How to Clean Burnt Pots and Pans: 6 Easy Solutions for Sparkling Cookware

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Imagine this: you’re whipping up a delicious meal when you get an incoming text notification that leads to a juicy conversation with your best friend. By the time you return to the stove, your dinner is ruined and you’re stuck needing to clean a burnt pan. We’ve all been there!

Sometimes, you don’t even have to get distracted to find yourself dealing with a burned-on mess. Cooking on too high of a temperature can also lead to scorched cookware. That’s something my son has been discovering, as he helped out more in the kitchen. When you set the temperature too high, proteins and oils will polymerize or bond to the pan’s surface and leave you with a stubborn, burnt mess that’s difficult to clean, especially on stainless steel cookware.

The good news is that you don’t need to panic, because cleaning burnt cookware is easier than you think. In this article, I share six natural and effective solutions that will get your pots and pans gleaming again.

1. Vinegar and Baking Soda Method

Use on: Stainless Steel cookware

The combination of vinegar and baking soda makes a foaming reaction you probably remember from your 6th grade science fair. As a household cleaner, vinegar is treasured for its acidic ability to dissolve grease. At the other end of the pH spectrum, baking soda is a base which also provides gentle scouring powder. Put vinegar and baking soda together, and you get a simple yet effective way to clean burnt pots and pans.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Use a wood or rubber spatula to remove as much food from the pan as possible.
  2. Add one-half inch of white vinegar to the pan and bring it to a boil.
  3. Let the pan simmer for a minute, but don’t boil away the vinegar.
  4. Place a potholder in your sink and set the pan on top of it.
  5. Sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda into the pan. The fizzing reaction will help loosen the burned residue in the pan.
  6. Wait for the fizzing to stop, dump out the liquid, and scrub the pan with a nylon sponge or brush.
  7. Dip the damp sponge into more baking soda and use this to scour the pan until the burned residue is gone.
  8. Rinse and dry.

2. Salt and Lemon Method

Use on: Stainless steel, copper, and cast iron cookware

Salt and lemon make another powerful natural cleaning duo. Kosher salt, with its coarse texture, acts as a gentle abrasive to lift stains and burnt residue from pots and pans. When combined with the natural grease-dissolving properties of lemon, it effectively cleans burnt cookware and leaves them sparkling.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Sprinkle a generous amount of Kosher salt onto the burnt areas of the pan.
  2. Cut a lemon in half and use the flesh side to scrub the pan, squeezing the juice as you go. Dip the cut side into additional salt as needed.
  3. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the salt and lemon to dissolve the burnt mess.
  4. Use a scouring pad or brush to gently scrub away the burned-on food residue, taking care not to scratch the surface.
  5. Rinse the pan thoroughly and towel it dry.

3. Cream of Tartar Method

Use on: Aluminum, stainless steel, and copper cookware

Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is a common baking ingredient that makes a surprisingly effective cleaning agent. It acts as a mild abrasive, but unlike baking soda, it has a slightly acidic nature that breaks down grease and lifts away dirt. Use cream of tartar with water to get burned food off of pots and pans.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Combine 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar with enough water to form a thick paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the burned or stained areas of the pan with a damp sponge, making sure to cover the affected area completely.
  3. Let this mixture sit for a few minutes so the cream of tartar can loosen the burned mess.
  4. Use a damp sponge or brush to gently scrub the area, focusing on the mess.
  5. Rinse and discard the liquid.
  6. For very stubborn stains, stir 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar into 1 cup of water and boil this in the pan for 2 minutes. Discard the liquid and make more scouring paste to treat any lingering discoloration.
  7. Rinse thoroughly and dry once the stain is gone.

4. Dryer Sheet Method

Use on: Any cookware except for nonstick

Adding a dryer sheet to a burnt pan is a popular home remedy. The fabric softeners and surfactants in dryer sheets help break down and loosen burnt-on food particles. To clean a burnt pan with a dryer sheet, fill the pan with warm water and add a squirt of dish soap. Next, add a dryer sheet and submerge it in the water. Let this sit for a few hours to loosen the burnt food. Finally, discard the loosened grime and wash the pan in hot, soapy water to remove any dryer sheet residue.

5. Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda and Soap Method

Use on: Stainless steel, copper, cast iron, and aluminum cookware

Hydrogen peroxide, that first aid staple in the brown bottle, produces mild bubbles when exposed to oxygen. These bubbles can loosen and break down burnt food particles. Combined with the gentle scouring powder of baking soda and the degreasing properties of dish soap, and you’ve got a powerful homemade soft scrub that can get burnt pots and pans shiny clean.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda into a small bowl.
  2. Stir in enough hydrogen peroxide to make a thick paste.
  3. Stir in a few drops of dish soap.
  4. Apply this mixture with a damp sponge to the burnt pan, focusing on the affected area.
  5. Let the mixture sit for 2-3 minutes while the soap and peroxide loosen the stain.
  6. Use the sponge to scour the burned mess, then rinse the pan. Repeat application and scouring if needed.
  7. Once the burned-on residue is gone, thoroughly wash and dry the pan.

6. Bar Keeper’s Friend

Use on: Stainless steel, copper, and ceramic or enameled cookware

Bar Keeper’s Friend (or BKF) is a cleaning product known for its effectiveness in tackling burnt-on food, grime, and stains. Its primary ingredient is oxalic acid, a natural compound found in leafy green vegetables and beets, which dissolves the bonds between burnt pans and food residue.

Here’s how to use Bar Keeper’s Friend (BKF) to clean a burnt pan:

  1. Wet the pan.
  2. Sprinkle a small amount of BKF onto the burnt area.
  3. Use a non-abrasive sponge or cloth to gently scrub the affected area in a circular motion. The mild abrasive in BKF will lift and remove the residue without scratching the surface.
  4. Rinse thoroughly to remove any residue.
  5. Towel dry.
  6. Repeat if needed for particularly stubborn stains.

Frequently Asked Questions

This blog exists to help people, so if you have a question not answered in the article or FAQs below, please leave it in the comments and you’ll be helping others, too. When many people have the same question, I update the post to include the answer here.

Is a Burnt Pan Ruined?

Most times, no. You can often completely remove the burnt-on residue using these cleaning methods, which rely on common kitchen ingredients and household items like vinegar, salt, lemon, baking soda, or hydrogen peroxide. Even severely burned or stained pans are usually safe for cooking as long as the damage does not affect its structural integrity.

How do I get the black marks off the back of my pan?

The black or brown marks on the back of pans result from accumulated grease and food residues that splatter on the outside of the pan while cooking. Over time, these build up and harden. The good news is that they’re only cosmetic and don’t affect the pan’s performance. But, if you want to remove them, use a cut lemon dipped into Kosher salt or a damp sponge dipped into baking soda and rub in a circular motion. Wash and dry the pan when you’re done.

Can I put my burnt pan in the dishwasher?

It’s not recommended to put a burnt pan in the dishwasher since it may not effectively get rid of all the burned-on residue and could, in fact, make it more difficult to remove. It is better to try one of the household solutions targeted to your specific type of cookware.

Can I use steel wool to get rid of burned-on residue?

Never use steel wool on nonstick, enameled, copper, or aluminum cookware as it will scratch the surface. Steel wool can be used with great caution on stainless steel and cast iron cookware, as they are more durable. If you have a burnt-on mess on your cookware, try other gentle cleaning methods first, such as using vinegar and baking soda, lemon and salt, or cream of tartar. If those methods don’t work, and your cookware is suitable for steel wool, use it gently to avoid leaving permanent scratches.

Final words

Most cases of burnt pans are due to overheating the pan or forgetting about something on the stove. You don’t need to throw out your pan if the mess hasn’t affected its structural integrity. Instead, reach for household ingredients like vinegar, lemon, salt, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or even a dryer sheet. With these and some elbow grease, you can remove the blackened mess and get your burnt pans shiny clean again.

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  1. Rita Semmens says:

    Thank you for your very useful site. My solution for any burned on stainless steel pots for years has been very simple and very little or no scrubbing. Rinse any food scraps from pot. Chuck a dishwasher pod, any brand, into the pot. Fill pot with hot water, stir a little and let sit in sink over night. Next day, depending how much burn is on the pot, either a rub with a dish cloth or an abrasive scrub cloth for a few swirls….. elbow grease is usually not necessary unless it was a seriously bad burn. Rinse and pot will be good as new. I have had a couple of pot burns that were incredibly horrid. doing the dishwasher pod solution a second time with a bit of scrubbing and the pot was good as new again

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you for sharing that, Rita! I’ll have to give the dishwasher pod tip a try.

  2. Helen Playdon says:

    Pleased to see you vare still recommending baking soda, vuegar abd salt, my three stabd-bys. BUt the cream of tartar was a new on eto me. BKF is my usual last-resort device, introduced to me by my sone when he worked in a pub. After a stroke, I find my concentration is now quite poor and birned pans are a more common occurence.
    Cheers, Katie, and thanks fo r the tips.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’ve been recommending those for years. They work!