How to clean a burned pot: Here's what really works

A burnt batch of mashed potatoes, or some other now-inedible food, cannot be cleaned by simply chucking it into the dishwasher. Instead, you're going to need some of these heavy-duty tips and tricks to return your pots to their pre-burnt glory.

With these tips and tricks, you'll get that burnt pot clean in no time at all.
With these tips and tricks, you'll get that burnt pot clean in no time at all.  © 123RF / Lanych

We've all been there: dozing into dreamland while watching a slow Netflix show when we should be tending to the food that's cookin' away in the kitchen. More often than not, these instances lead to burnt food and burnt pots.

In such a situation, we often find that the burnt food is caked on so heavily that the pan looks more like a medieval war zone than a cooking utensil. But fret not, as we're here to help you clean that burnt pot!

Admittedly, cleaning burnt pots does require quite a bit of preparation. It's not just a matter of chucking the thing into the dishwasher and hoping for the best. You'll need a slew of tools and cleaning chemicals to get the job done.

Met takes a feminist look at global fashion with new Women Dressing Women exhibit
Fashion Met takes a feminist look at global fashion with new Women Dressing Women exhibit

If you've made the all-too-common mistake of burning the hell out of your pot or pan while cooking, this guide is here to help.

How do you clean a burnt pan? Check out these helpful tips!

Don't have much time? Here's a quick TL;DR:

  • You should always soak your burnt-on pot before attempting to clean it.
  • Classic remedies for burnt-on food include hot water, dishwashing soap, and scouring milk.
  • Powders like salt or baking soda make it a lot easier to remove stubborn residue from the bottom of a burnt pot.
  • Boiling vinegar or citric acid is very effective at getting burnt-on food residue off the pan or pot.
  • Oven spray is the most effective way to clean a burnt pot.
  • Never use gauze on a non-stick or treated surface, this will damage the coating and scratch the bottom.

Best way to get a burnt pot clean

The first thing you need to do before attempting to clean a burnt pot is soak it thoroughly in water. This pretreatment will help to loosen stubborn residues, especially if the water is hot and has a splash of dishwashing soap in it. Simply stir the mixture and let it soak overnight.

Once you have pre-soaked the pot, replace the water, add a dishwasher pod or tablet, and place it on the stove. Bring it to a boil for ten minutes or so, and then use a pot scraper (not one made of steel if it is a non-stick or coated pan) to remove the burnt-on residue. If dishwashing detergent doesn't work, then scouring milk is also helpful.

If your pot has a light encrustation of burnt-on food, then the hot water and a dishwashing tablet should do the trick. But for more solid residues, you're going to need something extra.

Using oven spray to clean a burnt pan

Oven-cleaning spray is one of the best ways to clean a badly burnt pot or pan. This stuff can be pretty toxic, though, so make sure to clean up thoroughly afterward!

Step 1: Coat your burnt pot or pan with oven spray

Step 2: Check the can and wait for the recommended time.

Step 3: Give the pan a good scrub with a brush or sponge, and be sure to avoid a gauze or metal brush if you are cleaning a non-stick or treated pot.

Step 4: Wipe off the chemicals and give them a good wash!

This is possibly the most effective way to clean a burnt pan, as oven cleaner is designed specifically to remove burnt-on food.

Use home remedies to clean a pot with burnt food

Before tossing your burnt pots, first try on the cleaning tips above for size. If these tricks don't work or you don't have oven cleaner on-hand, there are a few home remedies that you can test until you get the chance to swing by the grocery store.

There are a number of fantastic ways to clean burnt-on food off a pan or pot using simple ingredients that you can probably find around your house. Let's take a look!

Cleaning a burnt pot with baking soda

Baking soda is a wildly useful thing to have around the house. Seriously, this stuff can clean anything from couch stains to extremely burnt pots. It's basically magic! Here's how to use it to clean burnt pots:

Step 1: Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with a little water to form a paste, then wipe it all over the burnt pot.

Step 2: Heat the pot briefly on the lowest setting and then leave it for about twenty to thirty minutes.

Step 3: After the 30 minutes is up, scrape off the dissolved encrustation before rinsing the pot again with some dishwashing soap and hot water.

With the magic that is baking soda, you should be able to clean a burnt pot quickly and thoroughly if the burn isn't too intense.

Make sure to wear gloves when cleaning a burnt pot.
Make sure to wear gloves when cleaning a burnt pot.  © 123RF / Sirah

Clean a burnt pot with mineral water

Do you know what people generally don't think of using when cleaning a burnt pot? Mineral water. Here's how to use it to clean your burnt pots:

Step 1: Pour a generous amount of mineral water into a burnt pan or pot.

Step 2: Allow the mineral water to soak for 30 minutes to an hour.

Step 3: Wipe away the dissolved sediment with a cloth and then rinse the pot with soap and water. Note: this will only work for lightly burnt-on residues.

Though mineral water isn't as effective as baking soda, the benefit is that it can be much easier to use.

How to clean a burnt pot with vinegar

Salt and vinegar are two of the best ingredients to use when cleaning. To clean a burnt pot with salt and vinegar, do the following:

Step 1: Pop about two tablespoons of salted vinegar into the burnt pot.

Step 2: Mix water into the pot in a 1:3 ratio.

Step 3: Boil the water until the mixture dissolves the burnt-on residue.

Vinegar isn't the only acidic household substance you could use. You can also use the same method but with citric acid to produce a similar result.

Use dishwasher tabs to clean burnt pots

The dishwasher itself won't remove hardcore burns, but dishwasher tablets surely will. These little pouches contain insanely strong ingredients that extremely effective at cleaning burnt pots. Here's how to use them:

Step 1: Fill the burnt pot with hot water and then add a dissolving dishwashing tablet. Alternatively, you can use fast-dissolving dishwasher powder.

Step 2: Soak the pot with the hot water and dishwashing powder or tab for at least five to ten minutes.

Step 3: After soaking, use a cloth or brush to scrub the residue from the bottom of the pan and then wash it thoroughly.

Remember that the chemicals in a dishwashing tablet are highly toxic, so you need to wash your pot thoroughly after using this method.

How do I clean burnt frying pans?

Baking soda is often used as a magical cleaning solution.
Baking soda is often used as a magical cleaning solution.  © 123RF / Thamkc

Cleaning a frying pan that's been thoroughly burnt is not so different from cleaning a scorched pot. The only difference is that pans often have a non-stick coating that is easily ruined by excessive scrubbing or any kind of acidic cleaner. If that coating is ruined, the pan is essentially destroyed.

This is the best way to clean a burnt frying pan without ruining it:

Step 1: Pour a packet of baking soda or baking powder onto the burnt-on residue in the pan.

Step 2: Fill the pan with hot water to mix the powder.

Step 3: For particularly stubborn burns, boil the water briefly in the pan on the stove top.

Step 4: Next, remove it from the heat and leave the mixture to soak in the pan overnight.

Step 5: In the morning, pour out the mixture and rinse the pan.

Step 6: Wipe the bottom of the pan with a soft cloth.

It's really important to avoid scrubbing a burnt frying pan as much as you can. But if you have to, try to use the soft side of a sponge to protect the pan's non-stick coating.

How to clean burnt food from a cast iron skillet

Cast iron pans are beautiful and well-worth the extra care they require. To clean a cast iron pan or skillet, Use a bit of oil to remove newly burnt food residue while the pan is still hot.

Use an oil with a high smoke point, such as:

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Vegetable oil.

Pour the oil into the pan when it is still warm and then wipe it clean with paper towel.

Additionally, you can also use the salt and baking powder mixtures to clean a cast iron skillet. Just be sure to avoid acidic ingredients like vinegar.

Hot tip: If you are cooking in a cast iron pan or frying pan, try "deglazing" the pan to remove burnt-on food immediately. A great way to do this is to splash the bottom of the pain with red wine while it's still very hot. Then, scrape it with a plastic spatula as it bubbles away, which should help remove the burnt-on food.

Can you clean burnt pots and pans in the dishwasher?

You often can't clean burnt pots and pans in the dishwasher because the residue is often far too stubborn for a contactless rinse cycle. On most occasions, you'll find that seriously burnt-on food scraps are still stuck to the bottom of your pots and pans after a washing cycle has finished. This won't damage the pans, it just won't clean them, either.

There are many tips and tricks to cleaning burnt pots and pans.
There are many tips and tricks to cleaning burnt pots and pans.  © 123RF / Sir270

It's pretty easy to clean a burnt pot

You'll be able to clean a burnt pot in no time without much work if you try some of the methods above. If one doesn't work, simply move on to the next! All in all, the most effective cleaning solution for burnt pots is oven cleaner.

Keep in mind that burnt food isn't the best for your health, so if you have pots and pans with burnt scraps, be sure to clean your pot or pan before you cook again. Happy cleaning!

Cover photo: 123RF / Lanych

More on Guide: