The Easy And Effective Way To Clean Your Burnt Pans

5 tricks to erase evidence of the burn, plus bonus tips to prevent future burns.

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes you meant to be simmering, but you leave your soup set at a rolling boil. Or you were deglazing, but it’s too late—that fickle electric stove has torched your sauce. You were supposed to whisk constantly, but you got distracted by shooing the cat off the counter, and now your roux is toast. Gah!

Burnt pots and pans are always a bummer. Plus there’s that smell. And if your stovetop burners made it out unscathed, good for you.

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We’ve got a whole slew of tips, tricks and techniques for treating burns on your cookware—plus some suggestions for how to avoid burning your pots and pans to begin with. Read on to learn about our various methods of treating your cookware burn scars, and find one that works best for you—or try them all!

How to clean burnt pots and pans

Scrape + soak

  • Remove all the burnt-on bits that you can without damaging the pot or pan. Check the material of your pots or pans before using an abrasive scrubber (such as steel wool), which can damage more sensitive cookware surfaces, such as nonstick, ceramic or copper.
  • Fill the pot or pan with a concentrated dish soap, like Dawn, and hot water.
  • Soak overnight, and try scraping with a wooden spoon.
  • Repeat if needed.
  • We also recommend Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray for major cookware stains. Its highly concentrated formula cuts through grease and grime to make removing burnt-on food oh-so-much easier. You just spray it on, let it sit for about 20 minutes and then wipe and rinse off.

Boil

  • If soaking didn’t do the trick, try boiling water and dish soap right in the pot or pan to loosen things up.
    • Let the soapy water boil or simmer for 5–10 minutes.
    • Allow the cookware to cool.
    • Wash as you normally would, with warm water and a gentle scrubber or sponge.

Scrub with baking soda

  • Mix baking soda with a little water to create a paste. Baking soda is abrasive yet gentle. It’s excellent for dissolving stains—and also smells!
  • Spread over the burnt area.
  • Let the paste sit for 5–10 minutes.
  • Scrub burnt cookware with a soft sponge.
  • Wash with dish soap and warm water, and rinse clean.
  • Air dry your pot or pan.

Raid the spice drawer

  • Did you know that cream of tartar is a mild abrasive (and acidic)?
    • Combine a tablespoon of cream of tartar with a small amount of white vinegar to create a paste.
    • Rub onto burnt spots.
    • Scrub with a gentle scrubber or damp sponge.
    • Wash with dish soap and warm water.

Avoid burning pots and pans

Because the best way to clean that burnt scar off of your pots and pans is to not burn them at all.

  • Use the best-quality cookware that you can. Cheap pots and pans don’t heat as well and are the easiest to burn. You shouldn’t wait to put those dreamy high-end cookware items on your wedding registry. Just pull the trigger, you deserve it. It’s about quality over quantity: having two really good pots or pans that you use constantly is better than having a whole stash of mediocre cookware that you’ve got to replace every 6 months.
  • Use the correct heat setting for the pan. Do your research! Some cookware shouldn’t be used at extremely high temperatures, even on the stovetop. For example, cast iron excels at heat retention and can withstand super high heat (you can even stick it in the oven), stainless steel is pretty versatile (and requires the least amount of maintenance) and both ceramic and nonstick pans are better for medium to medium-high heat.
  • Use nonstick pans. They’re awesome.
  • Start with a clean stovetop. The more gunk burned onto your stovetop, the more likely it’s going to melt and adhere to the bottom of your pots and pans each time you cook on that burner. Also, that’s how you end up with a super smoky kitchen. (But make sure your cooktop is totally cooled before attempting to remove any residue or stains.)
  • Wipe down the outside of your pots and pans before cooking—not just their insides. It’s the same concept as starting with a clean stovetop: if you’ve got stuff on the bottom of your pot or pan, it’ll heat up and stick to the stovetop. Then you’ve got more cleaning to do.
  • Make sure your cast iron is well seasoned. The more seasoned your cast iron is, the more nonstick it will be (well, not like Teflon-style nonstick, but nonstickier for sure). The more nonstick your pan, the less likely cooked stuff is to burn and then stick to it.
  • Preheat oil before adding food to the pan. This is like Cooking 101, people. Don’t add food to a cold pan, ever.
  • Use a burner size that fits the pot you’ve chosen. They make those burners different sizes for a reason, ya know.
  • Heat slowly and stir frequently. Adding too much heat too quickly is how the food burns. And paying close attention, frequently moving the food around in the pot or pan helps it to heat and cook more evenly.

Cleaning your pots and pans—whether they’re cast iron or stainless steel—can be daunting. They’re usually too big to soak entirely in the sink, and more often than not, they shouldn’t go in the dishwasher. Fortunately, we’ve got solutions to (nearly) all of your kitchen cleaning queries, especially when it comes to doing the dishes. No matter how careful you are, sometimes your pots and pans burn. It’s just a fact of life. But now that you’ve got the know-how to treat the burns (remember: baking soda, not aloe vera!), your cookware should stay fresh and nice.

PS. Your chores don’t have to be overwhelming if you do them properly. We find keeping a cleaning routine checklist helps with efficiency and accountability. The more often you conduct mini cleaning sessions, the easier the seasonal deep cleans are! That includes deep cleaning your cookware, from pots and pans to baking sheets—and even your cutting boards! Whether it’s built-up grease or burnt-on gunk, you should never put your cookware away dirty. Your food will taste better when it’s prepared on stain-free surfaces and in polished pots and pans.

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