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How to restore discolored stainless steel cookware

Quickstart: Products containing oxalic acid like Barkeepers Friend or Zud, together with steel wool can often restore stainless cookware that has burned or otherwise discolored. If not, then you'll need a power buffer-polisher.

Q. I have stainless steel cookware. A friend burned one quite badly and it is now discolored. Is is possible to restore it by removing the discoloration? I tried baking soda and salt, and vinegar, and Ajax scouring powder. It now has flecks of silver showing through the discoloration.

Judith JoAnn Karr
missionary - Bucurest, Romania

A. First, I would boil water in this pot and loosen any burnt on debris (scrape with metal spatula while boiling). Then I would make a paste with cream of tartar and vinegar and try to remove any remaining baked on stain. Use a coarse steel wool [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] pad. Finally to brighten the pot soak tomato juice, sauce, puree, ketchup, any tomato acid base. Hope that works for you!

DJ Voller
- Strongsville, Ohio

Zud Cleanser
on eBay or


(affil links)

A. To clean our stainless cookware of such 'accidents', my wife uses a scouring powder containing oxalic acid (chemical formula C2H2O4) as the active ingredient. Some brands here in the States are Barkeepers Friend [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] , Bon Ami [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] , and Zud #8680;
Also, products sold for bleaching wood often use oxalic acid; they are found here in marine supply stores. If all else fails, you could try making an extract from the leaves of the rhubarb plant (they contain a fair bit of the acid) and mixing it with your scouring powder. Have Fun!

Tom Gallant
- Long Beach, California

Ed. update Dec. 2023: Thank you, Tom, but while Zud and Barkeepers Friend contain oxalic acid, the SDS for Bon Ami says it does not.

A. I burnt my best stainless steel saucepan really badly but managed to restore it by first soaking the burnt food off with enzyme washing powder for a couple of hours. After removing the remaining particles of food with a scourer I cleaned it with Astonish [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] paste and the result is perfect, good as new.

Ann Legg
- UK

Q. What does it mean when a "supposed to be stainless steel" pan has 10188 etched into it?
What does 10188 stand for, and is it safe for cooking?

Victor Desa
employee - Huntington
June 6, 2008

A. Hi, Victor. It may be a model number or a run number for that brand of pan. But if I found a pan somewhere with no history I don't think I'd be comfortable using it. More like "Eww, who knows where it's been" than concern about metals leaching out of it :-)


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

A. "10188". This is the quality of the stainless steel used in the manufacturing of the pans. 10188 is not as high a quality as 101810.

Robert Pugno
- Stanthorpe, Queensland, Australia
November 29, 2014

? Hi Robert. You seem to be saying that a pan stamped 10188 is made of 18/8 (18% chrome / 8% nickel) stainless steel; and that a pan made of 18/10 stainless steel might be marked 101810. Do you know the origin of such a stamping code, and what the "10" at the front means?


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I let a stainless steel pan boil dry for an hour or more. I've cleaned it with Barkeepers Friend [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] . The bottom has a dried and greyish look to it - no shine - with a few spots of rainbow coloration.

Is there a way to know when a pot is no longer safe to use?

Thank you.

Beverly Hughes
- Dallas, Texas
January 28, 2009

A. Hi, Beverly. I'm not sure that a solid stainless steel pan ever becomes unsafe to use. But if chemical cleaners and scotchbrite can't polish it, it needs to be mechanically polished with an abrasive polish and a buffing-polishing machine (which may be too powerful for the inexperienced), or at least a buffing pad in a cordless drill. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I have a Stainless fry pan that I used to sauté some steaks. The pan turned amber gold everywhere EXCEPT where the oil and steaks were (bottom, lower sides). And that 'everywhere' includes the outside of the pan, all over. I'm guessing this pan just didn't enjoy high heat. Part of a Calphalon set, none of the other pans have behaved this way. Any idea what I can do?

Duffy Hawes
- Kingston, Washington
January 22, 2010

A. Hi, Duffy. The answer to your question is probably exactly the same. Try a good made-to-purpose stainless steel cleaner like Barkeepers Friend [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] , and if it doesn't work then mechanical polishing is required. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Somebody used a de-limer on the inside of my oven at work and it has since baked on and is black smears. How do I get the black off of the stainless steel inside my oven and the racks. We use it frequently and needs to be safe as we are a restaurant.

Barb MacPherson
restaurant manager - Toronto Ontario Canada
June 3, 2013

Wenol Metal Polish

on eBay or


(affil links)

Q. Is it safe to use Wenol [adv: Wenol on eBay or Amazon affil links] metal polish on the inside of my all-clad stainless steel pan? I would like to remove minor scratches done with a low abrasive grade sponge.

If I do use it will it have a mirror finish or similar to the one it currently has, but without the scratches.

Luis Surez
- M. Hidalgo, CDMX, Mexico
December 18, 2016

A. Hi Luis. When a pan is manufactured, all sorts of strong and dangerous materials are used, from cutting oils to polishing compounds to highly concentrated acids. So it's not a case of whether those materials and metal polishes in your food are innocuous, they're not; what is relevant is whether you can 100% trust yourself to remove any traces of it before cooking in that pan :-)

Generally a consumer grade "metal polish" removes tarnish to make a surface shinier, but unless you scrub with it for hours and hours, it's probably not going to remove significant scratches.

To understand polishing, imagine trying to dig the foundation for a skyscraper with a teaspoon. It can theoretically be done but would take the best part of eternity. Instead, a huge derrick removes the bulk of the soil, then smaller earth-moving machines level things up and clean up the edges, and finally workers will use a shovel for fine adjustments as they set the concrete forms. Polishing is like that: you can't get to a smooth shiny finish unless the final abrasive is extremely fine, equivalent to the teaspoon; but if it is, its power to actually move enough metal to polish out scratches is very limited. When raw metal is taken to a mirror finish, this usually involves 5 to 7 steps with ever finer abrasive. So your metal polish dissolves and removes tarnish, but its abrasive power to remove scratches is very limited.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

silly :-)  I have a good stainless steel set and, at one time or another, I have burned food to a crisp in every pot & pan drinking while I cooked (not too clever) and falling asleep. All my pots are golden outside and have black bottoms inside, I tell my friends it is a special gold edition set; but now having read the tips on this page, I will get on with cleaning them.

Peter Kennedy
- Vancouver Canada.
June 11, 2018

Q. I accidentally set my stainless pot lid on a turned on electric stove burner for 10-15 minutes.
When I realized that I turned on the wrong burner the lid turned a goldish color. Please I need help to restore to original silver color! Thank you

betty weiss
- pacific Missouri usa

Can a delaminated cooking pan be dangerous?

Q. Can a stainless steel pan have aluminum inside and make it unsafe to use after scorching so bad a layer of metal came off of it?

Myra Greenwood
- California USA
May 26, 2019

A. Hi Myra. Sorry but there are so many potential ways to construct a pan that I don't think anyone could hazard a guess as to whether yours had a stainless skin over aluminum (which I think some do) or over copper (which I think some might) or was perhaps a "clad" stainless with a very high grade interior skin for corrosion resistance but a lower grade 'magnetic' stainless to make it useable on induction burners. Apologies: I think only the manufacturer can tell you how the pan was made; but I don't think I'd use a pan where a layer of metal came off of :-(


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I cleaned a metal (maybe stainless steel) pot with a clorox-ed sponge by mistake -- now it has a bluish rainbow coloring in it. Is coloring possible to remove and is pot safe to cook in health wise?

Fern Hammond
- NYC New York USA
April 10, 2020

A. Hi Fern. People disagree on what is safe even when they know what something is; sorry, but you'll certainly not get agreement that some unknown film on a pot of unknown metal is nothing to be concerned about :-(

But I'd guess the bleach or the caustic soda in it oxidized some film of oil on the pot and that neither that film of food nor the remnants of disinfecting bleach is hazardous. If a 00 steel wool pad [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] isn't showing progress you can go up to coarse steel wool [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] . Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. What about the slight pitting it caused?

Fern Hammond [returning]
- New York New York USA [returning]
April 15, 2020

A. Hi again. Stainless steel is solid, not coated, so pitted stainless per se isn't dangerous. But if you can't reliably clean it, and you can't polish it back in shape ...

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. The water dried on the pot on the stove and it is dark gray now. I have used everything: vinegar, baking soda, ketchup and lemon. So, neither alkaline nor acidic products has worked at all. What next?

Carol Lopes
- Miami, Florida USA
April 16, 2020

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