I've been cleaning stainless steel pans wrong for years – this trick with white vinegar works like a dream

A small cup was enough for all my pans, and my appliances, too

Cleaning stainless steel pots with vinegar
(Image credit: Ashley Chalmers)

If you’ve spent even five minutes on #CleanTok (cleaning on TikTok for the uninitiated), then you’ve probably seen one kitchen cabinet staple repeatedly touted as a cleaning wonder cure. Yes, I’m talking about cleaning with vinegar.

Whether you mix it with lemon juice and baking soda or use it on its own, almost every cleaning pro claims that white vinegar is the ideal way to clean even the toughest of kitchen stains. I recently stumbled upon one video from user Stephanie Booth (@stephanieboothathome) who made a simple splash of vinegar on her stainless steel pan look like actual magic.

In an effort to find out of this would work as well on my own stainless steel pots, pans, and fingerprint-laden appliances, I set to the kitchen to find out.

How to clean stainless steel pans with vinegar

Cleaning stainless steel pots with vinegar

(Image credit: Ashley Chalmers)

According to Booth, it’s insanely simple. All you need is white vinegar, and you literally just pour it in, swirl it around, and voilà. The rainbow stains disappear. Plus, because you’re not using it to scrub anything dirty, you can use the vinegar across multiple pots, pans, and stainless steel surfaces. That’s exactly what I did.

In reality, it is that simple, though I did have to use a rag to get up the sides of my deeper pots. It didn’t require any more effort than my regular cleaning methods, though.

Cleaning stainless steel pots with vinegar

(Image credit: Ashley Chalmers)

A few years ago, we invested in a small set of Le Creuset stainless steel pots. Just as Booth says in her video, they almost instantly took on a rainbow sheen. It didn’t really bother me, but I did wonder if I’d done something wrong. Booth’s video assured me that this is pretty standard for stainless steel. Still, the promise of removing the stains so easily and efficiently was enticing. 

I set out my pots and lids, as well as my jar of white vinegar. The second I poured the vinegar into the pot, it reacted with the metal exactly as Booth’s video showed. The rainbow sheen instantly disappeared! I felt like a cleaning wizard.

If you’re cleaning a shallow pan, then simply swirling it around is probably enough. But because I was cleaning deeper pots, I grabbed a rag and wiped the vinegar up around the sides. The entire interior of each pot gleamed.

Buy the right vinegar for cleaning

Using vinegar on brushed vs polished steel

Cleaning stainless steel pots with vinegar

(Image credit: Ashley Chalmers)

Because I still had plenty of vinegar to reuse, I decided to wipe down the outside of my pots and pans. This is where vinegar’s status as wonder cleaner gets downgraded slightly. It did remove the streaks and splatter stains, but it replaced them with smeary droplets. 

No matter! I took a second, dry microfiber cloth and wiped it clean. It was okay, but not the cleanest. I decided I’ll keep my vinegar for brushed stainless steel surfaces only.

Using vinegar to clean stainless steel appliances

Cleaning stainless steel pots with vinegar

(Image credit: Ashley Chalmers)

After I finished off with the pots and pans, I left them to fully dry and decided to test out vinegar as a cleaning solution for our other stainless steel appliances, namely the fridge, oven, and hob. 

It worked well at quickly pulling up stains, but I definitely had to wipe it down with a dry cloth to avoid streaks. I’d say that it was most effective on my fridge, where fingerprints were the number one culprit. On the oven and stovetop, it was effective, but not perfect.

Still, one rag and about a cup of vinegar got me far in my kitchen! When I glanced at the clock, less than 10 minutes had passed. 

The downsides of cleaning stainless steel pans with vinegar

As I was cleaning, my daughter walked in and announced that the whole kitchen smelled like salt and vinegar potato chips. She’s seven, so this was meant as the highest compliment, but she had a point. It’s not a scent I mind, per se, but it’s not the goal, either. More traditional cleaning solutions definitely have a more enticing home scent. 

Even now, as I type this, I notice my hands smell vaguely of vinegar, despite having scrubbed them with soap quite a few times since cleaning. So, if you’re wary of the smell of vinegar, then keep it for the bottoms of your pots and pans only. It’s an instant fix, and if you simply swirl it around like in Booth’s video, it’s no contact. 

The verdict

As far as a solution for cleaning the rainbow sheen out of stainless steel pots and pans, there’s really nothing better. Vinegar is low impact, easy to reuse, and the results are instant. 

When it comes to other appliances, though, I’d say vinegar is fine and effective but not my personal favorite. It works well enough at cleaning off fingerprints and cooking stains, but the streaks and the scent are annoying enough to make me keep my allegiance to my usual cleaning products for these surfaces. 

Even so, I’m definitely adding a bottle of vinegar to my cleaning cabinet. It’s a comfort to know my stainless steel post and pans will always instantly sparkle as a result. 


Will vinegar damage stainless steel pans?

Vinegar won't damage stainless steel pans if it isn't left for too long. A quick swill and scrub with vinegar followed by a thorough rinse is the best way to clean stainless steel pans with vinegar, without damage.

Ashley Chalmers
Contributing Editor

Ashley Chalmers is a freelance writer for Homes & Gardens with over 10 years' experience as a digital writer and content creator. Ashley started her career in entertainment and fashion PR in New York, before moving to the French countryside and taking up travel blogging. Now, Ashley lives in London. Her passion for travelling is only matched by her love of making her house feel like a home, and she loves to include her finds from around the world in her decor.