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How to Remove Stains on Aluminum Cookware After an Unfortunate Trip Through the Dishwasher

When aluminum pans get stained and discolored from frequent use, it’s time for a thorough cleaning. But what happens when these pieces appear to be all but ready for the landfill after an unfortunate trip through the dishwasher?

Dear Cheapskate: I inherited a lovely set of vintage aluminum cookware. For some reason, I assumed I could clean these pans in the dishwasher. Well, they came out so discolored they are no longer pretty. I have tried a couple of cleaning methods that did nothing to restore their beauty. Do you have any suggestions? — Ina

Dear Ina: Most aluminum is best washed by hand with mild soap to prevent exactly what you have experienced — dark, unattractive staining. When washed in a dishwasher, aluminum darkens due to mineral content in the water, chemicals in the automatic dishwashing detergent and high heat from the dry cycle.

In most, but not all, cases, this change in appearance is not permanent. Removing dark stains from an aluminum cooking pot that has been damaged by the dishwasher can be challenging, but here are a few methods you can try to clean those stains to restore the beauty of polished aluminum — and then keep them that way.


Combine equal parts of white vinegar and water in the pot, allowing it to soak for several hours or overnight. Afterward, gently scrub the stained areas with a nonabrasive sponge or cloth. The acidity of the vinegar aids in loosening the stains.


Baking soda’s mild abrasiveness helps in lifting stubborn stains. Create a paste by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water until it forms a thick consistency. Apply the paste to the stained areas and let it sit for approximately 30 minutes. Use a sponge or soft brush to scrub the stains.


Halve a lemon and sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh. Use the lemon half to scrub the stained areas of the pot. The lemon’s acidity, combined with the abrasive action of the salt, assists in removing the stains.


Fill the pot with water and add 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar per quart of water. Bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool before washing it as usual. This method effectively removes stains and brightens the aluminum.


Alternatively, consider using a commercial aluminum cleaner specifically formulated for removing stains from aluminum cookware. Follow the instructions on the product label for optimal results. Bar Keepers Friend is readily available in supermarkets, discount department stores and online.


To keep aluminum cookware looking beautiful, follow these care and maintenance guidelines:

— Hand-wash: Aluminum cookware must be washed by hand (never put through the dishwasher) using hot water and mild dishwashing liquid, such as Blue Dawn, with a nonscratch sponge. As challenging spots or stains begin to appear, use Bar Keepers Friend to remove those spots.

— Polish: Should aluminum pots and pans lose their beautiful shine, use a good aluminum polish to restore their luster. Adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for application and buff the cookware with a soft cloth until it gleams.

— Wash and Dry: Following the polishing process, thoroughly hand-wash and rinse the aluminum cookware with warm water and dishwashing liquid to move all residual cleaning agents. Dry the cookware with a clean towel to prevent the formation of water spots and stains.

Well, there you go, Ina, and probably a lot more than you asked for, but I hope it helps to bring your aluminum pieces back to their former selves.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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