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Seriously Scorched Your Pan? Here’s How to Remove the Burnt-On Food

Various pans on a stainless steel stove.
Klem Mitch/Shutterstock

It’s easy to end up with burnt food stuck to your pots and pans. Even if you diligently watch your food on the stove, it doesn’t take long for it to burn. Here’s how to get your cookware clean.

Cleaning scorched pans might seem like a tough job, but there are some tricks to getting them clean. Keep in mind, what works for some ceramic pans might not work on cast iron. For most pans, it’s best to avoid abrasive cleaners and scrubbers that could leave them scratched.

Stainless Steel and Enamel Pans

It’s easy to clean burned food off your enamel and stainless-steel pans if you follow the right steps. If your pans are nonstick, you might not need to follow any of these recommendations. Nonstick doesn’t mean you can’t burn stuff on, though.

Try one of these methods:

  • Deglaze with hot water or vinegar: This is a great way to loosen up gunk, so you can easily get it out. Preheat your pan on the stove until it’s hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle. Then, pour in 1 cup of water or vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and let the liquid simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Use a nylon spatula or a wooden spoon to scrape the burnt areas. The hot water loosens whatever’s stuck. Vinegar deep cleans and will probably work if water didn’t. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot pan!
  • Deglaze with hot water and baking soda: Similar to the previous idea, but great if you really don’t like the smell of hot vinegar. Fill the pan with water, dump in half a cup of baking soda, and bring it to a boil. Let it boil for a good five to ten minutes and then use a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape the burnt areas.
  • Scrub with baking soda: If your pan isn’t too badly scorched, you can also try using equal parts warm water and baking soda to make a scrubbing paste that isn’t too harsh. Scrub the paste on the burnt areas until it starts to come off. Rinse and repeat until your pan is clean.

Nonstick Pans

You can skip the heating method for nonstick pans. If your pan is older and not working as well as it used to, you might need to do a little extra soaking to remove burnt-on food.

Here are some methods to make your nonstick pans spotless:

  • Basic soak: If you have enough time to wait for your pan to get clean, try this method. Put a couple of drops of dish soap in your pan, add some hot water, and then let it sit. A few hours should do the trick, or you can leave it overnight. After its soak, a nylon dish scrubber should be enough to chip away the burnt-on gunk from your pan.
  • Dryer sheet soak: Dryer sheets have a softening agent coating that can loosen the burnt food on your pots and pans. Fill the pan with warm water and place a dryer sheet in it. Be sure to push the sheet down into the water until it’s fully submerged and saturated. After it soaks for a few hours, you can use the fabric sheet to scrub off the loosened food. Follow up with a good washing with dish soap so you can remove all the dryer-sheet residue.

Use Salt on Your Cast-Iron Pans

Cast iron is an entirely different cooking device than your standard kitchen pans. They cook differently, and they need different care and cleaning.

Cast-iron pans can take a lot more abuse than your general cookware. However, water is not their friend as it can cause rusting if you don’t dry them off completely before putting them away.

Coarse sea or kosher salt is the best scrubbing agent to remove burnt-on food from cast-iron pans. Use a damp cloth to do the scrubbing.

If that doesn’t cut it, you can use a plastic scraper made specifically for use on cast-iron pans. Don’t ever use scouring pads or steel wool on your cast-iron cookware, as these remove the seasoning from your pans.


Removing burnt-on food is frustrating, but with a little soaking and elbow grease, you can get any pan clean again.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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