The following post originally appeared in The Practical Kitchen weekly newsletter. It was so popular that I decided to update + republish it here in its entirety along with some new before and after pics for ya. For early access to exclusive newsletter content like this, sign up for my newsletter here. This post is not sponsored, I just really like this product.
You know those moments where you’re sure there’s a better, more efficient way to do something but you’re just not sure what it is? That’s how I used to feel about getting my pots and pans (particularly the stainless steel All-clad ones) clean after cooking with them. I spent what felt like hours scrubbing them with the rough side of a sponge. I tried soaking them. And those pesky grease and oil stains just. wouldn’t. budge.
I was scrolling through a foodie facebook group when I saw someone recommend something called “Bar Keepers Friend.” (Yes, the lack of apostrophe bothers me too). Another user had uploaded a photo of a deeply tarnished, blackened Le Creuset dutch oven asking if there was any way to return it to its former glory. And when I say “someone” recommended Bar Keepers Friend, I mean a literal tidal wave of people were in the comments shouting about how great this product was and sharing their own successful before and after photos.
I immediately ordered a container and as soon as it arrived, I dropped everything and got to scrubbing our most tarnished pan. Lo and behold — it worked like a charm. For really blackened pans you still need to put some elbow grease to it, but within a few minutes the pan looked almost brand new.
So what is Bar Keepers Friend, and how do you use it?
- Bar Keepers Friend is a bleach-free, oxalic-acid based powdered cleaning product, ideal for stainless steel items (though it can be used on lots of other things too — it’s great for cleaning enameled cast iron!). It can easily remove rust, tarnish, mineral deposits, and tough stains from most surfaces. It also protects the surfaces of your pans, helping prevent them from tarnishing and rusting in the future.
- To use: Wet the surface of whatever you’re cleaning, then scrub. Unlike dish soap, Bar Keepers Friend doesn’t work up a lather — you’ll want to scrub with your faucet off, using just the moisture on the surface of the pan to turn the powder into a paste. If you need to add a splash more water to hydrate the powder, that’s fine.
- For a very tarnished or greasy pan, you may want to start scrubbing with steel wool. Once you’ve mostly cleared the surface of the pan, switch to your usual soft sponge or rag.
- Rinse well once you finish cleaning (they recommend not letting it sit on the surface to sit for longer than a minute, but you can definitely scrub for longer than that).
- If you’ve got particularly sensitive skin or are scrubbing a lot of pots, wear kitchen gloves to protect your skin. This stuff is abrasive!
(UPDATE — before and after pics below!) I wish I had remembered to take before and after pictures from when I used it on my pans when they were really grimy — now I use Bar Keepers Friend regularly enough that they stay nice and shiny. But if you’re interested in a visual, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has a great video showing how it works.
p.s. Don’t get the liquid version of Bar Keepers Friend. It’s not nearly as good.
p.p.s. Regular Bar Keepers Friend is totally safe to use on pots and pans, but if you’re interested, they do make a cookware-specific version of Bar Keepers Friend.
Before and after using Bar Keepers Friend
UPDATE 6/3/21 — Okay, so when I sent that email many months ago I was so excited to tell y’all about BKF that I didn’t pause to take photos. But since this is going on the blog, and since I seriously slacked on keeping my 8″ All-Clad stainless steel fry pan shiny, I’ve got great before and after photos to share this time. Check it out, then scroll down where I break down how I cleaned this pan.
The “before” photo was taken after this skillet was scrubbed with soap and water and went through the dishwasher. And even with the tarnish and staining it would’ve been totally fine to use. It’s not dirty, just stained and tarnished. (Stainless steel pans are notoriously hard to keep shiny — certain types of oil in particular can cling to them in ways that regular dish soap just can’t remove, especially if you don’t heat the pans properly before adding oil.)
Cleaning this pan took about 2 minutes. I ran a damp sponge over the surface of pan and sprinkled on a generous amount of Bar Keepers Friend. I let it sit for about 10 seconds before using the soft side of a sponge to scrub in circular motions without adding any water other than what was already on the sponge. Two minutes later I gave it a good rinse, and then went back with a small about of BKF just on any spots I had missed. That’s it. Good as new!