4 Easy Ways to Remove Food From Pots and Pans

burnt food on a frying pan

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

If cooking a meal has left you with a nasty case of burnt crud on your pots or pans, you have many options to fix the problem. Steel wool works, but it's incredibly harsh on non-stick pots. Hot water helps, but it is not enough. You can use commercial products, but most are relatively expensive. Read on to learn how to save money by using one of these four easy remedies using everyday household products.

Baking Soda, Water, and Detergent

For baking pans with baked on gunk, one of the best solutions is a mix of baking soda, hot water, and dishwashing liquid. Allow the pots and pans to soak for 15 to 30 minutes. Scrub out the pots and pans with a plastic scrubber, double checking curves of the dish. If your pans are still yucky, try adding the same solution again and heating the pan on the stove until it boils. Then try scrubbing again.

sprinkling baking soda and detergent into a pan
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Vinegar is an acid, and baking soda is an abrasive. Together, they can help you save your pots and pans. Start by boiling a mixture of vinegar and water in the pot or pan. This will loosen the burned on food. Carefully remove the pots and pans from heat, dump out the liquid, and add baking soda.

When they have cooled enough, scrub pots and pans with more baking soda and a polycarbonate scraper. Polycarbonate plastic is just the right hardness to scrap off burnt on food without damaging nonstick and cast iron polymerized oil coatings. By scraping the loosened bits first while they are still warm, the baking soda and vinegar fizz can concentrate it's efforts on the remaining stuck bits, rather than the already softened goo on top.

scrubbing a soiled pan
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Alka-Seltzer

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. Just put hot water in your pot or pan, add about six Alka-Seltzer tablets, and let them fizz. ​The citric acid in the Alka Seltzer will start to work. When you return after an hour or so, use hot water, detergent, and a strong scrubber to clean off almost any mess.

alka seltzer tablets
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Dryer Sheets

A strange-but-true option for cleaning grungy pots or pans is to use a new or used dryer sheet. It is not quite clear why this works, but many home-making mavens including Martha Stewart swear by the method. Simply put a dryer sheet into a pot with hot water, wait an hour, and scrub. The mess will be much easier to manage.

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

Prevent 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. Put food in a cold or dry pan ensures more sticking to the bottom, which leads 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 as well.
  • When you are finished cooking and the pan is still hot and on the stove top, throw in a 1/2 cup of water or wine to deglaze the pan and scrap 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.
  • Once you have cleaned and dried your pots and pans, it may be worth your while to invest in a good wooden spoon and a timer to avoid running into the same problem next time.
wooden spoon for preventing pot burns
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena