless steel pans that may be hard to remove. These white stains are usually of calcium. The tap water might contain calcium bicarbonate. When water is boiled in a stainless steel pan, calcium bicarbonate may break down into calcium carbonate. The hazy white dots of calcium carbonate stick to the bottom of the pan, causing a discoloration. Since calcium carbonate is insoluble in water, these white stains cannot be removed by warm soapy water. Since it’s normal to have such discoloration, these stains are usually not harmful. To remove these white deposits, we advise you to take the help of some acidic medium such as vinegar to restore the shine of the pan.

So, it is natural and normal for stainless steel pans to get discolored. This discoloration is just a cosmetic phenomenon. It doesn’t affect the quality of the steel pan, nor does it affect the flavor of the food. At the same time, it is necessary to clean the pans properly for optimal use.

Interesting Further Reading:

How To Clean Discolored Stainless Steel Pans?

No matter how hard you try, you may witness discoloration on stainless steel pans. Either there may be rainbow-colored discolorations or a build-up of white calcium.

Given below are some effective and safe methods that can help you clean discolored stainless steel pans:

  1. Use Vinegar: If you feel that the discoloration of the pan is because of overheating, vinegar is one thing you need the most. Take a terry cloth and soak it in vinegar. Clean the discolored pan with that cloth. Use a cleaner that is free of bleach along with a polisher. Scrub over the discolored stains until they are removed. Rinse the pan with warm water and dishwashing detergent. You can also use vinegar to remove white calcium built-up stains. Prepare a mixture of one part vinegar with three parts of water. Let the mixture boil in the discolored pan. After the mixture cools down, empty the pan and rinse it.
  2. Use Tomato Sauce: Another method to restore a discolored stainless steel pan is using tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes. The acidity from tomatoes works the same way as vinegar for cleaning discolorations. You need to fill the discolored pan with tomato sauce until the affected part is completely submerged. Let the sauce simmer gently for ten minutes by adding water as needed. Empty the pan and rinse it properly. If you don’t want to get into the simmering part, you can leave the tomato sauce in the discolored pan overnight.
  3. Use Cleaning Products: You can also use products like Bar Keeper’s Friend along with a non-abrasive cleaning pad for removing the discoloration. You can then simply wash the stainless steel pan with warm soapy water, rinse it, and dry it. If the stains are hard to remove, you can use a sponge soaked in vinegar or lemon.

Apart from cleaning, you should also take preventive measures to avoid discoloration of stainless steel pans. Some of these measures include:

  1. Avoid using plain steel or iron brushes to rub the surface of the pan. Instead, use soft cloth or plastic scouring pads for general washing. You can also use regular scrubbers and plastic brushes.
  2. Don’t use any kind of bleach or chlorides as a method of cleaning the discolored pan.
  3. Always scrub the stainless steel pan along the “grain” rather than against it. Here, “grain” refers to the fine lines that give a brushed look to the pan.
  4. If you had burnt oil in the stainless steel pan, don’t clean it instantly. Rather soak the pan in warm soapy water overnight and then scrub it with a plastic scrubber.
  5. Avoid adding salt to the water before heating it. You can let the water boil first and then add salt to it.