How to Clean Burnt Pans: 7 Easy Methods

The Best Home Remedies to Make Burnt Pots Shine Like New Again

burnt food on a frying pan

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

If cooking a meal has left you with a nasty mess on your pots or pans, here's how to clean a burnt pan quickly. Steel wool works to remove burnt food, but it's incredibly harsh on non-stick pots and pans. Hot water helps, but it is not enough. You can use commercial products, but most are relatively expensive. Some easy remedies with common household ingredients include:

  • Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) and vinegar, dish soap, or lemon
  • Alka-Seltzer
  • Dishwasher tablets
  • Dryer sheets
  • Aluminum foil

These methods work well for most types of pots or pans, with a few exceptions.

  • Non-stick pots and pans: Steer clear of the aluminum foil abrasive method. This method can scratch these pots and pans easily. Avoid dishwasher detergent because it is too harsh for the non-stick coating.
  • Cast iron pots and pans: Avoid prolonged soaking since cast iron will rust with sitting water. Safe methods for cast iron pots and pans: baking soda and vinegar or vinegar, a dryer sheet, and a dishwasher tablet.

Never use pans with burnt food caked on the bottom; it can be a fire hazard. Also, any residue left inside the pot or pan can alter the taste of the food you cook. Read on to learn how to save money by using one of these seven easy remedies using everyday household products.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

All Methods (Except Aluminum Foil)

  • Scouring sponge, nylon brush, or polycarbonate plastic scraper

Aluminum Foil Method

  • Sheet of aluminum foil

Materials

Baking Soda and Vinegar Method

  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda

Baking Soda and Dish Soap Method

  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap

Alka-Seltzer Method

  • 6 Alka Seltzer tablets
  • Water

Dryer Sheet Method

  • 1 Dryer sheet
  • Water

Baking Soda and Lemon Method

  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon

Dishwasher Tablet Method

  • Water
  • Dishwasher detergent tablet

Aluminum Foil Method

  • Salt (Optional)
  • Baking soda (Optional)

Instructions

Baking Soda and Vinegar Method

Mixing baking soda and white vinegar together creates a cleaning solution that is very successful in loosening and removing most burnt-on foods from almost all types of pots and pans, including a badly burnt stainless steel pot or pan. The baking soda and vinegar method can get your pot or pan shiny like new, also cleaning away scorch marks.

The effectiveness of this method stems from the combination of abrasion plus a chemical reaction that occurs when acidic vinegar combines with alkaline, abrasive baking soda.

  • Best for: All types of pots and pans
  1. Boil Water in the Pan

    Boil a mixture of water and vinegar (equal parts or each) in the pan to loosen the burned-on food.

    scrubbing a soiled pan
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  2. Add Baking Soda to Warm Pan

    Remove the pan from the heat, carefully dump out the liquid, and add baking soda. When the pan has cooled enough to touch it, add more baking soda and scrub it with a scouring sponge, nylon brush, or polycarbonate plastic scraper.

    Tip

    Polycarbonate plastic has adequate hardness to scrape off burnt food without damaging nonstick and cast iron polymerized oil coatings.

  3. Fizzing Action Loosens Burnt Bits

    By scraping the loosened bits first while they are still warm, the baking soda and vinegar fizz can concentrate its efforts on the remaining stuck bits rather than the already softened food residue on top.

Baking Soda and Dish Soap Method

For baking pans with baked-on gunk, one of the best solutions is a mix of baking soda, hot water, and dishwashing liquid.

  • Best for: Aluminum, stainless steel, enamel-coated, and copper; avoid soaking cast-iron
  1. Make Cleaning Mixture

    Mix 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup warm water, and a tablespoon of dish soap. Allow the pot or pan to soak for 30 to 60 minutes.

    sprinkling baking soda and detergent into a pan
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  2. Scrub Away the Burnt Residue

    Scrub out the pots and pans with a plastic scrubber, double checking curves of the dish.

  3. Repeat Mixture and Boil for Stubborn Residue

    For stubborn, stuck-on residue, make the cleaning mixture and heat the stove pan until it boils. You will need less effort to scrub away the residue.

Alka-Seltzer Method

Alka-Seltzer is an amazing workhorse of a product. Not only can it relieve indigestion, but it can also help you clean a surprising range of things around the house, including burned-on food.

  • Best for: All types of pots and pans; avoid soaking cast-iron
  1. Dissolve Six Alka-Seltzer Tablets in Hot Water

    Add hot water to your pot or pan and add six Alka-Seltzer tablets, allow them to fizz. ​The citric acid in the Alka-Seltzer creates the fizzing action that breaks down the burnt-on residue. Allow it to sit for an hour.

    alka seltzer tablets
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  2. Scrub Away Residue with Hot Water and Dish Detergent

    Spill out the Alka-Seltzer solution and add hot water and detergent to the pot or pan. Use a scrubber to loosen and easily scrub the mess away.

Dryer Sheet Method

A strange-but-true option for cleaning grungy pots or pans is to use a new or used dryer sheet. The silicone coating on the dryer sheet will help soften the food.

Best for: All types of pots and pans; avoid soaking cast-iron

  1. Soak a Dryer Sheet in Water

    Soak a dryer sheet in hot water in the pan or pot with the burnt residue for an hour. Or, if it's tough, stuck-on residue, leave it overnight. Use the dryer sheet to wipe away the food without harming the finish of non-stick surfaces. Optionally, you can use a sponge to remove the loosened burnt bits.

    dryer sheet in a sauce pan
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Baking Soda and Lemon Method

Using a real lemon as a scrubbing tool after applying baking soda is remarkably effective with stainless steel or copper pots and pans. The chemical reaction between the lemon and baking soda will help loosen the burnt-on material.

Best for: All types of pots and pans

  1. Wash and Scrub as Usual

    Begin by removing as much burnt-on food from the pan as possible by normal washing.

  2. Sprinkle Pan Surface With Dusting of Baking Soda

    With a small layer of water still in the pan, sprinkle the inside with soda.

  3. Use Half a Lemon as a Scrubber

    Cut a lemon in half and use one half as your scouring tool. The baking soda and lemon should react and create a fizzing action to loosen burnt bits.

    Tip


    If the copper bottom or any type of bottom for your pots and pans are burnt, use the baking soda and lemon method to scrub them clean.

Dishwasher Tablet Method

Clean off burnt-on food inside a pot or pan by dissolving and presoaking a dishwasher tablet in the vessel.

Best for: Most all pots and pans; the exception is non-stick pots or pans since the detergent is too harsh for the coating

  1. Boil Water and Dissolve Dishwasher Tablet in Pot or Pan

    Fill the pot with a shallow layer of boiling hot water and a dishwasher detergent tablet. Place it on the stove and heat to medium to high heat until the water boils. Allow it to boil for two minutes.

  2. Allow Solution to Cool and Scrub Away Residue

    Turn off the stove and allow the water to cool. Using a dish brush or scrubbing sponge, wash away the residue build-up inside the pan.

Aluminum Foil Method

Instead of a sponge or scrub brush, aluminum foil can be substituted as a scrubber. This method is very abrasive, so avoid using this on non-stick pans, seasoned cast iron pans, or bare stainless steel.

Best for: Enamel-coated, aluminum, or food-grade stainless steel (contains chromium and nickel)

  1. Ball Up Sheet of Aluminum Foil

    In a pinch, you can use a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil to scrub non-stick pots and pans. For extra scrubbing power, add a layer of salt or baking soda.

Preventing Pot Burns

  • One of the most important ways to avoid pot burn is properly oiling the bottom of your pan before cooking and waiting to put your food in till the pan has come to temperature. When you put food in a cold or dry pan, food sticks to the bottom more and can lead to more burnt bits by the end of the cooking cycle.
  • When browning chicken or other poultry, it is important to give the meat time to actually brown before you adjust it, as moving under-browned skin can cause it to stick and tear, leading to more burnt bits at the end.
  • When you are finished cooking and the pan is still hot and on the stovetop, throw in a 1/2 cup of water or wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up food bits with a wooden spoon. This not only helps to clean but could potentially be the start of a delicious finishing sauce, so long as your bits aren't too burnt.
  • Invest in a good wooden spoon and a timer to avoid running into food-burning situations.
wooden spoon for preventing pot burns
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kitchen Safety. City of Phoenix.