Getting the new year off to a clean start

A pot project targets stains and grease

January 07, 2004|By Marlene Parrish | Marlene Parrish,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

It was a dark and stormy night. I was grounded by the weather, and the movie I had planned to see had yet to begin. With three hours to kill, I decided to tackle my No. 1 New Year's resolution: cleaning all the pots and pans in the kitchen.

The job description was as follows: to remove interior stains and scour the outside crud and multilayers of cooked-on grease from the exteriors of a mishmash of American (mostly All-Clad) and European cookware. In three hours.

What an optimist.

The project got off to an energetic start, but after expending considerable elbow grease and going well into overtime, I threw in the towel. Literally.

The next day I called two experts for help: Chris Sommer, the consumer service hot-line guru with All-Clad Metalcrafters, and my live-in chemist and food-scientist husband, Robert L. Wolke. Both of them agreed that you need the right products to clean specific surfaces and that you should clean your cookware long before it gets this bad. Right.

Chris (who volunteered to make a house call because the factory is just a few miles away), Bob and I tackled the Phase 2 pot-cleaning project together. Here is our advice:

Assemble the arsenal. First, gather cleaning products from your own shelves, then go shopping for others appropriate to your specific needs. Fill a basket with all of them so everything is handy.

You may have your favorites, but we chose the following: Bar Keepers Friend (this powdered cleanser has been around since 1882), Soft Scrub (liquid) cleanser, Wright's Copper Cream, Scotch-Brite green scouring pads, curly nylon scrubbers, thick Handi Wipes, terry-cloth and T-shirt rags, Cascade automatic dishwasher detergent, Clorox bleach, white vinegar, baking soda, a vegetable brush, a pointy wooden skewer, table salt and a fresh lemon.

There are many excellent stainless-steel cleaners at hardware, restaurant and janitorial supply stores that will remove stains and discolorations. Cameo Aluminum & Stainless Steel Cleaner contains sulfamic acid, which removes discoloration from pans that have been overheated.

Also keep an eye out for Sheila Spray, a professional product usually purchased by the tub by restaurants, but occasionally available in 6-ounce aerosol cans for homemakers. Pan Clean Pre-Wash is a new product being advertised in national shelter magazines but not yet available in all markets.

Do not even think about using oven cleaner. It contains lye, which can eat into the metal of your pans. And use these cleaning rules of thumb: Wear rubber gloves. Test a small area of the object to be cleaned with one cleaner, then another cleaner or two for comparison. As you clean, keep changing the rubbing spot on your cloth or pad or you'll end up grinding crud into crud. Rinse often.

For copper: To clean any copper pan, use Bar Keepers Friend made a bit soupy with water. Using a soft cloth and moving it often, rub off the tarnish.

Finish the outside of the utensil with a commercial copper polish such as Copper Glo. Older pans with brass handles will come to life.

In a pinch, you can dip a freshly cut lemon half into a saucer of table salt, then rub the lemon on the surface of the copper. It works, but the downside is that the acidity of the lemon and the abrasiveness of the salt can mar the finish of a good piece of copper. Stick with a commercial product, if possible.

No matter what you do, copper will tarnish again in time by developing a dark coating of copper oxide. Bar Keepers Friend contains oxalic acid, which is what chemists call a reducing agent that reacts with the oxide.

For white-porcelain-lined pots and pans: These interiors are easily stained but also easily cleaned. Remove any cooked-on food with a nylon scrubber and Soft Scrub. Then fill the saucepan with water, add two tablespoons of Clorox and allow it to sit in the sink or laundry tub for a few hours or overnight.

Empty and wash the pan with hot sudsy water. If any chlorine odor remains, rinse and swirl the interior of the pan with white vinegar straight from the bottle. Why? The chemical in Clorox (sodium hypochlorite) is alkaline and will be neutralized by the vinegar's acetic acid.

For stainless steel: On a regular basis, clean with Soft Scrub or Bar Keepers Friend made a bit soupy with water. Rub with terry cloth, using a circular motion. You also can use a green nylon pad such as Scotch-Brite on the interior of the pans. It will leave small scratches but these will have no effect on performance. Do not use steel wool pads because tiny bits of the pad can become embedded in the pan's surface and will eventually rust.

For heavy, burned-on grease on the interior of a skillet, the best thing is to soften and loosen the dirt rather than try to scrape or scour it away. Place the skillet on the stove burner. Fill the skillet to the rim with water and add a few tablespoons of Cascade or other dishwasher detergent.

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