You Might Be Storing Your Steel Wool Pads the Wrong Way

published Jan 25, 2018
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(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

When I’ve got a disgusting caked-on mess in my stainless steel cookware, there are few things I like better than breaking out the steel wool pads to scrub it off. I have visceral memories of using these to clean when I first started helping my mom out in the kitchen, pulling out that box of SOS pads with the cool retro packaging and then getting to work on a terrible mess.

While cleaning average soil on dishes is a chore, there’s something truly satisfying about really working on a seemingly impossible mess: Will it ever come off? Could the pot be ruined forever? Or if I scrub hard enough, can I make this baby sparkle again?

It’s like Extreme Makeover: Pots and Pans Edition. A real must-see!

The problem with steel wool pads is that they can go bad if there’s too much time between uses. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), I don’t have to use them all that often, and if I let them sit in the sponge holder for too long, they start to rust, leaving behind rusty water with a metallic tinge when I try to use them. It’s a real bummer!

(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

But recently I learned the technique to preserve my steel wool for longer, and it’s really easy: Just freeze them!

Actually it’s marginally more complicated than that: First, put them in a zip-top bag, and then freeze them.

Here’s why it works: Steel wool is mostly made of iron, and because it’s a bundle of lots of skinny fibers (which create the great abrasion for scrubbing), there’s a lot of surface area to be potentially corroded with rust. And the things that react with iron to create rust? Oxygen and water. So when your steel wool pad is sitting in your sponge holder, it’s constantly being exposed to splashes of water that get deep inside the fibers. And because it’s just sitting out, that water is exposed to oxygen, too. Even under your sink, still in the box, your steel wool pads will be getting some exposure to humid air and oxygen, which will cause them to rust (albeit more slowly).

That’s why freezing helps. First of all, you’re freezing any water that’s left on the steel wool pad, preventing it from reacting with the iron. Also, you’re limiting the amount of oxygen it’s exposed to, when it’s sealed in a zip-top bag, taking away the second ingredient to form rust. So if you keep your steel wool pads in the freezer, they’ll last basically forever — and certainly stay rust-free until your next big mess.

Were you storing your steel wool pads the wrong way?