Yes, you can save that charred pan!

Veronica Meewes
January 08, 2021
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burnt frying pan
Getty / LauriPatterson
| Credit: Getty / LauriPatterson

Right now, you might be spending more time cooking and baking at home. And though many of us find joy in the kitchen, few of us enjoy tackling the excess of dishes that come along with it. While we don't have a magical solution to make that sink pile disappear (we wish!), we can help make the task a little less painless by offering some handy tips.

With all of the cooking and multitasking that goes on in the kitchen, it's likely you'll eventually run into a charred or burnt pan. There are several tricks you can keep up your sleeve to solve this issue without bringing harmful chemicals into your home. Here's how to clean a burnt pan, according to experts.

How to Clean a Burnt Pan

"If you are trying to make healthy food choices for your family, consider that the cleaning products you use in your home also impact their well-being," says Marilee Nelson, environmental consultant and co-founder of Branch Basics. "Cleaning products used in the kitchen on countertops, appliances, on dishes and around food should leave no harmful chemical residues on surfaces that could be picked up by food or cause skin irritation."

In order to clean a burnt pan, she suggests spraying the surface with dish soap or Branch Basics' All Purpose Cleaner (buy it: $49 for a 32-ounce concentrate, Branch Basics), then sprinkling it with baking soda or Branch Basics' Oxygen Boost—a blend of baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) and sodium percarbonate, which acts as a brightener and deodorizer (buy it: $10 for a 32-ounce concentrate, Branch Basics). Let the two sit on the surface for at least 20 minutes, then scrub with a scouring pad (we like this pack of eight pads for $8.77, Amazon).

But you can also clean a burnt pan by using common, natural ingredients and simple materials you likely already have around your house. Jen Stark, the founder of Happy DIY Home, a gardening and home improvement blog, likes to sprinkle baking soda onto the affected area, then slowly add enough water to make a paste (buy it: $8.78 for a 1-pound box on Amazon). She then balls up aluminum foil and uses it to scrub away at the area, starting at the outside edges. If you're worried about scratching your pans, you can use a scouring pad in place of foil.

"Once the scorched mess is cleared away, rinse your pot with warm, soapy water," says Stark. "If it's clean, you're done. If not, repeat the process until it all comes off."

Another method she recommends is quartering two or three lemons and adding them to your burnt pan, topped with a few inches of water. Bring the water to a boil and allow the lemons to simmer in there for 5 to 10 minutes. The acid from the lemons will start to remove the buildup and you will see food particles begin to float in the water. Then you can remove the rest with a scouring pad.

Heather Yan, the founder of the kitchen and cooking blog My Kitchen Culture, swears by ketchup or apple-cider vinegar.

"This is my last resort for cleaning up greasy messes and burnt-on residues from baking," says Yan. "The acids in the ketchup help release the oils and lift the stain off your pans and bakeware. Apple-cider vinegar also works well, but it's harder to keep the vinegar where you need it. Just don't use this method on nonstick pans because the acid can damage the nonstick coating."

James Conner, vice president of operations at Molly Maid, a network of cleaning professionals, believes the effectiveness of the removal lies in utilizing a few simple methods. First, the most important thing to do is to clean your pots and pans immediately for the best chance at lifting the caked-on food before it has time to fully dry. Next, the hotter the water, the better— in most cases.

"The only exception to the rule is dairy-related foods. Dairy tends to grow stickier with warm water—so cold water is best for cleaning cheesy dishes," says Conner. Soak the pan for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight, he advises, depending on how dirty it is. If, after putting some real elbow grease into the scrub, the residue still hasn't lifted, Conner recommends covering the surface with baking soda and pouring vinegar on top of it.

"Wait while the chemical reaction occurs and wipe away with your soapy sponge," he says. "With freshly cleaned dishes in hand, use a dry rag to wipe away the remaining water before storage. Equipped with a clean pan, you're ready for a new recipe!"