DIY Cleaning & Organizing

11 Ways You’re Accidentally Ruining Your Cookware

When whipping up a home-cooked meal, most people don’t give a second thought to their cookware, even though properly using and cleaning these hardworking necessities should be part of every food-prep routine. Quality cookware is an investment that, with proper care and handling, can last a lifetime. Don't endanger the longevity of your pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils! Avoid these 11 "don'ts" to ensure that you get the longest possible service from your cookware.
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Adding Cold Water to Hot Pans

Never submerge a hot pan in cold water, since the thermal shock of the temperature difference can cause warping or cracking. This in turn could cause the bottom of the pan to wobble precariously on the burner, creating an unsafe cooking situation. Warping can also cause the nonstick coating to delaminate.  

Related: Buy or DIY: 8 Clever Solutions for Storing Pots and Pans

Overheating Nonstick Pans

Use only low and medium heat settings with nonstick or ceramic cookware, because high temperatures will cause deterioration of the nonstick coating over time. Nonstick pans exposed to high heat also release noxious fumes that can poison birds and cause flu-like symptoms in people, an illness known as the “Teflon flu.”

Soaking Cast-Iron and Wooden Utensils

“Let it soak” is the usual suggestion for loosening food particles stuck on pots and pans. But certain types of cookware, including cast-iron pans, wooden utensils and cutting boards, and wood-handled knives, shouldn’t be exposed to a long bath in the sink or dishwasher. Excess water can remove the seasoning from cast iron and cause wood to swell and split.

Related: 12 Things Never to Put in Your Dishwasher

Lubricating Nonstick Pans with Cooking Spray

Cooking spray is a helpful product to have on hand, but using it on nonstick cookware and silicone bakeware will create a sticky buildup around the sides of the pan. Once this buildup accumulates, the only way to remove it is with extremely hot water, dish soap, and a lot of elbow grease; abrasive scrubbies or sponges will destroy the coating’s nonstick properties and cause it to flake off. As an alternative to cooking spray, use butter to lubricate nonstick pans and silicone baking sheets.

Using Stone and Glass Cutting Boards

Glass, granite, and marble cutting boards look fancy and professional, but they can ruin your kitchen knives by grinding away the edge of the blade. Unfortunately, once the blade is dull, most people have to turn to a professional for resharpening. Use plastic or wooden cutting boards instead to keep your knives in tip-top shape.

Related: 21 Brilliant Hacks for an Organized Kitchen

Cooking Acidic Foods in Reactive Pots

Never cook up a pot of chili or simmer a wine-based pasta sauce in a cast-iron or aluminum pan. The acid will react with the metal and leach into your food, throwing off the flavor and potentially causing health issues. If you’re planning to simmer anything acidic for more than a few minutes, opt for a ceramic, enamel, or another similarly nonreactive pan.

Mishandling Nonstick Pans

Sharp and abrasive materials should stay away from nonstick, ceramic and enamel-coated cookware. Hard scrubbies and steel wool as well as sharp metal cooking utensils might scratch and damage the coating. It’s always better to rely on wooden, plastic, or silicone utensils for use on any nonstick surface. If the exterior of your pan is pitted and starts to peel, toss it and get a new one—you certainly don’t want bits of nonstick coating showing up in your food!

Related: How To: Clean Any Appliance

Improperly Cleaning Cast Iron

Always clean your cast-iron pan with water instead of dish soap. As soap is designed to eliminate oil, it may also remove the necessary seasoning from your pan. Fortunately, this problem is easy to fix—simply re-season the pan by applying a thin layer of vegetable oil to the entire surface, inside and out, and placing it upside down in a 350-degree oven for about an hour. Let cool completely.

Related: How To: Season Cast Iron

Practicing Poor Storage Habits

Cookware, knives, and other utensils can be easily damaged by scraping, rattling, or rolling against each other. To prevent storage mishaps, place a few layers of paper towels or a spare kitchen towel in between each pan in the cupboard. A countertop knife block, magnetic strip, or drawer knife organizer is a great investment for protecting your knives from dings, nicks, and gouges. Wooden spoons and other utensils are best stored upright in a countertop crock with plenty of air circulation.

Leaving Cookware and Utensils in Dangerous Spots

Always think twice about where you place your cookware. Leaving the handle of a pot, pan, or knife hanging over the edge of the counter or stove is a recipe for disaster. If a busy cook brushes against the handle of a pot, or a small child reaches up to grab a knife, at the very least you’ll have a mess to clean up—and you could wind up dealing with breakage or injury. 

Related: 10 Total Kitchen Makeovers—and What They Cost

Relying on the Dishwasher for Everything

An impressively long list of things are harmed or downright destroyed by repeated exposure to the high heat of a dishwasher, including cast-iron cookware, nonstick cookware and bakeware, anything aluminum, disposable pans, good knives, wooden utensils and cutting boards, copper pots and utensils, soft plastic food storage items, gold- or silver-plated kitchenware, insulated travel mugs or drink ware, crystal, antique or hand-painted china, ceramics, stoneware, hollow-handled knives, enamel-coated cookware, milk glass, and pewter. Leave the dishwasher for everyday dishes, glasses, and utensils, and wash everything else by hand.