Forget the hacks and get scrubbing with our guide to the do's and don'ts of keeping your cookie sheets primed for baking, roasting and more.

Lauren Salkeld
November 08, 2019

As with most things cooking- and kitchen-related, the internet is abuzz with hacks for how to clean baking sheets, aka cookie sheets, those versatile kitchen workhorses used for everything from roasting chicken to baking cookies to making full sheet-pan dinners. Type "how to clean cookie sheets" or "how to clean burnt baking sheets" into your search engine of choice and you'll be flooded with articles and videos swearing by one magic cleaning trick or another. What do you mean you haven't tried cleaning your cookie sheets with ketchup or filled a particularly burnt pan with hot water and dryer sheets?

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I cook a lot and I'm a bit of a neatnik, but even I am guilty of neglecting my baking sheets. No one really ever sees them and I'm just going to dirty them up again, so I don't always do the best job cleaning them. This is not great in terms of my domestic goddess status, but it does make me an ideal person to try out some of these so-called hacks—and try them I did. Read on for what I found (surprise, surprise, most of them didn't pan out) plus what I suggest you actually do to clean your baking sheets and how to keep them that way.

Pictured recipe: Sheet-Pan Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs

Try Pretreating Your Pans

As I "cleaned" my way through the various miracle tricks, I found that most simply don't work or don't work well enough to bother doing. For seriously dirty pans, it can help to use a combination of baking soda or cream of tartar plus white vinegar to start the cleaning process—think of this combo as the stain stick of pan cleaning. Combine enough powder and liquid to create a paste and spread that on the pan, or sprinkle the pan with powder, spray with vinegar, and sprinkle with more powder. Either way, let it sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours, then start scrubbing. You will likely need to use steel wool or some kind of scouring pad plus hot soapy water and some elbow grease, but this kind of pretreatment can lessen how much you have to work.

There are other pretreatment options, but I found baking soda or cream of tartar plus white vinegar to be not just more effective but also more convenient. You might not have cream of tartar on hand (plus it's more expensive) but baking soda and white vinegar are staple ingredients most people keep in the kitchen.

Get Ready to Scrub

It's not exciting and it's certainly not a hack, but using hot, soapy water and scrubbing with steel wool or a scouring pad really is the best way to clean pans, even the ones that are in really bad shape. EatingWell's test kitchen manager, Breana Killeen, confirmed that "steel wool, elbow grease and hot soapy water" are the tools of the trade in the test kitchen when it comes to cleaning dirty baking sheets. Keep in mind that while the baking soda (or cream of tartar) and white vinegar step is safe for all kinds of pans, you can't use scratchy materials like steel wool or scouring pads on any pan that has a nonstick surface, including aluminized steel pans. I found pretreating nonstick surfaces with baking soda and white vinegar and then cleaning with a soft sponge was fairly effective, but the real secret to nonstick maintenance is to keep them clean in the first place, which I'll get into.

Pictured recipe: Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies with Cranberries & White Chocolate

When Homemade Cleaners Aren't Enough

While I stand by my pretreatment-followed-by-scrubbing technique, some baking sheets need a little something extra. When it comes to purchased cleaners, I'm a huge fan of Bar Keepers Friend. Their original cleanser is a powder and can be used to clean almost everything in the kitchen—not to mention the bathroom. It's not super gritty, but I wouldn't use it on nonstick surfaces, and Bar Keepers Friend recommends testing their products on a small area before using. They also make a soft cleanser, which some find easier to use and which isn't gritty, though I'd still test it before using just to be safe.

A Baking-Sheet Cleaning Hack Worth Trying

While most hacks left me disappointed—I'm looking at you, dryer sheets—I did find Mr. Clean Magic Erasers somewhat useful. They act like microscrubbers, lifting and removing dirt, and are especially helpful in tight corners. Cleaning a large baking sheet, especially a very dirty one, would take a while, but I found Magic Erasers helpful for trouble spots and crusty corners.

Prevent the Need to Clean

Short of not using your pans, the best way to eliminate the need for such serious cleaning is to keep your pans from getting super dirty in the first place. Nonstick pans are usually fine as long as you clean them properly after using, but other pans benefit greatly from being lined with parchment, foil or a silicone mat—just watch for food or fat getting underneath and burning, especially with foil or parchment. I also find when I'm roasting vegetables or other food directly on a pan that if I brush the pan with a little oil before adding the oil-tossed ingredients, it prevents sticking, which is one of the main culprits of dirty pans. Other than that, clean your pans properly after each use and you can mostly avoid all this extra cleaning.

And, just in case you're still curious: I found that ketchup doesn't clean baking sheets and is best used on fries—or maybe scrambled eggs.

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