You’ve probably heard that a quality stainless steel pan can last a lifetime.
But is that really true? How long do stainless steel pans last?
In this article, you’ll learn about the longevity of stainless steel cookware, when to replace it, and tips on preserving your pans.
Use the links below to navigate the article:
- How Long Do Stainless Steel Pans Last?
- Factors Impacting the Longevity of Stainless Steel Pans
- When to Replace Your Stainless Steel Pans
- How to Extend the Life of Your Stainless Steel Pans
- Bottom Line
Let’s get straight to the question: how long do stainless steel pans last?
Most stainless steel pans will last several decades (or longer) if you take good care of them. If you avoid warping, pitting, and rusting, a stainless steel pan can last a lifetime. However, if you buy cheap pans and don’t use, clean, and store them properly, they may only last one to three years.
Most stainless steel cookware comes with a lifetime warranty. However, most warranties only cover defects in materials and craftsmanship. They don’t cover damage due to misuse or everyday wear and tear. Here are just a few examples:
- All-Clad (view warranty): As long as you buy from an authorized All-Clad retailer, the company will repair or replace defective cookware at no additional cost.
- Calphalon (view warranty): While you must pay for shipping, Calphalon extends a lifetime warranty for most of its stainless steel cookware. It will replace any defective item.
- Hestan (view warranty): Hestan’s lifetime warranty, like many other top brands, promises to replace defective cookware.
- Anolon (view warranty): With Anolon, you get a straightforward promise to ensure you are satisfied with your purchase. Anolon stands by its cookware for life.
Not all stainless steel cookware will last forever. Several factors impact how long a stainless steel pan will last.
If you’re looking for the longest-lasting stainless steel pan, here’s what you need to know.
Grade of the Steel
Stainless steel is a hard alloy with greater tensile and yield strength than most cookware materials. Tensile strength is the amount of stress it can withstand while being pulled, and yield strength is the amount of pressure you can apply before the steel changes shape permanently.
That said, there are different steel grades, and higher-quality steel improves the longevity of cookware.
Most high-quality stainless steel pans are made of 18/10 stainless steel. The first number represents the percentage of chromium, the second, nickel. Chromium and nickel make the steel resistant to corrosion and rust and give it a high-polish finish.
Some brands use 18/0 stainless steel for the bottom layer. Without nickel, this steel is not as durable at 18/10. However, the absence of nickel makes it magnetic, thus, compatible with induction cooktops.
The key point — a quality brand is transparent about the steel it uses. The type of steel shouldn’t be difficult to find. Most brands list it in the specification online. If it’s not easy to find, buyer beware.
Thickness of the Steel
Thick pan walls will retain heat better. They also make the cookware more durable and less prone to warping. The pan walls of most premium cookware brands are 2.3mm.
Some brands have thicker walls. For example, Made In cookware stainless steel pan walls are 2.7mm thick.
There are two types of stainless steel cookware: fully-clad and Impact-bonded.
A fully-clad pan is constructed with alternating, bonded layers of steel and heat conductive material such as copper or aluminum. In most cases, the interior and exterior are steel, and the core layer is aluminum.
A pan with an impact-bonded base has a multi-layered bottom, but the sides are one thinner layer of steel.
In general, fully-clad stainless steel pans are more durable and longer-lasting because they are thicker than impact-bonded pans.
Stainless steel cookware with an exposed edge doesn’t last as long as cookware with a sealed edge. Exposed bonded layers are vulnerable to rust.
The longevity of a brand is a good indicator of a trustworthy product.
All-Clad continues to be the gold standard for fully-clad cookware, known for long-lasting performance, classy designs, and innovative construction (check out my in-depth review).
Stainless steel pans can last a lifetime, but sometimes they need to be replaced. If you experience any of the following issues, it’s time to purchase a new stainless steel pan.
If layers begin to separate in a fully-clad pan, you could cut yourself. It usually happens around the rim where the steel and aluminum layers are exposed.
In addition, the layers can rust, and you’ll risk getting rust into your food and altering the flavor.
If your pan is warped and no longer sits flat on your stove, it’s time to replace it. When pans don’t sit flat, they won’t heat evenly. They can also be a hazard while cooking, as they are easier to knock over, spilling hot food.
There are ways to fix a warped pan, but you’ll need to toss the pan if those don’t work.
Pitting is the breakdown of the protective, non-reactive cooking surface. When this happens, the deeper layers of the pan can become exposed and contact your food.
Significant pitting or scratches that expose the core layer could result in aluminum or copper (depending on the core material) leaching into your food.
Rust can affect the flavor of your food and cause potential health issues. If you can’t remove the rust with a cleanser like Bar Keeper’s Friend, it’s time for a new pan.
Loose handles are dangerous. They can cause a burn hazard if they come off while you’re moving a hot pan. In some cases, you can tighten the handle with a screwdriver or similar tool, depending on the handle construction.
If you can’t fix the handles, check with your cookware brand about warranty repair. If all else fails, it is time to replace the pan.
Here are 15 tips to make your stainless steel pans last longer:
Don’t use metal utensils. Stainless steel pans are not indestructible. If you mistreat your pans, you will shorten their lifespan. Avoiding metal utensils is one way to keep your pans in optimal shape. To prevent scratches or pits, use non-abrasive utensils, such as silicone, nylon, or wood.
Remove stuck-on food. Remove stuck-on food as quickly as possible. If you don’t, the buildup will become virtually impossible to remove. And sometimes, it will permanently discolor or rust your pan. Check out my step-by-step cleaning tips for All-Clad stainless steel cookware (note: these tips apply to any brand). Or watch this video where I demonstrate the easiest way to clean stainless steel pans.
Don’t use harsh or abrasive cleaning detergents or scrubbers. Harsh detergents or products like chlorine bleach or oven cleaner can damage your stainless steel pans’ protective layer or finish. Although I recommend Bar Keeper’s Friend occasionally for stubborn stains, it’s best to wash them routinely with warm water and mild dish detergent. Also, refrain from using steel wool or any other abrasive cleaning tool. It can easily scratch the surface and alter the look of your pan.
Don’t shock your pan. Always allow your pan to cool completely before cleaning it. Placing a hot pan in cold water can cause warping. Heat causes atoms in a pan to expand, and cold forces them to contract. An extreme temperature shift forces the atoms to contract or expand rapidly and unevenly. Thus, bending the pan.
Never add salt to water before it boils. The chloride in salt can react to the oxygen in the water and cause pitting in the steel. And, don’t allow salty water to sit for a long time in the pan after cooking.
Use two hands when moving heavy dishes. Avoid unnecessary stress on your stainless steel pan handles by using two hands when transferring pots from the stovetop to the oven or the table. Use oven mitts to protect yourself. Also, consider using a sauté pan with helper handles to make the job easier.
Keep the cooking temperature within the manufacturer’s limit. Stick with the maximum oven-safe temperature. You can find the limit in the product manual or description online. Most stainless steel cookware can handle at least 500°F. Some brands, like All-Clad, can withstand up to 600°F. Made In’s max temperature is 800°F.
Properly heat your pans before adding oil. Adding oil to a cold pan and heating it can cause the oil to burn, adhere to the surface, and get gummy. Instead, use the water test to determine the right time to add oil.
Don’t heat an empty pan for too long. While you should heat your pan before adding oil, allowing an empty pan to sit on a hot burner for too long can cause extreme discoloration. You could burn the pan or cause rainbow patterns (also called heat tint) that are difficult (but not impossible) to remove.
Be careful broiling. First, make sure your stainless steel pan is designed for use in a broiler. Watch your pan carefully when broiling, especially if it already has burnt food stains. Broiling can make those stains even worse. Consider using a seasoned cast iron or carbon steel pan for broiling instead.
Dry your pans completely before storing them. Thoroughly dry your stainless steel pans after washing with a soft, lint-free cloth. Water left on pans can cause water spots or rust in some cases, depending on the pan’s condition.
Stack your pans with caution. While some stainless steel cookware is stackable, like Calphalon Premier Space-Saving Stainless Steel Set, most pans can easily get dented or scratched. If you are pressed for space and must nest pans, you can use a cookware rack or pot and pan protectors.
Avoid cooking spray. Cooking sprays often contain additives that can stick to a hot pan. If you want better control over how much oil you use, fill an oil sprayer with a high smoke point oil, such as avocado oil. High smoke point oils can withstand temperatures of 400°F or greater.
Don’t use a knife in your pan. Using a knife in your stainless steel pan is a sure way to scratch it.
Don’t clean your pans in the dishwasher. Even if the manufacturer says it’s dishwasher-safe, opt to wash it by hand. Over time, the high heat and chemicals from the detergent in the dishwasher can wear down your pots and pans.
Stainless steel pans are built to last, especially those with thick walls made of high-grade steel.
If you treat stainless steel pans well, they can last decades, and you can pass them down to the next generation of your family.
Follow these tips to get the most out of your stainless steel pans and to extend their lifespan:
- Buy from a respected brand with a lifetime warranty.
- Wash them by hand and use mild cleansers.
- Use proper cooking techniques.
- Use non-abrasive cleaners and sponges.
- Choose pans with sealed rims.
Bottom line — stainless steel pans can last a lifetime if you treat them right. However, if you’re careless with how you use, clean, and store them, or you buy the cheapest, thinnest pans, they won’t last long.
If you’re looking for quality stainless steel pans that are built to last, check out All-Clad (Amazon and All-Clad.com), Made In (MadeInCookware.com), and Calphalon (Amazon). You can learn more about each brand by reading my in-depth reviews:
- How Long Do Non-Stick Pans Last? (When to Replace Your Pan)
- Stainless Steel Cookware Pros and Cons: 19 Things to Know
- How to Clean All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware (VIDEO)
- Why Do Pans Warp? 6 Common Causes (and How to Unwarp)
- 3-Ply vs. 5-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware (The Real Difference)
- Stainless Steel vs. Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware
- Why Does Food Stick to Stainless Steel Pans? (And How to Prevent It)
- Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Pans: What’s the Difference?
- Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Brushed vs. Polished Stainless Steel Cookware: The Real Difference
- Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?