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How To Clean A Burnt Pan

Are you wondering how to clean a burnt pan? Did you just scorch the pan and now you don’t know what to do?

I’ve been there. Far too many times if I’m being honest.

Maybe you’re new at cooking, trying out a new recipe, or using a pan for the first time. Or, maybe, as it often is with me – it just kind of happened.

how to clean burnt pans

But fear not – there are easy hacks to cleaning scorched pans, whether they are made from iron, steel, aluminium, copper, enamel or Teflon.

Depending on the type of pan you’re using, though, and the severity of the burn, cleaning may require some gently TLC. Or, on the other extreme, a level of toughness. But it’s always best to check the manufacturer’s instructions.

In either case, I suggest you start with the gentler ingredients and methods first before working your way up to the stronger ones.

With a few attempts, you’re sure to find a technique that works best for your situation.

1. Try Natural Cleaners

bicarbonate of soda for cleaning burnt pans

Thankfully, there are regular household items that we can use to get rid of charred, stuck-on food. These are organic, non-toxic chemicals that won’t damage delicate pans’ surfaces and, unlike many commercial cleaners that are synthetic and corrosive, they aren’t harmful when consumed by humans or pets.

First, allow the burnt pan to cool completely.

Scrape off any loose bits of burnt food with a spatula or wooden spoon and discard these into the trash.

Now you’re ready to try any of the following ingredients:

White Vinegar

Fill the pot with water until the burnt area is covered. Set it on the hob and bring to the boil. Pour a cup of vinegar and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool completely. Gently scrub the pan with a soft sponge then discard the mess. Repeat as necessary, then wash as you normally would. Vinegar is mildly acidic, and may react negatively with anodized aluminium though. Do not use this method on pans with that kind of surface.

Baking Soda

Instead of vinegar, add a tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate. Then follow the above steps – simmer, cool, scrub, then wash.

Baking soda is an abrasive agent that’s tough on grime but mild enough not to scratch the surface of glass, steel and ceramic cookware.

It isn’t recommended for more sensitive surfaces though, like Teflon and other non-stick coatings.

Combination Of Vinegar and Baking Soda

Follow the above steps for vinegar but add 2 tablespoons of baking soda after you’ve removed the water-vinegar solution from the heat.

You’ll see it fizz. Wait a few minutes then wash out the pan, scrubbing away the burnt residues.

If there are stubborn stains, make a paste of baking soda and a few drops of water and apply them on the stains.

Leave the paste for a few minutes then watch them come off as you do a final washing.

Sea Salt – How To Clean A Burnt Pan With Salt

Pour around 500ml of warm water into the burnt pan and then stir in 3 tablespoons of coarse salt, making sure it dissolves completely.

Soak for a few minutes, then boil for 15 minutes.

Pour out most of the hot salt water and see if any burnt residue remains.

If it does, leave about half an inch of the salt water in the pan, then add 2 more tablespoons of salt.

Using a soft sponge, scrub away any residual grime. Wash with detergent as usual.

Lemon Juice

Cut 2 to 3 lemons into quarters and then place the slices in the pan.

Pour a few inches of water and bring to a boil.

Simmer for 5-10 minutes – until you see the food residues float to the surface.

Discard, wash and scrub gently, if necessary.

It’s one of the easiest methods of all, but not necessarily the cheapest.

Cream of Tartar

Like baking soda, cream of tartar is an abrasive agent and can be used as an alternative. Depending on how serious the burn is, you can use anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons to 250ml of water.

Bring to a boil as above, simmer, cool, then wash.

2. Use Commercial Cleaners

Biological Washing Powder

Still using the above standard procedures, add 1 tablespoon of biological washing powder or detergent to the boiling water in the pot.

Biological cleaners contain safe, organic enzymes and beneficial bacteria that work together to break down starches, oils and proteins. Cool and wash as before.

Dishwasher Tablet

Cover the bottom of the burnt pan with a small amount of water and warm it up on a low heat.

Remove from the heat and, with a gloved hand, scrape the tablet over the scorched areas. The burnt-on food will lift easily and may not require additional scrubbing with a scouring pad.

Tin Foil

This method works best for stainless steel cookware.

Sprinkle a good amount of baking soda on the burnt area of your pan and add a bit of water to make a paste.

Crumple up some tin foil and scrub it all around until all stain and food residues come off.

Rinse your pan with warm soapy water.

This will make your pans look like new.

Dryer Sheet or Fabric softener

Soak a burnt pan with soap and water then add a dryer sheet or a tablespoon of fabric softener into the mix.

Leave it for at least an hour, then discard the sheet. Wash as usual.

Your pan should look shiny and new again.

Powdered Cleansers

Bon Ami, Barkeeper’s Friend and Ajax are some of the more popular and powerful cleaners sold today.

They can be applied directly and left to sit for a few minutes before being scrubbed off, or sprinkled on the bottom of the pan with hot water and left to soak for 30 minutes. The stuck on grime easily comes off.

But, being mild abrasives, they are not recommended for non-stick cookware.

How To Clean The Outside Bottom Of A Burnt Pan

cleaning the outside bottom of a burnt pan with a sponge in a sink

If the bottom of your pan is burnt, use the same techniques as cleaning the inside of a scorched pan – try cleaning with white vinegar and/or baking soda – if that doesn’t work, try one of the commercial cleaners such as Bar Keeper’s Friend. 

Tips to avoid burning cookware

1. Don’t leave your cooking unattended if the food is nearly cooked, or doesn’t take long to cook, don’t leave it alone. Especially don’t leave certain recipes such as milk and sauces, these burn quickly!

2. If you catch a pan burning don’t drench it with cold water, or take it straight to the sink to douse it. A sudden change in temperature could make things worse. Just turn off the heat and wait for the pan to cool down naturally and completely.

3. Know your cookware. Choosing a pan to use (and buy in the future) involves a few factors to consider. Aside from ease, quality, durability and price, you’ll have to know the type of dishes you’ll most likely be cooking and the amount of time you’re willing to spend during clean up.

While thicker, heavier pots are more burn-proof, they may not be suited to each and every dish you prepare. Get acquainted with the most common types of cookware and their pro’s and con’s.

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