Dear Lifehacker, I've had the same pots and pans for years. Some of it is starting to look a little funky. Should I care about that? Is there a good indicator of when a pan is past its prime? Sincerely, Possibly Poisoning
We are no strangers to an oddly stained pot or a pan that has seen better days. While it might seem self-explanatory to decide when to replace your cookware, it's not always as cut and dried as it sounds. The reality is that most cookware can be cleaned up to look new if you know how.
Try to Clean or Fix Your Cookware First
More often than not, your cookware looks gross because you are not cleaning it properly. Fortunately, the most common reasons your pots and pans look destroyed are easy to fix, and that means you don't need to replace them.
In most cases, a good long soaking with water is enough to remove most black residue left over from cooking. For cleaning everything else, it depends on the material of the pot or pan.
Stainless Steel Cookware: For stainless steel cookware, cleaning is a straightforward process, and any damage usually doesn't affect its ability to cook. To remove stains on the inside of the pot, a little warm vinegar should do the trick. If the stains are on the bottom of the pan, use oven cleaner and follow the directions on the bottle. As for burn stains on the inside of the pan, a solution with vinegar, bicarb soda and water along with a little heat will clean it right up. You can even remove rust by scrubbing it off.
Non-Stick Cookware: Non-stick cookware is particularly difficult to rescue from negligence, because once the non-stick coating starts stripping away, you can't do much to fix it. Good Housekeeping recommends cleaning non-stick pans with a white vinegar and water solution to get rid of stuck-on cooking residue. A little vinegar on the outside of the cookware should also help remove any stains.
Cast Iron Cookware: Cast Iron cookware is incredibly resilient, but you have to treat it properly. If you don't, cleaning up your negligence is messy work. A salt scrub can get out stuck-on mess, vinegar is great for removing rust, or a potato might do the trick.
Aluminium Cookware: Removing stains from aluminium cookware is a little trickier. TLC recommends using cream of tartar, lemon juice and water. As for polishing up scratches on the outside, a little bicarb soda and a scouring pad should work.
The point is that you can rescue most cookware from even the worst kind of negligence. However, if it still looks like it's rusting, it's broken or plastic chunks are coming off, it's time to replace it.
When Pots and Pans Absolutely Need Replacement
Depending on how you use your pots and pans, they might end up scratched, stained, rusted and otherwise destroyed beyond repair. If the above tips don't work, then it's likely time for replacement.
I called a couple of different cookware manufacturers (Kitchen-Aid and All Clad) to get their recommendations. The general rule of thumb they offered is simple: if any material is coming off the pan and ending up in your food, replace your cookware.
For example, if non-stick pans are flaking off because of scratches, they should be replaced. If nothing else, it's gross to be eating a part of your pan. As The Kitchn points out, when the coating begins to peel off, it also makes the pan less non-stick.
As for stainless steel, the representative from KitchenAid recommended that it only needs replacement if a material like copper is showing through after you have scratched or dinged the cookware. If the pan is scratched to the point the material beneath the steel is showing, it's probably in your best interest to replace it.
The same basic idea goes for pots with enamelling. If the enamelling is chipping off a pot really badly, it might need replacement. However treating it with the above tips should be fine, provided it's not rusted out.
It's also worth noting that both KitchenAid and All-Clad asked me when I purchased the cookware, and if I still had my warranty information. Even if you didn't treat your cookware right, it might still be worth a call to the manufacturer to see if it will replace the cookware.
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