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How to clean a burnt pan: The best cleaning tips and products

Kate Hilpern
31 May 2018
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Don't let those burnt pans get the better of you, with these top tips for cleaning them...

Burning a pan is infuriating. Not only is your food ruined, you’re looking at a tiresome, time-consuming clean-up job.

The good news is, with the right products and the right techniques, bringing your pan back to life can be a lot easier than you thought. Read on to find out how to restore your pan to its former glory – with little or no scrubbing.

What’s the best way to clean a burnt pan?

First, allow the pan to cool. Then fill it with water, along with a dishwasher tablet and a tablespoon of biological washing powder (this contains enzymes designed to remove food stains). Bring the whole concoction to the boil, simmering for around 10 minutes on the hob. The burnt-on grime should melt away – though for really bad burns you might need to repeat the process more than once.

Is there a way to do it without chemicals?

There certainly is: let the pan cool and pour in a small amount of water, along with one cup of white vinegar. Bring the pan to the boil on the hob, then remove it from the heat and add two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda. Once the mixture has fizzed up, empty the pan and scrub away the burnt bits, using a little extra bicarbonate if needed. For particularly stubborn marks, mix bicarbonate of soda with a tiny bit of water to make a paste, paint it onto the burnt areas and leave it for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing.

I’ve heard that Coca-Cola can be used to clean a burnt pan – is it true?

Yes, but you’ll need patience. Fill the pan with Coca-Cola and leave it to sit for several hours, then use a wire brush or scraper to remove the food (don’t do this on a non-stick pan, obviously) and finish off with a plastic scrubber. This isn’t as effective as the above methods, but it still beats washing-up liquid and elbow-grease.

What about fabric softener?

Again, yes but it takes a while. Bring some water to the boil in the pan, then add a fabric softener sheet or a tablespoon of liquid fabric conditioner and leave it to soak for several hours – or, ideally, overnight. Afterwards, you’ll find the burnt food washes away quite easily.

Can I use lemon juice?

This works too, in a similar way to fabric softener. Simply cover the bottom of your pan with lemon juice, and leave it overnight. In the morning, the burnt food should simply scrub off.

What about salt?

The salt method is one of the quicker ways to revitalise a burnt pan. Fill your pan with warm water, then add three tablespoons of salt. Stir and let it soak before boiling the water for around 15 minutes. Leave it to cool, then add another couple of tablespoons of salt before scrubbing away any remaining burnt bits that haven’t already lifted.

Could these cleaning methods damage my non-stick pans?

The methods we’ve described should be safe for non-stick kitchenware - but never use an abrasive brush or cloth to finish the job with this type of pan. Note too, that some shop-bought cleaning agents aren’t suitable for non-stick and Teflon pans, so always double check.

What about burnt roasting tins or casserole dishes?

Again, you can use the same methods, provided the pots, pans or tins are hob-safe.

What types of pans should I buy to prevent burning in future?

The heavier the bottom and sides of your pan, the better – so cast iron pans are one of the most burn-proof. Failing that, aluminium pans, which usually have an enamel coating on the outside and a non-stick interior, are durable, as well as being easy to clean.

If you’re happy to spend a bit more, consider hard-anodised aluminium pans, which are electrochemically treated to give a hard finish that’s resistant to chipping or peeling.

Stainless steel pans are a double-edged sword when it comes to burning food. They can suffer from hot spots, where food gets all too easily burnt onto the sides – although copper or aluminium layers sandwiched between the stainless steel layers can help. However, you can use most cleaning agents on them, and they come up as good as new when cleaned.

READ NEXT: Best knife sharpener to buy

The best products for cleaning burnt pans

Carbon Off: Best spray for burnt pans

Price: £19 | Buy now from Amazon

Be warned: this highly caustic spray will burn your skin within seconds, so be absolutely sure to follow the instructions, take particular care to spray it from the correct distance, and certainly don’t inhale it. After a short wait (up to half an hour) the burnt food can usually be easily scrubbed off; if not then have a go with a wire brush – assuming it’s not a non-stick pan – and repeat the spraying process. It’s pricey, but you don’t need to use much of it and it works on all metal surfaces, from frying pans to roasting tins, woks and barbecue grills.

Astonish Pro Grease Lifter Tablets: Best tablets for burnt pans

Price: £5.22 | Buy now from Amazon

It’s definitely worth keeping a pack of these in your kitchen cupboard – they’ll effortlessly get your pans looking shiny and new again in the event of a mishap. We found the tablets started lifting the burnt food almost as soon as we dropped them in to soak; after we’d waited the suggested 20 minutes we found no scrubbing was needed, even on stubborn areas. They might not work quite so well on every type of burnt-on grime, but we’re very impressed.

Astonish Dish and Pan Cleaner and Sponge: Best pan cleaner with sponge

Price: £3.49 | Buy now from Lakeland

This cleaning set includes not only a powerful cleaning agent, but a dual-textured sponge too, so you have everything you need to deal with unfortunate burns. Made for use on steel, copper, enamel and glazed pans, the formula is great for making old pans with entrenched burns come up as good as new, and it’s also fine to use if you have a septic tank (which isn’t the case with some other cleaning products). Just don’t use it on non-stick pans, as it’s liable to damage the coating.

Buy now from Lakeland

Le Creuset Toughened Non-stick 3 Piece Saucepan Set: Best burn-resistant saucepan set

Price: £325 | Buy now from Le Creuset

If you really hate scrubbing off stuck-on burnt remains, the answer is to invest in pans that food won’t stick to. We found these high-quality pans highly resistant to burning, and a doddle to clean. The reinforced surface is exceptionally tough and durable, and heat is evenly distributed both across the bottom and up the sides so there are no hotspots lurking. The surface is specifically designed to allow for quick food release, so food won’t get caked on as it can with other pans. Yes, the set costs a bomb, but these pans are non-stick, suitable for all hobs including induction, and dishwasher-friendly. They even come with a lifetime guarantee, so they’re a real investment.

Buy now from Le Creuset

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