How to Clean a Burnt Pan

Two Methods:Cleaning with Home SuppliesCleaning with Commercial Products

Wait! Don't plan a burial for your pan yet. Arm yourself with knowledge and use these cleaning tips to scour away the blackest gunk. You'll still need to put in some scrubbing work, but most pans can be saved as long as there isn't a damaged non-stick coating.

Method 1
Cleaning with Home Supplies

  1. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 1
    Boil soapy water, then let cool. Fill the pot halfway full with water, or more if necessary to cover the burned area. Add a couple drops of dish soap. Turn on the heat until the water boils. Turn off the heat and let cool enough that you can safely touch the pan and water.
    • You can replace the dish soap with a small spoonful (or crumbled tablet) of dishwasher detergent.[1] This may discolor aluminum.[2]
    • Try a different method first when cleaning a cast iron pan, since soap will remove most of your hard work seasoning.[3]
  2. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 2
    Scrub the pot. If necessary, add more hot, soapy water whenever the old water cools down. Scrub using a tool that won't damage your pan's material:
    • Enamel, anodized aluminum, or Teflon pan: Use a sponge, nylon brush, or Dobie pad (sponge with protective plastic netting).
    • Stainless steel, copper, or non-anodized (shiny) aluminum pan: Start with gentle options above, then move on to a scouring pad or copper wool. Use a light touch and scrub under the water level to minimize scratches.[4]
  3. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 3
    Repeat with baking soda. If there's still burnt gunk in the pan, cover the pan with a layer of baking soda. Add just enough water to cover it and simmer for 15–30 minutes.[5] Let cool and scrub the stain away.
    • Baking soda will react with and ruin aluminum.[6] Because of its abrasive properties, it is not recommended for Teflon or other non-stick surfaces either.[7]
  4. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 4
    Try vinegar. Boil white distilled vinegar in the pot. Let cool and scrub off the stain. Vinegar won't dissolve grease like soap does, but it's acidic properties can eat through some stains that the methods above won't remove.
  5. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 5
    Make a paste from cream of tartar and vinegar. This will probably scratch your pan, but at this point you're running low on options. Pick up some cream of tartar from a grocery store's baking aisle if you don't have any. Sprinkle it over the pan and stir in a few drops of vinegar until you get a thick paste. Let sit for ten minutes. Scrub hard to remove the stain, or add more vinegar and bring it to a boil yet again.[8]
    • Many people use baking soda and vinegar for cleaning, but despite the dramatic fizz, this mixture quickly turns into neutral water.[9] Cream of tartar has similar abrasive cleaning properties to baking soda, but stays stable in vinegar, letting you benefit from acidic cleaning as well.
  6. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 6
    Rub with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Make a thick paste as before, rub it on with a rag or sponge, and let it sit at least ten minutes. This one has been going around the internet for a long time, but actual results aren't always promising.[10] It seems to get the best results on burned sugar, but this is only based on a few anecdotes.

Method 2
Cleaning with Commercial Products

  1. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 7
    Scrub with kitchen cleaners. Most of these can be applied directly, left to sit a few minutes, then scrubbed off. Just in case, check the instructions on your product before you use it. These are two of the most popular options:
    • Barkeeper's Friend can be used on stainless steel, anodized aluminum, copper, ceramic, and glass.[11]
    • Bon Ami cleansing powder should work on most pans, including enamel.[12] As a mild abrasive, it's possible it could damage non-stick surfaces.
  2. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 8
    Try a metal polish. Some food industry professionals use this to remove food stains.[13] Make sure to select a metal polish intended for the right type of metal. Check the label before buying to make sure it is safe to use on surfaces that will contact food.
    • Once the stain is removed, wash the polish off thoroughly with hot, soapy water.
  3. Image titled Clean a Burnt Pan Step 9
    Clean stainless steel or copper with household ammonia. Wear rubber gloves and work outside or in a well-ventilated room, to avoid overexposure to ammonia fumes. Add a small amount of ammonia and attempt to scrub the stain. If this doesn't work, try leaving the pan in a trash bag for 24 hours to give the ammonia fumes time to break down the stain.[14]
    • Ammonia will ruin aluminum pans.


  • If nothing works, try repeating whichever method had a noticeable effect, but leaving it to soak overnight before you scrub.


  • A burned non-stick Teflon coating can release toxic fumes, and may not be safe for further cooking. These fumes can cause flu-like symptoms, and are potentially linked to more serious health problems.[15]

Things You'll Need

  • Dish soap or dishwasher detergent
  • Sponge, nylon brush, or Dobie pad
  • Scouring pad or steel wool
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Cream of tartar

Article Info

Categories: Pots and Pans