How to Clean a Burnt Pot to Perfection
By Marilyn Syarto
If you have a burnt pot or pan, don’t throw it out! Although it may feel like a disaster at the moment, it’s not a hopeless situation. You may have had the heat on too high under your white sauce or forgot to tend to your steamed vegetables which created the blackened mess, but now you have the chance to learn a new skill—how to clean a burnt pot.
If you’ve scoured the internet (no pun intended) to find solutions to clean a burnt pot, you'll have found plenty of ways to clean scorched cookware. But in this simple guide, we’ll get right down to the way that’s proven the best while offering tips and hacks for handling the more difficult cases. If you’re interested in experimenting, we’ll even let you in on a few alternative ways to bring your stainless steel, cast iron, or yes—even a non-stick pot or pan, back to life.
| Photo via Mom4Real
How to Evaluate a Burnt Pot
The key to removing burnt food from a pot or pan is to start with the least abrasive method first. If the gentlest method does not work, move on to harsher methods where you will likely need to use more abrasive products such as steel wool, which will inevitably leave a few scratches.
It’s normal to see light scratches on pots and pans, but deeper scratches and pits may cause chemicals to seep or flake off into food while it’s being cooked. Stainless steel cookware is crafted in layers, but a deep scratch may cause trace amounts of nickel or chromium to be released; newer non-stick Teflon coatings no longer contain potentially problematic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) anymore, but scratches can cause the top layer to flake off and end up in food, anyhow, as well as reducing the pan’s effectiveness. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to replace pots and pans every five years, especially if they have seriously scratched interiors.
Avoid the Dishwasher
| Photo via Mom4Real
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with Vinegar and Baking Soda
This less abrasive and trusted method using the magic of baking soda will soften the gunk in your pot. Though you may worry about putting your burnt pot back on the heat, the process will loosen up the burnt food. Use this method for stainless steel, hard-anodized aluminum, and copper pots and pans for moderately burnt-on food.
Materials and Tools Needed:
- Distilled white vinegar
- Grease-cutting dish detergent
- Baking soda (substitute cream of tartar if preferred
- Wooden spoon or spatula
- Non-abrasive sponge
Step 1: Fill Pot With Water and Vinegar
Add a 50/50 solution of water and distilled white vinegar. For example, depending on the size of the pot or pan, use a cup of water and a cup of vinegar.
Step 2: Add Detergent
Add to the water and vinegar a squirt or two of liquid dish detergent (a tablespoon of laundry detergent works well, too). The vinegar will eat away at the blackened food.
Step 3: Heat Pot
Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat until it reaches a boil.
Step 4: Let the Pot Boil
Keep a full boil going for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 5: Empty the Water
Take the pot off the heat, empty the water into the sink, and let the pot cool down for a few minutes.
Step 6: Soften the Burnt Food
Use a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula to loosen the softened burnt food in the pot or pan.
Step 7: Scrub With Baking Soda
Clean the rest of the burnt food with a paste of baking soda and water. Scrub the bottom of the pot with the paste and a non-abrasive sponge.
Step 8: Rinse
Rinse thoroughly under clean water.
Step 9: Repeat
If the pot has remains of burnt food, repeat these steps.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with Lemons
Use lemons to clean up burnt spots and shine up the pot or pan. Add a thin layer of water to the pot, liberally sprinkle baking soda on the bottom, cut a lemon in half, and use the fleshy side as a scouring pad. The slurry will fizz up a bit to create a chemical reaction that will remove stains and restore shine.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with Aluminum Foil
Foil can be a lifesaving tool in the house, and it’s a great way to clean grill grates, so why not use it on burnt pots? It’s abrasive, so expect to find some scratches on your cookware as a result, but it may be worth it in the end.
Make a cleaning paste of baking soda and water in your pot or pan. Put on protective gloves and crumple up some aluminum foil to scrub the burns. Rinse the pot extra thoroughly.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot With a Dishwasher Tablet
If you have a dishwasher tablet (not the liquid pod), use it to scrub the burnt parts of the pot. These tablets are formulated with enzymes to loosen food stains.
- Boil an inch or so of water in the pot.
- Cool down the pot and water.
- Rub the tablet on the surface to loosen and lift the burnt mess.
- Wear protective gloves.
| Photo via Sweetwater Style
More Methods for Cleaning a Burnt Pot
For the intrepid cook, there are a few off-the-beaten-path methods to clean burnt pots. Warning: Avoid using oven cleaner to clean burnt pots even though it does a great job of cleaning burnt oven bottoms; doing so may void the warranty on your cookware.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with a Potato
Use a raw potato to rub coarse salt (kosher or sea) on the burnt spots to soften them.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with Cola
Add a can of cola (classic, not diet) to your pot, soak overnight to loosen the stains, scrub, and rinse.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with Ketchup
Many rely on the acidic action of ketchup to eat away the burn spots off pots and polish the metal. Simply use a sponge to scrub on ketchup and rinse.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with a Dryer Sheet
Boil water, let it cool a bit, submerge a dryer sheet so it lays on the bottom of the pot, add a squirt of liquid dish detergent, leave the pot for an hour, scrub, and rinse.
How to Clean a Burnt Pot with Dirt or Mud
Under the “curious-to-try” heading for this ingenious old-world method: Turn the pot upside down and place it outside over dirt, leave to “soak” overnight, rinse the next morning.
Another dirt method involves taking your pot outside and using an abrasive sponge to scrub a bit of mud from your garden onto the pot. (This method works on the inside and outside of the pot). Rinse clean with a garden hose.
How to Clean the Outside of a Burnt Pot
What should you do about the outside of a pot or pan that’s burnt? The outside bottom of your pot may not seem as hopeless as the inside.
Make a paste of water and a powdered cleaner, such as Bar Keepers Friend, baking soda, or cream of tartar. Use a nylon scrubber to rub the paste on the pot to eliminate scorch marks. (Avoid harsher scrubbers or more abrasive sponges.) You may not be able to erase every scorch mark, as some become permanent over time.
Photo via Pixabay
How to Clean Burnt Food From Cast Iron Pots
When it comes to cleaning a cast iron pan, you may feel a little out of your depth, but getting burnt food off a cast iron pan is as simple as following these steps.
- Wet down the inside of the pot or pan.
- Use a paper towel and baking soda to scrape and rub away bits of burnt gunk.
- Rinse well.
- Add water to the pot and boil.
- Lower the temperature to simmer and use a wooden spoon to scrape away more of the burnt gunk.
- If you’ve removed all the burnt-on food, dry the pot in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pot or pan from the oven but don’t let it cool down too much.
- While the pot or pan is still warm, apply a very thin coat of vegetable oil to the inside with a paper towel. If preferred, re-season the pot or pan.
How to Clean Burnt Food From Nonstick Pots and Pans
Unfortunately, even non-stick pots and pans aren’t perfect and you can expect burns. To remove them, you need to use a gentle method.
- Make a paste of water and baking soda.
- Spread the paste thickly on the burnt surface of the pot or pan.
- Fill with a bit of water to cover the surface.
- Let the pot or pan soak overnight.
- Use a non-abrasive sponge in the morning to wipe away softened gunk.
- If necessary, use a somewhat soft nylon scrubber sponge for stubborn burns.
- Rinse thoroughly and repeat if necessary.
How to Clean Burnt Food From Ceramic Baking/Casserole Dishes
You may be tempted to use the same methods above on ceramic cookware. But enamelware and ceramic baking dishes require gentle care to remove burnt food. Avoid acidic liquids or other items, such as lemons, which may scratch the surface.
- Fill the dish with water and baking soda.
- Leave the dish in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 50 minutes.
- Let the dish cool down.
- Wipe off the burnt gunk.
Do you have any go-to tricks for cleaning your burnt pots? Comment below; we'd love to hear them!