How To Clean A Burnt Pan

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My kids love risotto – but my husband isn’t so keen. Last time I made it, some ended up burnt onto my pot. He wasn’t happy when I gave it to him to clean up!

Cleaning a pan with burnt food isn’t hard. Never forget, though, that the main ingredient you need is good old fashioned elbow grease. Read on and I’ll give you some tips to reduce the amount of scrubbing you need to do.

So – What did you burn?

If you’ve come here looking to clean a burnt pan, it’s probably a stainless steel pan. Hopefully the pan itself isn’t burn. Ok maybe it’s a ceramic baking dish. It better not be a nonstick pan – because a) it should clean off easily anyway, b) it’s a bad idea to overheat nonstick

If you’ve burnt the pan, as opposed to the food, then throw it away. And – how?

If it’s another metallic pan, such as copper, then you need to be careful. Stainless steel is corrosion resistant. For other metals, some of the techniques here could damage your pan. In the case of cast iron, or carbon steel, then follow my guide to cleaning cast iron

For other pans, if you aren’t sure what to do, a good option is to let it simmer with some water and dish washing liquid inside. Then scrub it down with the help of some salt. (Salt acts as a mild abrasive).

Stainless steel, ceramic, and glass can take a bit more punishment though.

What To Avoid

There are many tips and tricks out there that suggest some pretty strong chemicals. These include bleach, magic erasers and fabric softener.

Now I know the idea is that you wash the chemicals off afterwards, but I would be careful. My recommendation is to only use dish washing liquid or products you would use in food. Better safe than sorry.

How To Clean A Burnt Pan

You can mix the steps up a bit but here’s what I (ahem) do:

Vinegar (Acid) Boil

I put some vinegar in the pan, put it on the stove and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

(An Aside About Vinegars and Acids)

Vinegar is an acid and should help attack the food on the pan. Will it dissolve your pan though? Glass won’t react to acids. Ceramic should be OK, but be careful it can depend on coating and makeup of ceramic. Stainless steel should be corrosion resistant, but I wouldn’t recommend leaving it too long.  Even stainless steel is not perfectly resistant to acids.

What happens if you leave it too long, or use acid with the wrong material? In the worst case your pan will start to pit. Not nice. I think this would be difficult to do with stainless steel though! It’s never happened to me.

Also if you don’t have any vinegar handy, other acids may work. Examples of food acids are:

  • Lemon juice
  • Coca Cola
  • Tomato sauce

I’ve never tried any of these though! Coke could be interesting to try as an experiment.


Once you’ve finished simmering vinegar in your pan, chuck the liquid and start scrubbing. Add a bit of dish soap if you think it will help.

You can also add something abrasive. Steel wool will probably damage your pan as it’s too abrasive. A better choice would be baking soda or salt. (But don’t add the baking soda while there is hot vinegar in the pan or it will explode everywhere).

A double sided sponge with an abrasive side can help here.

If some food is still stuck

Either repeat the vinegar (acid) boil, or this time do a baking soda and water boil. Baking soda is an alkali so it will react with different chemicals / foods. Just mix add a few tablespoons of baking soda to hot water in the pan and simmer for a few minutes.

Then get back to scrubbing.

There’s no way around this – you will need to put in some elbow grease.

The key is to keep boiling vinegar or baking soda (or even water and dishwashing liquid) then scrubbing. This will help loosen food and is less monotonous than just scrubbing.

Other things you can try

If it’s too difficult some other things you can try are:

  • Cream of tartar instead of baking powder
  • Try boiling with a detergent for the dishwasher. They are often harsher
  • See if someone else can help with the scrubbing
  • As a last resort consider steel wool. You will scratch your pan though!
Cleaning a burnt pan


How to clean a burnt pot?

If instead of asking how to clean burnt stainless steel pans, you want to know how to clean burnt stainless steel pans then the answer is mostly the same.

The best way to clean a burnt pot is to follow the above steps, but paying extra attention to the where the walls and the bottom meet. Burnt food particles is more likely to stick to this part.

If you can’t get the food out from this part, one thing you can do is lightly run a blunt knife (one you eat with) around it. This can help loosen any burnt on dirt.

Why does my stainless steel pan burn?

It probably doesn’t burn! It’s actually food that is burning onto your pan, making you believe you have a scorched stainless steel pan.

That’s why this article focuses on how to clean burnt food off stainless steel pots and pans, not removing layers of metal themselves.

The reason food burns is manyfold:

  • Potentially you’ve overcooked it, consider using a lower heat for longer.
  • If your pan is not heating evenly, then it might have hotspots; consider getting a tri-ply stainless steel pan.
  • Maybe that dish is meant to have burnt food, like Spanish paella. Consider using a different type of pan that is easier to clean. Find paella pans here.

How to clean a burnt pan with vinegar?

I’ve plenty of experience cleaning stainless steel pans with vinegar and it’s not always worth it.

Vinegar on it’s own isn’t enough, but soaking the burnt food in vinegar can definitely help loosen it. For stubborn stains I do a pre-soak in vinegar, then apply some elbow grease, detergent and water. (And sometimes salt.)

That’s why it could make sense to just try vigorously scrubbing it before soaking in vinegar.

How to clean a burnt pan with salt?

Salt is abrasive, like sand, so it can help loosen stubborn food.

But salt on its own isn’t the best way to clean a burnt pan. You can loosen the food by running salt, then apply water, detergent and elbow grease.

How to clean a burnt pan with Coke?

I’ll be honest: I’ve never tried this. But since Coke is acidic, like vinegar, I guess it could be used as a substitute for the vinegar.

However I suggest keeping a closer eye on it as I suspect Coke is stronger.

Prevention is better than cure

If you don’t want to go through all that again, consider how you can avoid it! Here are some tips:

  • If using a casserole dish or cooking something dry then add some parchment paper, or baking paper to the bottom. You just lift it off at the end!
  • Using copious amounts of oil can help, but actually so can other liquids. I recommend extra virgin olive oil.
  • Finally non stick can also help here. I never have trouble getting food off of non stick. The thing is, Teflon non stick is OK if you use it right, but I would be careful about burning anything on it.