How to Clean a Burnt Pot (Without Scrubbing Endlessly)

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Nobody looks forward to doing the dishes. But when it comes to dealing with a scorched pot—like, food-seems-permanently-fused-to-the-pan charred—it’s all too tempting to toss the pot entirely, rather than deal with the disaster. Of course, that’s not exactly an environmentally or budget-friendly option, so what do you do? Soak it overnight (or indefinitely) and pray that glommed-on grease starts to lift? Scrub until your arms ache worse than after an hourlong kettlebell workout? No and no. Here’s how to clean a burnt pot without losing your mind—or evening. We’ve broken it down into the most effective methods we’ve seen, so you can choose the process that works best for you, based on what you have on hand at home.

20 Cleaning Hacks That Will Straight-Up Blow Your Mind

The Most Effective Ways to Clean a Burnt Pot:

aluminium foil hack

1. Aluminum Foil

Best for Brand-New Looking Pans

If you’re looking to restore your pots and pans to their former glory, *this* is the cleaning hack you’ve been waiting for. All you have to do is cover the burnt area of your pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of baking soda and run some warm water until it forms a paste-like solution. Then, crumple up some aluminum foil and gently scrub around areas with food debris, stains and stuck-on grime. “This method makes your pans look brand new," writes Ashley Poskin of the Kitchn. "It relies completely on your scrubbing with the baking soda paste and the foil, but you don’t need to press hard at all—just scrub as you would with a washcloth.” When you’re done scrubbing, rinse the pan with warm, soapy water and enjoy the feeling of saving hundreds on a new cookware set.

how to clean a burnt pot boiling method
Ryerson Clark/Getty Images

2. The Boiling Water Method

Best for Nonstick Pans

Leave it to the Good Housekeeping’s longtime cleaning expert, Heloise, to save us from ourselves. If you’ve just finished cooking and realized your pan is burnt beyond belief, take action: Use a wooden spoon to loosen as much food as you can, pour water into the pot and put it back on the stovetop, bringing that mess to a boil, the author recommends in Kitchen Hints from Heloise. For really baked-on grease, add a squirt of dish soap to the water before you bring it to a boil.

The soapy water will help soften the burned bits, and the heat will help loosen everything, so it’s easier to scrub clean once the water has cooled. (Psst: On that front, it may be worth investing in a Dobie Pad or Scrub Daddy, which are tougher than a traditional sponge—so you can really get to scouring—but won’t scrape your pans.)

This method is particularly good to use for nonstick pans. Cleaning expert Jolie Kerr cautions against using anything other than dish soap and water for those (especially if you’re cooking with Teflon), since you don’t want to scrape up the coating.

3. The Baking Soda Method

Best for Removing Stains on Pans

If you don’t have baked-on food so much as a stain from last night’s spaghetti sauce, bust out the baking soda. Sprinkle it all over the bottom of the pan, pour boiling water on top, let it cool, and wash that pan as you typically would with dish soap and water, writes My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha author Jolie Kerr.

If it’s a stubborn stain, you can take Heloise’s approach, coating the bottom of the pan in baking soda, sprinkling on just enough water to moisten it, then wait a few hours before scrubbing off the mixture.

how to clean a burnt pot baking soda
Annick Vanderschelden Photography/Getty Images

4. The Baking Soda & Vinegar Method

Best for Stainless Steel Pans

Sometimes, soapy water or straight baking soda just won’t cut it. If your pan’s truly looking putrid, rummage around your pantry for some white vinegar. Cover the bottom of the pan with baking soda, then pour a layer of white vinegar on top, Kerr writes. Watch that base-acid combo react, fizzing away as it deodorizes and cuts through grease. Once the bubbling starts to subside, wash the pot with soap and water.

5. The Boiled Lemons Method

Easiest Method to Try

When life hands you a scorched pan…bust out the lemons it gave you last week. Seriously—after testing five techniques for cleaning a burnt pan, the Kitchn found this to be one of the most effective methods, and it involves hardly any actual scrubbing on your part. You simply quarter a few lemons, toss them in the pot and cover ‘em with water. Bring it all to a boil, and keep things bubbling for up to ten minutes, or until you see bits of food float to the surface of the water.

After that, you can dump the water and lemons, rinse out the pan and give it a quick scrub clean. Lazy cooks, rejoice! It’s truly that simple.

6. The Dishwasher Detergent Method

Best If You’re Already Doing Dishes

Just because your pan isn’t dishwasher-safe doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from the very same detergent you use to scrub your plates and silverware. Pour hot water and a little dishwashing detergent into the pan, stirring it until it dissolves. Let it soak overnight before washing it as you normally would, writes Heloise in Kitchen Hints from Heloise. She also warns not to use this on aluminum pans, since the bleach in the detergent can discolor them. (To that end, you should avoid cleaning aluminum with any acids, like the lemon and vinegar methods above, as it could cause pitting in the metal.)

bar keepers friend pots
Dena Silver

7. The Bar Keepers Friend Method

Best for Truly Putrid Pots & Pans

This isn’t a shameless plug to buy Bar Keepers Friend, nor is it #sponcon; it’s just that the stuff really works. Pots that have turned dark brown from grease stains are restored to a gleaming silver after just one use (just see the before/after pic above for proof). You simply run the pot or pan under hot water, sprinkle on the powder-based solution, and scrub in circular motions until the stains and scorch marks fade away.

8. Dishwasher Tablets

Best for Baked on Grime

When you start a new recipe, you feel like the next Julia Child. Yet, it isn’t until your fire alarms are blaring with smoke coming from every direction that you realize you’d be better off sticking to boxed mac and cheese. The best way to salvage your pots and pans from a burnt-food mishap? Lauren Habermehl of Taste of Home suggests using a dishwasher tablet. All you have to do is cover your pot with boiling hot water or let your dirty pan sit under hot water for a few minutes. Then, grab a dishwasher tablet and gently scrub the food debris under warm water until it begins to lift.

Three Cleaning Methods to Avoid:

how to clean a burnt pot scrub
Sergey05/Getty Images

1. The Ketchup Method

Ketchup works wonders for brightening silver and stainless steel, thanks to the acid in the tomatoes, but it doesn’t do much for getting rid of scorch marks or baked-on grease.

2. The Cream Of Tartar Method

With this method, you make a paste of three parts cream of tartar to one part water, using it to scrub the pan. However, people’s results seem to vary, and it usually involves a ton of scrubbing. Plus, cream of tartar is much pricier than baking soda, so why not go with the cheaper, more effective option?

3. The Dryer Sheet Method

Yes, people continually rave about how well this internet hack works, but with so many other cleaning techniques out there, soaking a dryer sheet in your pan with warm water doesn’t seem worth it. While nearly all of the chemicals in dryer sheets are recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, the verdict is still out on the fragrances some brands include, plus, the single-use product isn’t that environmentally friendly.

How to prevent pots and pans from burning:

caraway cookware
Caraway Cookware

1. Invest In Non-stick Cookware

PureWow100 Choice: Caraway Cookware Set

If you hate scrubbing pans, opt for non-stick cookware. These pots and pans are coated with a slippery surface material during manufacturing that allows you to brown food without it sticking to the pan. Click here for 11 of the best non-stick cookware sets you can buy, plus how to use them (according to a pro).

2. Know Your Metals

If you’re not in the position to invest in a brand new cookware set, we get it. The next best thing to consider before you start cooking is to research what type of pots and pans you’re using. For example, aluminum conducts heat very well, but if your flame is too high, you risk super-heating (AKA burning) your dish, while barely cooking the other parts. Or, you might have a cast iron pan, which heats very slowly but holds onto it for a while—even after you take your pan off the flame. That means if you’re not careful, you can burn your food without even realizing it. Do some homework on the type of metal you’re working with beforehand so you can adjust your meal prep accordingly.

The Bottom Line:

Overall, the baking soda method is pretty foolproof and tends to work with all kinds of cookware, from enamel-coated Dutch ovens to sauté pans. (Plus, you likely have a box on hand, sparing you a trip to the store.) If you absolutely hate scrubbing, try the lemons technique. And if you tend to scorch pans, uh, more often than you’d like to admit, make Barkeeper’s Friend your new BFF.

The Ultimate Kitchen Cleaning Checklist (That Can Be Conquered in Less Than 2 Hours)

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VP of editorial, recipe developer, kitsch-lover

Candace Davison oversees PureWow's food and home content, as well as its franchises, like the PureWow100 review series and the Happy Kid Awards. She’s covered all things lifestyle...

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