vintage beautiful aluminum cookware

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? 

vintage beautiful aluminum cookware


Dear Mary: I inherited a lovely set of vintage aluminum cookware. For some reason, I assumed I could put 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 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 together with 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.

Remove Stains on Aluminum Cookware


vintage aluminum cookware with stains from dishwasher

Vinegar and Water Soak

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

Baking Soda Paste

  1. Create a paste by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water until it forms a thick consistency.
  2. Apply the paste to the stained areas and let it sit for approximately 30 minutes.
  3. Use a sponge or soft brush to scrub the stains.

Baking soda’s mild abrasiveness helps in lifting stubborn stains.

Lemon and Salt Scrub

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.

Boiling Water and Cream of Tartar

  1. Fill the pot with water and add 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar per quart of water.
  2. Bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. 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.

Bar Keepers Friend CleanserBar Keepers Friend image

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.

BKF is readily available  in supermarkets, discount department stores and online.

Routine Cleaning and Maintenance

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, mild dishwashing liquid, such as Blue Dawn with a non-scratch sponge. As challenging spots or stains begin to appear, use Bar Keepers Friend to remove those spots.Star brite Aluminum Polish from Amazon

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 amd 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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6 replies
  1. Patti says:

    I had a friend put some of my old-style anodized aluminum Calphalon cookware in the dishwasher. Those pots are now dull and chalky looking. Think this product would help?

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Possibly. Just be aware that Bar Keepers Friend labels it for non-anodized aluminum. But the other options, I’d sure try them making sure to test first in an inconspicuous place.

      • Patti says:

        Thanks! Will do. And you saved me! I have bar-keepers at home, and would have just used it had you not pointed out the non-anodized warning!

  2. Gayle Brooks says:

    Your remedies to remove “stains” on aluminum cookware caused by putting it in the dishwasher seem to address only the inside portion of the pan where the remedy touches the cooking area. What about the remaining areas of the pots? After you’ve cleaned the inside bottom/sides of the pot with these remedies, how do you clean the upper inside part, and the outside?

    • Cally Ross says:

      I wondered the same thing, but the lemon paste, baking soda paste, and Barkeepers Friend would all work on the outside. I’m going to give them a try, starting with the method I already have ingredients for. Good luck!

      • Mary Hunt says:

        Not sure I fully understand the question, but these remedies are for all non-coated aluminum surfaces. Stained by having gone through the dishwasher or not. Nothing in these remedies would harm, say, ceramic, stainless steel …

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