How To Loosen Burned And Stuck-on Messes From Pots And Pans

Banish the burn. Renew the pans.

Dirty oily burnt metal frying pan held in hand by male hand.
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It can happen to the best of us. Sometimes food burns or scorches in the bottom of a pot because we turned the heat too high or let it cook dry.

Other times, the stuck-fast mess is the result of properly cooking something that's inherently sticky and stubborn, such as homemade caramel. No matter the cause, there might be a solution to getting the pot sparkling clean and ready to return to service.

How to Get Burnt Food Off Pots and Pans

The first rule of cleaning filthy pots is that it's easier to float away a sticky mess (such as rock-hard caramel) than to scrub it away.


1. Fill the pot with water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Then, reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer until the mess loosens and floats away.

If the pot is made from non-reactive metal, many cooks swear by adding two or three quartered fresh lemons or leftover lemon rinds to the water so that the lemon's acidity can help loosen the food.

2. Pour out the warm water, and hand wash the pan as usual to remove any remaining specks.

This method works remarkably well, although it can take more than one treatment.

Baking soda

Another all-natural approach is to wet the pan and add enough baking soda to make a paste. Use a wad of crumpled aluminum foil to scrub away the stains, and then wash and rinse the pan as usual. This method gets high marks on social media review sites.

Power wash dish soap

For light to moderate messes, try a power wash dish soap. For thicker and even more stubborn messes, try a stronger power dissolving gel. Be sure to follow the package directions carefully.

Oven cleaner

Cold-oven formula oven cleaner can do a great job of removing old, burned-on food residue, and might even salvage blackened pots. Spray the product over the stains, let stand for one minute, and then wash under hot running water. The fumes can be pungent, and the chemicals are not good for bare skin, so be sure to follow the safety precautions on the can.

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