How To Clean Nonstick Pans

Nonstick pans are one of the most intuitive inventions to come out of the 20th century. Yet, they also could not exist until the 20th century. They make use of magnetism, chemistry, and industrial engineering to do something that humans have been trying to accomplish for years: Keep things from sticking to hot pans.

But because nonstick pans represent the intersection of all these scientific disciplines, it means that they can be a bit tricky to clean. Ironically, because nonstick pans are so intuitive in what they do, they can be baffling as to how they do it. So, how do you clean something that no cleaning agent will stick to?

If you want to clean your nonstick pans, stay away from the dishwasher. No dishwasher can apply the pressure needed to clean a nonstick pan. You will need to wash it by hand. You will also need to avoid rough scrubbers, particularly those that use steel wool as they will scrape away the nonstick coating. Use hot water and a sponge.

This is all because of the unique surfaces of the pans. If the surfaces become scuffed, they lose their nonstick properties. This will not destroy the pan immediately, so you do not need to be alarmed if you do scuff your pan, but over time it can weaken the pan’s resistance to sticking to things.

Cleaning By Hand

Cleaning by hand means one of two things: Using an apparatus, like a sponge or scrubber, or using latex gloves. It is technically possible to clean with your literal bare hands, but it will make your hands filthy.

Sponges and scrubbers are good because the big thing you will need to address with nonstick pans is grease. You might be surprised to hear this; why is there a build up of grease on your nonstick pan? Isn’t that exactly what the “nonstick” trait is supposed to prevent? Well, yes and no.

Nonstick pans keep things from sticking to them after cooking. The waste product of the cooking process, however, can still stick to them just fine. This waste can be anything from grease, which does not really stick to the pan, to food matter that absolutely does stick to the pan.

Nonstick pans regularly suffer a buildup of grease, but the grease is not stuck to the pan. In fact, the reason it builds itself up is because it has nowhere to go. It cannot stick to the pan, so instead it sits on top of it. This is good, as it means that you can see everything that needs to be cleaned. Nothing can hide from you.

The process for sponges and gloves is the same. The reason you are using these instead of a dish washer is because dish washers cannot apply the pressure needed to remove the kind of buildup nonstick pans suffer. You need to apply that kind of pressure by hand.

Another important element of cleaning by hand is using hot water. Hot water, and high temperatures in general, destabilize molecules. That sounds fancy, but it is a really fundamental property of physics: High temperatures means molecules move around more. Chemical reactions happen faster, and things spread out.

All of this means that things loosen up under hot temperatures. Whatever you are trying to clean off of your nonstick pans will be easier to handle if it is under a hot top. Just remember, the water does not need to be high pressure. It is your hands that need to be applying the pressure.

Cleaning Agents

If your nonstick pans have something denser than just grease on them, then you might need a cleaning agent in order to dissolve the food matter. There are a few options for this to varying degrees of complexity.

The easiest approaches involve individual chemicals. Vinegar smells awful, but it will give you some degree of cleanliness. Baking soda is more active, smells better, and will at least be entertaining to watch. It is easy to recommend baking soda because it does, to some extent, do a little bit of the cleaning for you.

If you want to get fancy though, try this: Mix together half a cup of vinegar and half a cup of water. Pour it on the pan you are looking to clean, then heat the pan on a low flame/temperature. This will make the vinegar bond with the matter you need to clean and pull it off the pan due to the heat.

This produces quite the smell though, so only use this method as a last resort. It also takes some finesse, as making the heat too high or leaving it on for too long will make your watered-down vinegar into a chaotic, bubbling mixture of loud and smelly chemicals.

Keep in mind, this smell will never hurt you. But avoid it all the same.

Sneaky Methods Of Cleaning Nonstick Pans

Nonstick pans are resistant to sticking due to a coating of nonstick materials. This coating comes off in the dishwasher and when grated against by harsh materials, like steel wool. This is why heat and pressure are so good for cleaning nonstick pans—that is, after all, one of the things the pan is exactly resistant to.

This means that respecting this coating is one of the biggest objectives when cleaning a pan. For that reason, here are some methods of cleaning a nonstick pan if you are worried your nonstick coating might not be long for this world.

First, try cleaning the pan with a toothbrush. It does not take a fancy, dentist-approved toothbrush to clean a nonstick pan. What you are really trying to do is apply as little force as possible. If you can clean with the toothbrush, then you might not even need to use cleaning agents.

More importantly, you do not even need to use a clean toothbrush to do this. As long as the bristles are soft, it will work. This is because a toothbrush cannot hold enough of the materials that make the pan dirty for the toothbrush to make the pan dirty again by itself. So, brush away!

Another sneaking method is using gravity to clean the pan. As stated previously, the most common opponents you will be facing when cleaning a nonstick pan are grease and food matter. Neither of these bonds to the pan permanently. So, if you have the time, you can rinse your pan in hot water and set it upside down.

This does take quite a while, and it will never make the pan totally clean. But it will make it so that the heaviest of grease spots and food materials fall right off the pan.

How Long Do Nonstick Pans Last?

Nonstick pans will normally last three to five years. You might have noticed that that is quite the wide range of possible lifespans. That is because it all depends on how you treat your nonstick pan.

Even if you cook on the pan every day, if you clean the pan properly, without compromising the nonstick surface, then it will last you a real long time. Abuse the surface however, then your pan will live on the lower end of the lifespan spectrum.

How Does One Know If Their Nonstick Pan Is Ruined?

If by “ruined” you mean “lacking the nonstick coating”, then rest assured that it will be visually obvious. Nonstick pans are normally made with their nonstick coatings and base materials colored very differently. This difference means that once the nonstick coating wears away, you can clearly see where it went.

The thing about nonstick pans is that a nonstick pan is not unusable after its coating is gone. Then it is just a pan. Having just a pan around is not a bad thing, especially since nonstick sprays have become so commonplace. It might not serve its original purpose anymore, but there is no need to abandon a nonstick pan.

How Does One Keep The Nonstick Feature Of A Nonstick Pan?

If you want to stretch the lifespan of your pan’s nonstick coating to the limit, then there are steps you can take in addition to washing the pan properly. Use butter or oil before cooking with the pan. Doing this will make it less likely that the nonstick coating of the pan will be damaged by the heat.

The nonstick coating of your pan is somewhat resistant to heat, but it has a limit, and repeated exposure to high temperatures will eventually compromise it. Giving the pan something that burns at lower temperatures will mean that your food will cook in the pan with less effort from the pan itself.

In Conclusion

Nonstick pans are a genius little invention, but they can sometimes feel like you have to be a genius to take care of them. This is not the case though, as there are many simple methods by which you can turn even the cheapest, more fragile nonstick pan into a companion that stays in your kitchen for years to come.