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Steamed food is a staple in many Asian cultures, and with the globalization of comfort foods like dumplings and bao buns, steamers can now be found in western kitchens as well.
Not all of us have access to generations of knowledge on proper steamer usage and maintenance.
That means some of us might even be using our steamers when they’re not fully clean.
However, that should be an issue no more.
Read on to learn some quick tips and tricks on how to clean bamboo steamers naturally so that your cleaners perform just as well as their ancestors.
How to Clean Bamboo Steamers Before the First Use
Because bamboo is such a porous material, it is capable of taking up almost anything it comes into contact with.
This includes dust, fumes from the manufacturing process, and chemicals from packaging plastics to name a few.
This is why it’s so important to make sure you thoroughly clean your steamer out before you bring your food anywhere near it.
Cleaning a New Bamboo Steamer
Make a quick soap solution in hot water and use a soft cloth to wash all the steamer pieces.
Rinse well with water — the soap water has now replaced the dust and other chemicals in the bamboo’s pores.
Make sure you rinse all the suds away entirely unless you’d like to have a mildly soapy flavor to your steamed cuisine.
Try to avoid rinsing with cold water as the temperature shock will cause the bamboo pores to close up, locking the soap water in. Lukewarm water should suffice.
Once you’re satisfied that there is no more soapy water leaving at the end of a rinse, soak the pieces in hot water for 30 mins.
This is your last defense against any remnant soap or chemicals that might not have been rinsed out. It reopens the bamboo pores making it easier for the chemicals to be washed out.
After your steamer is fully soaked, place it atop a pan of water that’s only just beginning to boil.
Run all the baskets and the lid through empty steam for another 30 minutes, making sure you refill to keep the water level constant.
As the water in the now opened pores vaporizes, it takes the other lose chemicals with it.
Let the steamer air dry fully before using it for any actual cooking.
How to Clean Bamboo Steamer – 4 Simple Methods
When your bamboo steamer is in frequent contact with food, the cleaning protocol changes a bit.
Using soap and water is not entirely out of the picture as an option, but it is slightly frowned upon in the steaming community.
As we mentioned, bamboo is a very absorbent medium and so, there is bound to be some residue in these pores from multiples washes of soap water.
Although it’s not particularly hazardous to your health, it can definitely affect the smell and taste of the food you chose to steam.
Last we checked, soap-scented dumplings were nowhere near trending.
If you’re looking for lather-free alternatives to the old soap-and-scrub routine, we’ve got you covered.
Here are some tips on how to clean bamboo steamers naturally:
1. Fresh Lemons or White Vinegar
In fact, they’re so effective that they’re often used as active ingredients in many all-natural cleaning products.
They’re not extremely abrasive and even have the added benefit of disinfecting the steamer.
In a bowl of hot water, add either the squeezed juice of half a lemon or a bottlecap of white vinegar.
The vinegar is a stronger acid than the lemon’s citric acid, and so make sure the solution is not too concentrated.
You can either soak the steamer directly into this solution or use a cloth dipped into this solution to rub it all over.
If you’re using the lemon, another neat trick is to directly rub a freshly cut wedge over the steamer.
Once you’re satisfied that your steamer no longer sports any stains, run it through an empty steam cycle and then rinse it under lukewarm water.
Just setting it aside to dry should be enough to bring your steamer to its original crisp hygiene.
2. Unused Teabags
Want us to spill the latest tea? Teabags can do so much more than hang around in your teacups.
Yet another source of natural acid, black tea has been found to be quite effective at maintaining steamer hygiene.
It contains very high concentrations of tannic acid, which in the form of steam helps clear out and rejuvenate the pores of your bamboo steamers.
Take an unused black tea bag and soak it into some hot water just until you can start to see light swirls seep out of it.
Take the teabag directly out of the soak and rub it onto the steamer.
Make sure you don’t rub with too much force as that might cause the teabag to tear and you’ll have to start over.
If you let your teabag soak too long, it’s still not a big issue — just dip a cloth in the concoction and use that to wipe the steamer instead.
However, the effectiveness of this treatment is definitely more pronounced when the tannins aren’t allowed to be released from the black teabag.
Once you’ve rubbed off all the food and bacteria, rinse the steamer with some warm water and set it to air dry.
And before you throw out your leftover teabags, look around your home for a couple of potted plants.
Tea-infused water is an excellent source of nitrogen, which is essential for your plants to grow faster and healthier.
Leave your used teabag in the pot for a couple of days before finally throwing it out, and watch as your green friends flourish.
3. Baking Soda
Baking soda is another extremely effective all-natural cleaning agent that you can use for your bamboo steamers.
Unlike the other solutions, this is a natural base (sodium carbonate). Thus, it’s especially helpful for neutralizing acidic stains like curry sauces or pickle stains.
It’s also highly hygroscopic (it can draw out moisture and odor very efficiently). This means it’s of great use when it comes to dealing with apparatus like steamers.
Simply sprinkle baking soda over your bamboo steamer liberally, and let it air for a couple of hours.
The baking soda will essentially trap odor and stains in its clumps so that they will come off easier.
Rinse your steamer in lukewarm mater once more and gently run at any particularly stubborn stains.
You can also run an empty steam cycle if you’d like, but baking soda is very good at absorbing moisture. Instead of evaporating with the water, it will instead form slimy clumps along your steamer that you’ll have to rinse all over again.
Once fully clean, leave it to air dry before you bring it back to action.
4. Nylon Brush
Some stains aren’t removable with just a soak and rinse.
Sometimes, they just need an extra push — or in this case, an extra brush.
After any of the above methods on how to clean bamboo steamer, if you still feel like your steamer is wanting in the hygiene department, it might be time to revert to the scrubbing regimen. But this time with a twist.
All the above soaks and rubs deal with some form of natural acid that helps loosen the hold of the stain or grime on your steamer.
The acid, however, doesn’t do anything towards actively pushing the stain off the bamboo’s surface.
The force for that comes from when you rinse the steamer with water.
So, if your stain is still not off, it just means you need to be adding a little more force.
Because bamboo steamers are woven out of relatively thin strips, harsh bristled scrubbers often do more harm than good.
Fortunately, nylon brushes with softer bristles make for fantastic alternatives.
Dip the nylon brush in whichever original soaking solution you used and gently scrub all over the steamer to remove any caked-on bits.
Run the clean steamer through an empty steam cycle followed by an immediate rinse in cold water to close up the pores.
Pat it dry with a towel and set it aside to air dry fully. A couple of hours later you should have your steamer back to mint condition.
Can Bamboo Steamers Mold?
Absolutely! The little pores that riddle the surface of your bamboo steamer are the perfect environment for mold and other fungi to grow upon.
What’s worse is the fact that once these germs settle a colony in your steamer, they can even cause cracks or micro-tears in it.
This is why it’s essential that you store your bamboo steamers properly.
If you put all the effort into cleaning them but maintain improper storage, you’re just setting yourself up for more work.
Some very important tips to keep in mind when racking your steamer are:
- Make sure your steamer is fully dry before you store it to prevent any mildew
- Store the baskets and lids separately and not assembled into the steamer
- Store your steamer in a cool, shaded place that doesn’t get any exposure to sunlight
- Don’t store your steamer with another heavy crockery as the weight will cause it to dent and crack
Rounds and Rounds of Fresh Steamed Food
Another thing that causes your steamer to crack is lack of use: when you don’t show your steamer some love it gets dehydrated and starts to tear.
But now that you know how to clean bamboo steamer, surely that’s no longer a problem?
Here’s to several more courses of steamed foods on your dining table. Bon appétit!