You can clean and you can clean and you can clean, but life has a way of staying smudgy. For those smudges, there’s Bar Keepers Friend, a powdered cleanser that removes tough stains and build-up from nonporous surfaces. It took me a while to come around to this cleaner, because why introduce a new product into my life when I’ve already got a half-empty cylinder of Comet under the sink? Do I trust this Bar Keep or his friends? Is this stuff just baking soda or bleach in disguise? (It is neither.) But after spending more and more time with BKF, I’m a convert. I may not know who this Bar Keep is exactly, but this cleanser is certainly a friend of mine.
What is Bar Keepers Friend?
Bar Keepers Friend comes in a cylindrical container with holes on the top, like a giant salt shaker. There are three things going on with the white powder contained within. Kevin Patterson, VP of institutional sales, explained it this way: “(1) The oxalic acid reacts with alkaline buildups like calcium, lime, rust stains, and hard water stains like iron deposits, etc. (2) Our ‘scrubbers’ (often called mild abrasives) assist in physically removing that buildup as well as cooking-based soils of grease, scorch marks, grime, etc. (3) Lastly, the superior detergents utilized in BKF cleansers help two ways: they ‘soften’ the greases, soils, etc. upon contact, which helps the first two components work even better, and they also help in the rinsing process by holding the soils in suspension.”
TL;DR: So we’ve got the acid taking on those serious surface defects, and then a scrubby powdered soap that tackles all the oily grime and spaghetti sauce stains. I would have been much more attentive in chemistry if we were scrubbing old sheet pans.
But beware, Bar Keepers Friend is a powerful weapon! I’ve made some mistakes and defaced a couple pans, so I wanted to share what I learned. I even asked the experts at Bar Keepers Friend for pointers—friendly folks, as it turns out. Before you break out the hard stuff, here are some important factors you need to consider.
How do I use Bar Keepers Friend?
Pull on a pair of dishwashing gloves. Sprinkle a little BKF on the troubled area or the entire surface of your nasty Dutch oven, then add a few drops of water and make a paste. Let it sit for one minute. Scrub off. Rinse. Repeat if it’s not there yet.
Use Bar Keepers Friend for:
- Stainless steel pans (and other stainless steel cookware)
- Stainless steel flatware
- Stainless steel sinks (or even the exterior of stainless steel appliances like fridges, stoves, and dishwashers; spot check in an inconspicuous area first in case it has a special coating)
- Sheet pans
- The glass oven door (did this recently, was amazing)
- Glass baking dishes
- Porcelain (dishes or sinks)
- Spotty/cloudy glassware (be gentle)
- Enamel-coated or lacquered Dutch ovens (I tackled an old Lodge Dutch oven that had sticky oil splatters all over the outside, and now I’m not embarrassed to see it when I open my cabinets)
- Corian counters
- Instant Pot (the stainless steel exterior and the pot inside too)
Do not use it for:
- Marble, granite, stone of any kind
- Uncoated cast iron
- Nonstick pans
- Wood and wood cutting boards
- Melamine (they suggest “using extreme caution”—I cleaned oil stains on the bottom of melamine bowls with BFK, and I could tell it dulled the plastic’s shine)
What’s your sponge situation?
Stay away from the green scour pads and definitely no steel wool. I thought it would be extra effective to scrub with the green scour pads, and that’s how I got scratch marks all over my sheet pans (oh well) and inside my pasta pot (not happy about it). Stick to the gentler blue scour pads, the scrubby side of your sponge, or a Scrub Daddy/Mommy. If you’re super paranoid about ruining your heirloom casserole dish, go with a microfiber cloth.
The biggest mistake you can make
We’ve been trained to think that letting things “sit” makes cleaning easier, like when you leave a pot full of spaghetti sauce remnants soaking in soapy water overnight because you don’t feel like dealing with it. This is the danger zone with Bar Keepers Friend. The most common mistake people make is letting the product sit on too long, which will etch the surface of whatever you’re cleaning (a.k.a. scratch the bejesus out of it). I did that with a stainless steel saucepan. And then I made the same fatal error with an enamelware pot. The BKF scrubbed through the porcelain coating and now you can see a patch of metal underneath. It’s rustic, I guess.
Why can’t I just use baking soda?
“Baking soda is a base, which means it is alkaline,” said Patterson from BKF. “It will have little to no effect on alkaline stains like rust or mineral deposits/build-up such as lime, calcium etc.” Bar Keepers Friend contains oxalic acid as an active ingredient, and as you might remember from science class, an acid neutralizes a base. Plus Bar Keepers Friend also includes a detergent and mild abrasives to literally wash food/grime off pans. Baking soda is just…baking soda.
Other great Bar Keepers Friend products
While the OG Bar Keepers Friend comes in the form of powder, the brand offers a variety of cleansers—including sprays and creamy liquid formulations—for specific tasks. For instance, they have a cooktop cleaner that’s specifically made to remove grease and hardened food debris without scratching or tarnishing your cooktops (this product can also be used on glass, metal, and ceramic cookware). They also have a less-intense soft cleanser, which is a premixed formula for quick cleaning tasks; this one easily clings to vertical surfaces, and it’s the go-to for removing gunk like soap scum, water spots, and mineral deposits from glass shower doors. And while most Bar Keepers Friend products should not be used on polished stone, their granite and stone spray is safe for most countertops.
This piece was originally published in 2020 and updated in 2023 by Tiffany Hopkins.