How to Get Burnt Sugar Off a Pan

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Boiling water in the pan is the quickest and simplest way to clean a pan with sugar burnt on.

But it doesn’t always work. There are several other safe and effective methods to help you remove burnt sugar from a pan. Read more about how to get those tough stains out of your cookware.

I remember my first attempts to make caramel. It was unpleasant. Not only was I unsuccessful, but it also left burnt sugar on the bottom of the pan. Turns out, I eventually learned how to make caramel AND how to get burnt sugar off a pan.

Now you can have that information, too! (Removing burnt sugar, not making caramel. I’m only marginally better at that than before.)

In this article, I’ve given you several methods of removing burnt sugar from a pan. All of these methods use commonly found items, and you can always try another method if the first one doesn’t do the trick. You don’t have to throw out your pan if you have a toolbox of cleaning methods at your disposal.

Ready to get started? Keep reading to learn more.

Why Does Sugar Burn So Easily?

White sugar in a wooden bowl

Many recipes require caramelized sugar, which is when white sugar granules are heated and become a liquid that starts to completely change in color and flavor. Caramelized sugar resembles nothing of its original state, and it’s an important step in everything from caramel sauces, candies, flan, ice cream, and even savory recipes.

Caramelized sugar requires patience and focus. There’s a reason for that. When melting sugar, especially using the “dry method” (i.e., without adding water), the sugar can quickly go from caramel to burnt sugar.

When high heat is applied to sugar, the molecules break down and become a liquid. When sugar is heated even further, it begins to turn darker in color and tastes nuttier in flavor. However, if the sugar is left too long on the heat, it becomes hard and bitter.

If you’ve ever had burnt sugar on a pan, you know it’s a pain to get off. However, there are some easy methods you can use to remove it safely and effectively.

7 Ways to Remove Burnt Sugar

Burnt sugar is stubborn, so a simple cleaning may not do the trick. The good news is that there are several methods you can follow to get burnt sugar off a pan.

Some of these can even be combined, but not all of them. I recommend starting with the top method, using boiling water, and going from there. You might even try repeating the method. Sometimes a second treatment will remove burnt sugar.

Boiling Water Method

Boiling water is the quickest way to clean burnt sugar from pots and pans. It’s simple and requires minimal effort. It’s a much better option than scrubbing the pan. This method is the best way to clean nonstick pans, as well. It doesn’t use harsh cleaners or a scouring pad to remove tough burnt sugar stains, so you’re less likely to scratch the nonstick surface. Here’s what you’ll need:

What You Need:

  • Water
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Stove
  • Silicone spatula or wooden spoon
  • Non-abrasive scrubbing sponge or brush


First, fill the pan with water up to the point where the cookware is stained with burnt sugar. You will need to fully cover the burnt bits for this cleaning method to be effective. For particularly tough stains, add a cup of vinegar to the water. Place the cookware on the stove and let the water simmer.

Bring the water to a complete boil and then immediately lower the heat. Let the pan simmer for 5-10 minutes. As the hot water boils, it will melt the sugar, making it easier to remove. This method is especially effective in removing a thick layer of burnt sugar on the bottom of the pan or pot. Adding vinegar helps to dissolve the sugar faster.

Stir the water to dissolve the burnt sugar bits from the sides and bottom of your pan. Using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, carefully scrape away the stuck burnt sugar from the sides of the pan, dipping the tool in hot water to dissolve the sugar easily.

Remove the pot from the stove and let the water cool. Stir the cooled water to dissolve any remaining sugar, and drain the water. Wash the pot as you normally would, or rinse and repeat the process if there are any remaining stains.

Baking Soda Method

Box of baking soda

Baking soda is a very effective cleaning tool used in a lot of home-based cleaning remedies. Baking soda is mildly abrasive and lifts stains from all sorts of objects. It’s truly multi-purpose, suitable for everything from laundry to even removing burnt sugar from a pan.

What You Need:

  • 2 cups of baking soda
  • Enough water to cover the bottom of the pan


First, sprinkle baking soda onto the pan with the burnt sugar. Add water and make sure that it’s just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Set the pan on the stove on low heat and let the pan simmer for 15 minutes. If the pan has a thick layer of burnt sugar, you can leave it on for up to 30-40 minutes.

After simmering, hand wash the pan as normal. The burnt sugar should fall off bit by bit. Use a soft sponge to gently scrub any remaining burnt bits from the pan. Repeat the process if necessary.

Bar Keeper’s Friend Method

Bar Keeper’s Friend, also called BFK, is a surface polisher and cleanser used for ceramic, fiberglass, tile, stainless steel, porcelain, and other materials. I use this product frequently for my stainless steel sink and pans. While many use BFK for countertops, it can also be used to remove burnt sugar from a pan.

You can find Bar Keeper’s Friend in liquid or powder form. Check your pan’s material to make sure it’s safe to use BFK on it.

What You Need:

  • Bar Keeper’s Friend (powder form)
  • Sponge


Sprinkle BFK on the surface of the pan. Let it sit for 2-3 minutes. Use a cleaning sponge to gently wipe the surface in circular motions. Avoid using steel wool, unless your pan is stainless steel.

If you are dealing with stubborn stains, you can add water to make a thick paste with the BFK. Leave the paste on the pan for 2-3 minutes. Then use the sponge to loosen the burnt sugar from the pan.

Hydrogen Peroxide Method

We typically think of hydrogen peroxide as a medical remedy, but it has a lot of uses. Like vinegar and baking soda, it’s one of those household products that can be used in practically every room of the house. This method doesn’t require a scrub brush, either.

What You Need:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Stove


First, add enough hydrogen peroxide to cover the bottom of the burnt pan. Put the pan on the stove and bring it to a boil. Boiling hydrogen peroxide can smell unpleasant, so it’s important to open a window or make sure the room is well-ventilated.

After boiling, reduce the temperature and let it simmer for 10 minutes. After simmering, you should be able to start removing the burnt sugar without much effort.

Vinegar Method

Vinegar is one of my go-to home cleaning products. It’s easy to use, works great, and acts as a disinfectant. There are several ways you can use white vinegar to remove stains, but the following is the most simple.

What You Need:

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • Sponge


First, use enough vinegar to cover the bottom of the burnt pan. I recommend a cup, but you can use more or less depending on your pan. Place the pan on the stove and let it simmer gently for 15 minutes. Then let the pan sit and cool completely. After cooling, you can start scrubbing gently using a cleaning sponge.

Simmering vinegar is quite smelly. The odor will dissipate after a while, but if you don’t feel like stinking up your entire kitchen, there are other methods you can use, like the following.

Vinegar and Baking Soda Method

Baking soda and vinegar

This method doesn’t require boiling vinegar, but it does require some patience. Use this method if you have extra time or if you have extra stubborn burnt sugar sticking to your pan.

What You Need:

  • Hot water
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Dish soap
  • Scrub brush or scouring pad


Fill the pan with enough water and white vinegar until the burned sugar is completely covered. Gradually add a cup (or two) or baking soda. Stir to combine. The mixture will bubble slightly, resembling carbonated soft drinks. This reaction will help lift stains and remove burned sugar from the pan.

Let the solution sit in the pan overnight. As it sits, the vinegar should soften the sugary residue, while baking soda helps to lift out stains left behind by the burnt sugar. The next day, the water should look amber-brown, resembling caramelized sugar in color.

Drain the solution, but don’t rinse the pan. Use a cleaning sponge to gently scrub the remaining burnt bits from the pan until you no longer see or feel any remaining residue. Be careful when scrubbing nonstick pans. You could potentially remove the nonstick coating.

Rinse out the pan and wash as normal with dish soap and warm water. Wash the outside of the pan, as well. Rinse the pan and repeat the process for any leftover residue. For heavy stains, apply a thick paste of vinegar and baking soda to spot-clean the burnt pan. For lighter stains, the method above should be sufficient.

Fabric Softener Sheet Method

This method is a little different because it uses fabric softener sheets, but it’s effective and requires little effort.

What You Need:

  • Fabric softener sheets (as many as needed)
  • Water
  • Sponge
  • 1 Tbsp fabric softener (optional)


Fill the pan one-fourth full of water. Place the pan on the stove at low heat until it reaches a boil. Remove the pan from the stove and add the fabric softener sheet. Leave the pan for a few hours or let it sit overnight. After soaking, remove the sheet and gently scrub to remove the burnt sugar.

If you’d rather use liquid fabric softener, simply add it to the water as it’s boiling and stir. Leave the pan for several hours or overnight, just as you would with the sheets. Wash it as normal after soaking.

Whether you use sheets or liquid softener, be sure to rinse the pan thoroughly with soapy water to avoid any residue.

Cream of Tartar Method

What You Need:

  • Cream of tartar
  • Vinegar

Cream of tartar is also mildly abrasive, which makes it great for cleaning burnt sugar from a pan. Cream of tartar is also acidic, which helps in breaking down caked-on or burnt food.

Make a paste of cream of tartar and white vinegar. Use the mixture to scrub away burnt sugar. Then rinse the pan with warm water.

3 Other Methods for Cleaning Pans with Burnt Sugar

Dishwashing Tablets

Dishwashing tablets are designed to remove stains and break down caked-on food particles. To use this method, simply fill the pan with water and drop the dishwashing tablet in the water. Place the pan on the stove and bring to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Voila!


You can soak the burnt pans in soapy water, but you can also add other ingredients to loosen up the particles.

You can coat the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of tomato ketchup. You read that right. Tomato ketchup is highly acidic, which will eat away the burnt sugar and help you get your pan shiny again.

Don’t have tomato ketchup? You can also use carbonated soft drinks, like Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola’s acidity will also eat through the burnt sugar. This is a quick and easy way to clean the pan without using harsh chemicals.

Tin Foil

You can use tin foil in place of a plastic scraper or scrubber. Roll the tin foil into a ball, sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda into the pan, and then use the tin foil ball the scrub the pan. However, you should only use this method on metal pans. The foil will scratch non-stick and ceramic finishes.

How to Prevent Burnt Sugar

If you’ve ever had to clean burnt sugar off a pan, you know it’s not fun. It can be especially stubborn. Preventing sugar from burning will help mitigate stains from forming on your cookware and reduce the amount of time and elbow grease it takes for you to clean your pans.

To prevent burnt sugar from sticking to your pan, always wash your pans immediately after use. The longer burned sugar sits on a pan, the tougher it is to clean. Burnt sugar is extremely hot and dangerous, so be careful not to touch the sugar. Add water to the pan to dissolve the sugar while still warm and place the pot over heat to warm the sugar. Then use a cleaning sponge to scrub out the stubborn bits.

Removing Burnt Sugar From a Pan: Conclusion

Now that you know how to remove burnt sugar from a pan, you’ll be ready to tackle that caramel recipe with confidence. One of my favorites? These delicious caramel corn puffs. Happy cooking!