How to Clean a Burnt Stainless Steel Pan – Home Remedies Experts Swear By

Stainless steel pans are valued for their durability, longevity, and ease of cleaning. However, like any pan, stainless steel is still susceptible to scorching, especially if overheated or left unattended for too long. Removing burnt-on food debris from stainless steel can be tedious, but is possible with some tried and true cleaning methods.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore some of the top home remedies and techniques recommended by experts for removing stubborn burnt-on gunk and restoring your stainless steel pan’s original shine.

Why It’s Important to Clean Burnt Pans

Before diving into the cleaning methods, let’s first understand why it’s important to promptly clean any burnt residue in stainless steel pans:

  • Avoids permanent damage: Allowing food burn to linger can permanently discolor or even corrode the stainless steel over time. Cleaning right away prevents permanent aesthetic and functional damage.
  • Removes bacteria: Charred, burnt food leftover can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Regular cleaning kills bacteria that can cause illnesses.
  • Prevents rancid smells: Burnt food stuck on can lead to terrible rancid odors in the pan, even after washing. Cleaning helps remove odors.
  • Saves time later: The longer burnt food residue sits, the harder it becomes to remove. Cleaning right away requires less effort than scrubbing a pan with layers of caked-on burnt food.
  • Improves cooking performance: Burnt-on food prevents even cooking and can affect food flavors. Keeping the pan in good condition improves overall cooking performance.

How to Know If Your Pan Is Burnt

Before cleaning, you’ll need to inspect the pan to assess the extent of burning or charring. Here are some telltale signs your stainless steel pan is burnt:

  • Blackened, charred areas on the pan’s cooking surface
  • Dark brown or black food residue baked onto the pan
  • Stubborn debris that does not wipe or rinse away with regular washing
  • Strong burnt or charred odors coming from the pan, even after washing
  • Permanent discoloration, corrosion, or small pits in the steel
  • Food that now sticks when cooking, indicating loss of the pan’s non-stick surface

Minor burning that coats just small sections may not be visually obvious but can still imbue a stubborn smell. Give the pan a good sniff test – any rancid aroma typically means burnt-on food needs removing.

What Causes Food to Burn in Stainless Steel Pans

Before learning how to clean burnt stainless steel pans, it’s helpful to understand what causes the burning in the first place. Here are some of the most common culprits:

High Heat

The number one cause of burning is cooking over high heat. Stainless steel can withstand high heat but food still burns easily if the pan gets too hot. Oils and fats ignite at lower temperatures than stainless steel.

Pan Too Crowded

Overcrowding the pan causes food to steam and boil rather than sear and caramelize. Food piled on top of each other leads to uneven cooking, resulting in burning on pan contact points.

Forgotten Pan

It’s easy to get caught up in other kitchen tasks and forget pans on the stove. Unattended pans over heat quickly lead to scorched, blackened food.

Sugary Foods

Foods with high sugar or starch content like tomatoes, pasta, and desserts can carbonize and burn onto pans even at moderate temperatures. The sugars caramelize quickly.

Greasy Residue

Oily, fatty, or greasy residues leftover after cooking get baked on at high heats. These form the hardest burnt deposits to remove from stainless steel.

Home Remedies for Removing Burnt-On Food

The good news is stainless steel’s nonporous surface makes burnt food only stuck on top, not soaked in. This allows many DIY cleaning methods to penetrate and dissolve the debris for easier removal.

Here are some of the most effective home remedies for removing burnt, stuck-on food recommended by cleaning experts:

Baking Soda

Baking soda is mildly abrasive and alkaline, allowing it to break down food particles without damaging stainless steel. To use it:

  • Add enough water to baking soda to form a thick paste.
  • Rub the paste onto burnt areas using a sponge or paper towel.
  • Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing away.
  • For tough burns, boil a solution of 2 tbsp baking soda in 2 cups water, then soak the pan for an hour before scrubbing.

White Vinegar

The acetic acid in vinegar can dissolve stubborn burnt-on food residue. Follow these steps:

  • Fill the pan with enough vinegar to submerge burnt areas. For large pans, heat vinegar first.
  • For tough burnt spots, bring the vinegar to a boil in the pan on the stove.
  • Let the pan soak anywhere from 30 minutes up to overnight.
  • Use a sponge or plastic scrubber to gently dislodge the food after soaking.


The grainy texture of salt works to scour food residue when rubbed. Follow these tips:

  • Pour a generous amount of salt onto burnt areas. Kosher or sea salt works best.
  • Squeeze lemon juice or a damp sponge onto the salt to moisten into an abrasive paste.
  • Wearing gloves, use fingers to scrub the paste into stuck food. Rinse and repeat if needed.

Baking Powder

Much like baking soda, baking powder also has a mildly abrasive texture combined with alkaline properties to break up food bonds.

  • Make a thick paste with equal parts baking powder and water.
  • Apply the paste to burnt regions and let sit for 15 minutes.
  • Gently scrub away baked-on food and rinse thoroughly after.

Cream of Tartar

The acidic nature of cream of tartar helps eat away at food particles. Use it with water:

  • In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp cream of tartar with 1 tbsp water until a thick paste forms.
  • Spread the paste onto burnt areas of the pan, coating thoroughly.
  • Let the paste sit for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing.

Dish Soap

For mild scorching, a good grease-fighting dish soap can help lift burnt-on food residue.

  • Generously coat burnt areas with dish soap. Let sit for a few minutes.
  • Use a sponge or plastic scrubber to gently hand wash stuck bits under running water.
  • For heavier burning, sprinkle some baking soda onto the dish soap as an abrasive scrub.

Hydrogen Peroxide

The bubbling reaction of hydrogen peroxide breaks up organic matter like burnt food. Follow these steps:

  • Pour about 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide directly onto any burnt pan areas. Watch it bubble.
  • Let the peroxide sit for 5 minutes before wiping and rinsing away.
  • For heavier burning, scrub with a nylon brush after the peroxide stops bubbling.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

These melamine foam blocks act as a gentle abrasive without scratching stainless steel.

  • Run the eraser under water and wring out excess moisture.
  • Rub the damp eraser over any burnt marks using medium pressure.
  • Rinse thoroughly after scrubbing away debris.


Oven Cleaner Spray

  • Spray burnt areas thoroughly and let sit 5-10 minutes.
  • Wipe softened food away with a damp sponge or paper towel.
  • Rinse pan thoroughly after use.

Club Soda

  • Pour club soda directly onto burnt spots.
  • Let bubble for a few minutes before scrubbing away.


  • Make a thick paste with borax and water.
  • Apply to burnt areas, let sit 30 minutes.
  • Rinse and scrub away loosened food particles after soaking.

Dryer Sheets

  • Place 2-3 crumpled dryer sheets onto burnt food residue.
  • Fill pan with water until sheets are submerged.
  • After 30 minutes to an hour of soaking, scrub debris away.

Dishwasher Powder/Tabs

  • Dissolve powder or tabs in hot water in pan.
  • Let soak for at least 1 hour before scrubbing.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Cleaning Burnt Pans

Once you’ve selected a home remedy cleaner, follow these steps for thoroughly removing stuck-on burnt food:

1. Allow the Pan to Cool

If possible, allow the pan to cool completely after burning before attempting to clean. Hot pans can cause cleaners to evaporate before working. Cooler temps also prevent burns.

2. Soft Scrape

Use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently scrape and dislodge any chunks of food that may come loose after cooling and before applying cleaners. This prep work saves effort later.

3. Apply Cleaner

Coat burnt regions evenly and thoroughly with your chosen DIY cleaner according to recipe directions. For soaking methods, ensure burnt areas are fully submerged.

4. Let Cleaner Soak

Allow adequate time for the cleaner to work at dissolving the stubborn burnt-on food bonds. For pastes and soaking solutions, anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight.

5. Scrub Away Debris

Use gentle scrubbing motions with a sponge, plastic scraper, or melamine cleaning pad to slough off dissolved food residues. Avoid abrasive scrubbers that could scratch stainless steel.

6. Rinse Pan

Rinse the pan thoroughly with clean water to remove all traces of cleaning solutions or debris. It may take several rinses to remove lingering odors.

7. Dry the Pan

Important to fully dry stainless steel pans after cleaning to prevent water spots. Dry immediately with a towel or let air dry.

8. Repeat if Needed

Check if burnt areas need additional cleaning rounds. Repeated applications or overnight soaking often helps finish the job.

Tips for Preventing Burnt-On Food

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of scrubbing when it comes to burnt stainless steel pans. Here are some pro tips for preventing scorched-on messes in the first place:

  • Don’t leave pans unattended over heat. Set timers to remind yourself.
  • Avoid cooking over high heat unless necessary. Medium heat prevents rapid burning.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook in smaller batches for even heating.
  • Use oils or cooking sprays to create a barrier between food and the pan’s surface.
  • Immediately soak or rinse pans after cooking to loosen residue before it dries out and sticks.
  • Deglaze the pan while hot after cooking by pouring in wine, broth, vinegar or water to loosen fond.
  • Adjust heat to lower temps when simmering sugary foods like sauces, jams, or caramelizing.
  • Soak or scrub pans fully after cooking oily foods like bacon or greasy meats. Don’t let oil bake on.
  • Be extra vigilant when multitasking in the kitchen to prevent burning pans that are on the stove.

Can Burnt Pans Be Restored with Professional Cleaning?

For the most stubborn burnt-on messes that resist home cleaning methods, professional cleaning services may be able to restore the pan’s original appearance.

Specialty stainless steel cleaners used by professionals can dissolve even carbonized, blackened food debris with aggressive foaming chemicals and pressure washing tools.

However, badly burnt pans may sustain permanent corrosion or pitting damage, especially if left uncleaned for long periods allowing rust formation underneath burnt food. Damaged pans may never fully recover their original surface appearance.

To avoid permanent damage, bring severely burnt pans to professional cleaners as soon as possible before corrosion has time to occur underneath. While pros can’t fix permanent pitting, their techniques can often remove even the toughest burnt food residue.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning Burnt Stainless Steel Pans

How do you clean burnt food off a stainless steel pan?

Soaking burnt pans in vinegar or a baking soda paste are two of the most effective home remedies. For tough burns, boiling a vinegar and water solution or scrubbing with baking soda are good techniques.

What removes burnt grease from stainless steel?

Baking soda, vinegar, dish soap, and oven cleaner sprays all help cut through greasy, fatty burnt food residue on stainless steel. Soaking allows cleaners time to penetrate and dissolve the grease.

How do you get burnt cheese off stainless steel?

Soften cheese by soaking the pan in hot soapy water or boiling vinegar and water first. Then use a plastic scraper to gently lift softened cheese off before scrubbing away any remaining sticks bits.

How do you get burnt rice off of stainless steel?

For burnt rice, make a paste from baking soda and water. Apply to burnt areas and let sit for 15 minutes before scrubbing and rinsing. Boiling vinegar and water also helps lift dried, stuck rice grains.

How do you clean burnt milk from stainless steel?

First, remove any excess chunks of dried milk by soft scraping. Then make a thick baking soda and water paste and apply to burnt areas. Let sit overnight before scrubbing to dissolve stubborn baked-on milk residue.

How do you clean burnt tomato sauce from stainless steel?

Tomato sauce contains sugar that caramelizes and sticks quickly. Boil water and vinegar to soften, then use a plastic scrubber and baking soda paste to remove residue. Repeat boiling and scrubbing for tough burns.

What removes burnt food from stainless steel pots and pans?

Baking soda, vinegar, oven cleaner spray, dish soap pads, and hydrogen peroxide all help lift burnt food particles from stainless steel pots and pans. Soaking pastes or solutions works best for stuck, stubborn residue.

How do you clean burnt iron from stainless steel?

Iron can transfer from pans and leave burnt-looking gray marks on stainless steel. Use a stainless steel cleaner polish to remove iron stains. For tough marks, scrub with baking soda paste using a non-abrasive sponge.


Nobody enjoys scrubbing away burnt, stuck-on food residue in stainless steel pans. But with some tried and true home cleaning remedies, you can banish burnt messes and restore your pans’ pristine cooking surface.

The key is addressing any burnt pans right away before food bonds become impossible to lift. A good scouring with baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or other home solutions will have your pans looking brand new again in no time.

Just remember to take preventive steps like using oil, avoiding high heat, and promptly cleaning pans after cooking to minimize the chance of scorching in the future.

With a few of these cleaning tips in your arsenal along with some pan care best practices, you’ll keep your stainless steel cookware sparkling clean for many meals to come.