How to remove burnt food from a pan

Methods to removing burnt food from a pan

Burning food in a pot or pan is a common occurrence for college students just learning how to cook. Sometimes the burnt food comes off easily with a little soaking and scraping. Other times, it seems nothing will work to clean the pan.

If you want to make your pans look a little less charred, there are a few different methods you can try. It’s best to work your way through the methods, as they gradually increase in cleaning intensity.  


The first, most obvious option, is to try soaking your pot or pan in warm water for a couple hours. It’s easy to simply fill your pan and forget about. Try not to do this because too long of a soak will cause the water to become cold and make scrubbing more difficult.

Baking soda and vinegar

The next method to try involves two simple household ingredients: baking soda and vinegar. This option is nice because you probably don’t need to go buy any fancy cleaning supplies.

Dump a cup or so of baking soda onto the burnt part of your pan. Drizzle vinegar over the top and watch the miniature volcanic explosions. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes or perhaps a couple hours.

Another option is to fill the sink with warm, soapy water, and then add baking soda and vinegar to it. Leave it to sit for 30 minutes and then scrub. This option might not work as well because it works less directly on the gunk. It also renders your sink unusable for a little while.

Dryer sheets

If your pan still won’t come clean, you will have to resort to some more creative methods. Lyndsay Burginger, from Wide Open Eats, recommends using dryer sheets to remove the burnt gunk from your pans.

Following Burginger’s instructions, fill the pan with warm water and place two dryer sheets in the water. About two to three hours later, throw away the dryer sheets and drain the water. Hopefully, the grime will be looser and can be removed with some scrubbing with a heavy-duty sponge.

Brute force

At some point, you will have to plan your pan-cleaning project as part of your daily workout. Some burnt pan problems simply require a lot of muscle to scrub and scrape off all the food.

Ask a compassionate friend or roommate to help you out with this. That way you can take turns scrubbing and give your arms a break.

Oven self-cleaning

The last resort you can try is switching on your oven’s self-cleaning function with your pan inside. Burginger also recommends this method to burn the gunk off at maximum temperatures for three hours. The self-clean feature usually heats up your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Her instructions included two caveats: Make sure that you have “commercial-grade aluminum sheet pans” and that your oven doesn’t “require you to remove the racks before performing the cleaning cycle.”

While this method is highly effective, your pan will likely emerge with some permanent scars and might even change colors. For example, a silver pan may become bronze.

Don’t try this method unless none of the other options have worked and you have become extremely desperate.

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