4 Easy Ways to Remove Burned-on Food From Pots and Pans

burnt food on a frying pan

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

You have sauteed veggies, baked a casserole, cooked up a terrific omelet—and now it is time to wash the dishes. When you look at the pot or pan, you realize that your wonderful meal has left you with a nasty case of burned-on crud. What can you do now?

Steel wool is an option, but of course, it is also incredibly harsh on non-stick pots. Hot water helps, but it is not enough. You probably do not want to throw out your cookware on a regular basis.

There are plenty of products out there that claim to do a great job with burned-on food, but most are fairly expensive. There are other options. Surprisingly, the best solutions to burned-on food in a pot or pan are all-natural and easy. The best solutions are built around the idea that heat plus abrasive substances can do the trick.

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 plastic scrubber.

scrubbing a soiled pan
​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 


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

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