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.
The Most Effective Ways to Clean a Burnt Pot:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.)
6. 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.
Three Cleaning Methods to Avoid:
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.
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.
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