Help me unstain my pans!
February 17, 2009 7:27 PM   Subscribe

How can I prevent or remove polymerized oil from aluminum sheet pans?

In my various attempts at producing ever-more edible food, I continually run into problems with my aluminum sheet pans getting burnt-on oil stains. I used to use cheap dark "non-stick" pans which had the same problem, but were very cheap to replace after a year or two. This time I went all out and got a couple of solid aluminum quarter sheet pans. They're nice and hefty... but they've all hence become stained despite my best efforts otherwise.

The majority of the time, I use the pans with a non-stick barrier (specifically a Silpat-style mat). However, I find that items that I'd like to brown (mostly potatoes) don't do so very well with the mat and work much better with a thin coat of oil on the pan. I've personally experienced oil sprays polymerizing quickly, so I don't use those any more and instead rub on vegetable oil with a paper towel. After every use, I wash the pans by hand, but the stains keep on getting worse and worse. If the pans were stainless steel, like my skillets and pots, I'd just use oven cleaner. However, my bottle of oven cleaner specifically says not to use it on aluminum.

Short version of question Is there any form of cleaner that can remove polymerized oil that works with aluminum? Is there any way to prevent oil stains other than simply never using any oil?
posted by saeculorum to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just as with cast iron, the oil film can actually help the pans be more non-stick; it might be a good thing. (And as you have discovered, commercial sheet pans are a great investment; they are incredibly cheap for the utility they provide.) If you can't live with the seasoning, try a metal polish for aluminum or a scouring powder like Bar Keepers Friend. If you get a chance, look at the pans in a working bakery or restaurant; the ones I have seen are usually pretty discolored but work better the older they get.
posted by TedW at 7:54 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

What's the matter with oil stains?
posted by delmoi at 7:57 PM on February 17, 2009

Best answer: I have this same problem and the only solution I've seen online, other than long hard scrubbing, is the mentioned Bar Keeper's Friend.

These aren't just stains, over cooked oil turns into a thick sticky mess that is not easily dissolved by soaps or even scraped off cleanly. It's a real pain, especially when it gathers on the lip where you hold the pan.
posted by Science! at 8:01 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what you mean. Bar Keepers Friend and steel wool work great. You can probably get them at any restaurant supply store, if not a Target or similar.
posted by rossination at 8:16 PM on February 17, 2009

Best answer: Magic Erasers also work, with slightly less scrubbing and no detergent needed. I use them to get those stubborn stains off the outsides of my Dutch ovens. They will also take off baked on stains from stainless steel fry pans.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:55 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I find that SOS pads work great for this. They live near the dishsoap at the store. Don't mix them with dishsoap, though, because the soap (detergent?) in the SOS pads cancels out dishsoap, and vice versa. You'll get much better results if you just use them with some water. (Also, I tend to save moderately-used SOS pads in a ziplock bag with the air all squeezed out. I feel wasteful throwing them away when there's still soapy stuff in them, but they get rusty if left exposed to air once they're wet.)
posted by vytae at 10:23 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Vytae, you can freeze SOS pads between uses, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:25 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the most part, I've given up on trying.

I don't like scrubbing aluminum, as its so soft of a metal that it gets ugly and the scratchy parts seem to lead to even more sticking. And the dissolved aluminum in the water makes my hands itchy. Bar Keepers Friend (or any other chemical based cleaner) probably will discolor the aluminum as well. But I don't like cooking in aluminum anyway, it creeps me out that when I boil water in it the water turns chalky looking.

What I do is use parchment paper for nearly everything. Keeps the sheet pans cleaner and works way better than any nonstick surface I've seen in the cookie sheet baking pan realm.

I'm actually looking to get some stainless steel baking pans but haven't found what I want yet. I have a pile of those cheap $4.99 grocery store non-stick ones, and the only thing that comes close to getting them clean is oven cleaner. I put them in the dishwasher, hold my breath, spray them down, close the door and leave them sit overnight. In the morning, I turn on the washer on full hot mode, and this gets them fairly clean.

What you could do is get two pans- one for hard core roasting that you can let get ugly looking, and another for more delicate baking that should keep clean.

One thing to look out for is to get to the residue right away- I've found that if you cook something and it leaves a sort of gummy yellow grease residue, that stuff will come off fairly easily. But if you leave it, and cook on it again, that stain will get darker and darker and become permanently fused with the cookware.

However, Bar Keeper's Friend works GREAT on stainless pots and pans. I have a Regalware frying pan (I think I got the 11 inch for $45 at the local restaurant supply house, it's identical to the $150 pans, if not better), and I use that as well as a blue non scratch Scotch Brite to keep it clean. I've found that Bar Keeper's Friend *will* slightly mar softer metals with a mirror surface (like steel or brass fixtures), but it's not an undesirable look- it makes the surface look "well cared for" almost. But not stainless- if anything, it makes it shinier. And it doesn't change the cooking characteristics- no funny sticking problems after a cleaning. I found that SOS pads left a bit of a waxy residue, and didn't perform as well.
posted by gjc at 5:05 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot to agree- a nice layer of that burnt on coating does make a fairly nice non-stick coating. I have a cast iron pan, and it rivals or even outperforms any non stick I've used. The only caveat is that for things like cookies and biscuits, a carbon layer like that may interfere with getting just the right browning on the bottoms, as it acts as a slight insulator. For roasting, that's good. Baking, not so much.

One thing I have done to care for it when it starts to get wonky, is to knock off all the loose bits with a stiff plastic brush. Then get a sanding block with some maybe 200 or 400 grit paper, and use it to smooth the surface down. Not to bare metal of course, just to knock down any of the high spots where the gunk builds up. Then I wash it again and reseason it a couple of times. A stinky job, but worth it. Nothing better than a grilled cheese on cast iron...

This procedure might work well for your baking pans- using a sanding block helps to make sure you don't gouge down into the "valleys" of the surface. It just abrades the high spots until they wear down to the level of the low spots. That should maintain the baking sheets in a fairly decent shape without causing damage. In fact, I'm going to try that this weekend and see how it works on my baking sheets.
posted by gjc at 5:18 AM on February 18, 2009

Here's my MIL's trick: what about putting a sheet of tinfoil in the pan when roasting potatoes?
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:22 AM on February 18, 2009

I second the parchment paper for keeping pans clean (parchment paper is NOT wax paper though!). It's also cheap and makes cleaning up way easier. Toss the potatoes in a bit of oil and use the broiler to brown them.
posted by lizbunny at 6:29 AM on February 18, 2009

I used to scrub my cheap aluminum pans with something like an SOS pad, but it was hard work and not very effective unless I kept at it for a really long time. I eventually gave up and started lining them with aluminum foil to help control the mess. Then I moved to a new apartment that has a dishwasher (I had been washing everything by hand before) and after washing my pans in the dishwasher a few times, the stains are fading. I hate to think what that means for my regular plates and silverware, but it's great news for the pans!
posted by Nothlit at 8:24 AM on February 18, 2009

Back when I could find them locally, I used the dobie pads for scrubbing my pots and pans. I'm not entirely sure how the scrubbing surface differs from the other 3m products (eg. scotchbrite) but they seemed to be very effective in pulling burned on grease off of our stainless steel roasting pans.
posted by cheez-it at 11:07 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're in the US: I recently bought Pam "Professional" Spray. It can handle higher temperatures, and the residue it leaves seems easier to remove (with Barkeeper's Friend or Zud) than with regular Pam. It may help keep your pans from getting too gunky after you do get rid of the current oil glaze..
posted by wryly at 1:26 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Need to Poop, Stat 911 (for a kid)   |   Pass me a 1182.9411875006815 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.