Help! My Aluminum Cookware is Pitted and Stained and Other Reader Dilemmas

A recent message from one of my dear readers reminded me of a similar dilemma I have encountered. Her problem is with her favorite cookware, mine with the attachments for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.


DEAR MARY: Please tell me why my aluminum pans and cookware have turned dark and become rough to the touch. I believe it may be from the dishwasher. Other than these marks and stains, my 60-year old pans (I got them at my bridal shower!) look the same as new ones I see in the stores today. Only the price has changed. What can I do to restore my pots and pans? Love your column. Etta


DEAR ETTA: Let’s start with the “pitting”—corrosion that creates tiny holes in the metal. Undoubtedly, this is the result of having put these pans through the dishwasher. Aluminum should never be put into a dishwasher. Most dishwasher detergents are extremely alkaline and readily pit and discolor aluminum. Dishwasher detergents can also create a kind of grey film on the surface of aluminum, which can become difficult if not impossible to scrub off.

I am afraid there may be nothing you can do to remove the pits. However, there is a rather simple way to remove the dark, ugly discoloration that often appears in well-used aluminum cookware.

You want to fill the stained aluminum pot with a highly acidic solution: For each quart of water you need add 2 tablespoons cream of tartar, white vinegar OR lemon juice. Any one of these ordinary pantry items will create a highly acidic solution that will reduce discoloration due to oxidation. If you have other aluminum items like flatware that has become discolored, you can add these pieces to the pot.

If you need to clean the outside of a pot as well as the inside, try submerging it in a larger pot (doesn’t have to be aluminum) that you have filled with this acidic solution.

Set the pot on the stovetop and bring the solution to a boil. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the burner off once the aluminum brightens, allowing the pot and its contents to cool. Pour the solution down the drain.

If any discoloration remains, gently scrub the pot with a scrubber sponge. Avoid using steel wool, which is too abrasive and could cause future problems on aluminum.

Another option: Use a gentle aluminum cleaner meant for cookware instead of the boiling method above. Our friends at Bar Keeper’s Friend have introduced a fabulous cleanser and polisher, Bar Keepers Friend Cookware Cleanser & Polish that does a great job cleaning up all kinds of cookware including aluminum. You might give this a try on the pitting. Provided the damage is not severe, you may be able to rub out the pitting enough to bring your venerable and well-loved cookware back to its bright and shiny appearance.

DEAR MARY: I am totally baffled as to how to remove spots/stains from khaki colored items. It seems that no matter what I use, even plain water, I am left with a noticeably discolored area which is worse than the spot itself. Any suggestions as to dealing with this situation? Thanks so much for all the advice you offer; you make being a cheapskate fun. Kris

DEAR KRIS: I don’t know what you have tried to remove these stains, however I am the world’s biggest fan of Soilove (as in “soil love”) an inexpensive laundry stain remover I’ve been using for so many years I’m embarrassed to admit. I have never encountered the kind of problem you describe on colors or khaki items. Could it be that you are scrubbing some of the color away as you try to remove that stain?

Soilove is available from Amazon or directly from America’s Finest Products, the manufacturer of Soilove.

As my second line of defense, because not even Soilove can remove every stain (for sure it will not remove yellow mustard), I rely on Lestoil (as in “less toil”) which can be hard to find but still available if you know where to look.

DEAR MARY: Thank you for the great column on layaway. I remember that from when I was in college many years ago. While I used layaway and paid for the items in full, I have the vague recollection that by the time I picked them up, the bloom was off the rose. God Bless you for all you do! Sarah

DEAR SARAH: You may have just come up with another reason layaway is a good option: It nips impulsive shopping in the bud. With layaway you have time to rethink that purchase. With credit-card shopping by the time you get around to regretting the purchase, the deed has been done and the debt incurred. Thank you for being such a fun and loyal reader!

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4 replies
  1. pol098 says:

    Article says “pitting… Undoubtedly is the result of having put these pans through the dishwasher.” Absolutely not the only cause. My family has used many aluminium pans for generations, before dishwashers, and they invariably got pitted, with the pits black. I have two such pans, one used many times (not nearly daily), another very rarely used; neither has ever been in a dishwasher. The one that has been used, but not the other, has a multitude of shallow pis. Pitting in pans does not actually affect their use in any way, it’s just the appearance; we always continued using them. It’s probably due to cooking things which have a slight tendency to dissolve aluminium.

    If the pan is good enough to be worth it, and fairly thick, it should be possible to grind the pits out, but new ones will form even without a dishwasher. I just keep on using the pan; it will last for generations.

    • Kimmi says:

      Re: “Pitting in pans does not actually affect their use in any way, it’s just the appearance..”
      Thank you SO much for this! I kept trying to find verification on whether I could continue to use my discoloured and somewhat pitted aluminum pot and you’ve saved me a lot of time and potential frustration trying to find the answer to my question.I shall continue to use this pot. 🙂

  2. Andrew T says:

    If it’s only on the inside, try mixing cream of tartar and water, then boil it for 10 mins and see whether it will re-shine.

    Here is a video that shows how to re-shine aluminum using oven, cream of tartar, and roasting pan. However, I am not sure whether your plastic handle can handle the temperature.

  3. Rena says:

    In response to the darkened aluminum issue. I am aware that using the dishwasher will take the shine off the aluminum. My pans have dulled because of this. HOWEVER, they were never a dark gray until about a year ago when I apparently changed dishwasher detergent. Now they are almost black and the black rubs off on the towels. Yuck. What caused this after 45 years?


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