Save a Burned Pot

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About: Slovenian-American math and physics student at the University of Ljubljana. I share my projects in the hope they will help you as much as they have helped me. I enjoy DIY projects, cooking, fitness, computer...

This technique should restore even badly burned pots and pans. It has twice saved me from throwing out pots and pans I thought were past the point of rescue; hopefully it can help you too.

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Step 1: Supplies

You will need:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Bar Keepers Friend (or a similar scouring powder)
  • A scouring sponge or metal scouring pad
  • A badly burned pot or pan

Step 2: Boil Vinegar

Simply pour enough vinegar into the pot to cover all burned material, bring to a boil, and boil for a minute or two. Turn the heat off and let cool. I believe it is boiling the vinegar that makes the difference in this method and helps remove the really badly burned material.

Step 3: Overnight Baking Soda Soak

Once the vinegar has cooled somewhat, carefully pour in a few tablespoons of baking soda a little at a time. The chemical reactions between the vinegar and baking soda cause the liquid to foam upwards. If you pour a little baking soda in at a time, you will be fine, but too much and you will get an overflow.

After about 10 minutes, the mixture will have calmed down and look something like the second picture. Let sit in this state overnight or for 8 hours or so.

Step 4: Remove Burned Bits

Once the pot has soaked for a while, manually pry or scrape off any burned bits; I just use my fingers and fingernails. The first picture shows the first few chunks of burned material off, and the second picture shows what I was able to get off before scrubbing.

The goal is to free the bottom surface for scrubbing; you should be scrubbing metal, not burned material, that is why we have to pry the burned food off.

Step 5: Bar Keepers Friend Scrub

Scrub with Bar Keepers Friend or a similar abrasive agent using steel wool or a sponge.

The second picture shows the result after a few minutes of scrubbing; notice there are still a few spots left over.

The third picture shows the result after detail cleaning the tough spots for another minute or two. The pot looks good as new!

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    17 Discussions

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    jeanniel1

    4 weeks ago

    Gosh, wish I'd known about this when my daughter did her Science Faire experiment on Carmelization. We sacrificed a pot to burn the sugar all the way till it was black. It was suggested that the pot be immediately filled with COLD water, but we didn't do that, and the resulting black tar enameled the pot! We tried baking soda soak, but it didn't do much. We ended up tossing it out. LOL! This tip would have been really good to know.

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    txnmama

    4 weeks ago

    Any ideas for getting cooked on (sometimes burnt!) eggs off of stainless steel? I have such a hard time scrubbing it off! I am sure there has to be an easier, more effective way!

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    yebodave

    Tip 5 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing ejmastnak. Similar to bspark1000 (see below), only for non-aluminium pots, I use Lye (aka caustic soda), but in addition I use a small amount of H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). I only use this on my burnt stainless steel pots.
    I put a teaspoon of lye pellets into the pot and add some water, let it get to simmer heat and then add a half teaspoon of 50% hydrogen peroxide (any strength peroxide will do, but more concentrated the less you need ...). Foaming will happen as peroxide reacts with the carbonaceous material . Only add the peroxide in small increments or one runs the risk of the foam overflowing the pot. When foam formation slows down one can add a small amount more. Repeat as necessary, until all the burnt material is loosened. Usually I can clean a badly burnt pot in about 15 minutes (and regular burned pots in 5 minutes ...). If there is a lot of burned food residue in the pot, a second, repeat of the procedure with fresh water and lye, and peroxide can be done. A final scrub with a stainless scourer will remove any small residual bunt bits which had not loosened with the treatment.
    CAUTIONS
    1. Never do this with aluminium pots, the lye will rapidly corrode the aluminium, and produce lots of hydrogen in the process.
    2. Preferably wear safety googles, and clothing that covers the skin well, because, Lye solution can cause severe corrosion to your skin and flesh, and also if it gets in your eyes. So cover up well, and be careful, (I have many ears experience in chemical lab work, so am familiar with these kinds of reactions). But just follow the cautionary notes carefully. If any reactant droplets splash or spill onto you, immediately rinse copiously with water, and then rinse with diluted vinegar (about a teaspoon in a cup of water) to neutralize any residual alkalinity from the lye. Obviously you don't want toddlers, pets wandering around the vicinity.
    3. One can 'neutralize' the alkalis (soda lye) with some weak acid, eg, vinegar, citric, lemon juice etc, roughly equal quantities, before one flushes mixture down the drain with lots of water to dilute it. If you wanted to test the pH, to see if it is properly neutralized, one could use swimming pool test kit, or at a pinch use some red cabbage juice ... google how to do this, ' red cabbage' 'pH indicator' etc ...
    3. Never leave the pot unattended whilst the operation is in process. If for some reason you are interrupted (telephone call, delivery man at the gate etc etc) whilst in the process, remove pot from heat source, and if the 'reaction' (fizzing /foaming) was proceeding vigorously place it in a safe place where no uninformed person will meddle with it..

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    bpark1000

    5 weeks ago on Step 5

    The chemical I would start with is caustic soda (lye). This is the chemical used in oven cleaner. (Do not use lye in aluminum pots. Badly burned aluminum pots are usually not salvageable unless they are thick and you grind off the deposits.) Put concentrated solution in pot and heat slowly to boil (this chemical is hazardous when concentrated, use eye and skin protection). Let cool and soak overnight. Rinse and dilute solution (not hazardous after dilution).
    Another way to clean is to "fight fire with fire". Remove any plastic handles from the pot, and place in a self-cleaning oven (if you have one) and run cycle. Burnt food will be reduced to carbon which will burn off. Do not do this with aluminum pots.

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    leggs1959

    5 weeks ago on Step 3

    I take my cast iron frying pans from the stove when they are hot, and drizzle dish soap in it The soap will bubble up when you add the dish soap and then when you add about an inch of hot water, it will steam up and really bubble. After about a minute I start scrubbing away, and most of the bits if not all of them come right off. If there are bits I sprinkle on the cleanser, add warm water and let it soak over night. By morning its ready for the final scrub.

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    snowf7leggs1959

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    I do the same thing with my cast iron frying pan. After the final rinse, I turn on the largest burner on the stove, set the pan on the burner and pour some oil into the pan. I use enough to form a puddle about the size of a silver dollar. I use a paper towel to wipe the pan with the oil both inside and out. Finally I turn off the burner and let it sit until cool. I have been using the same cast iron pan ever since it was given to me as a shower gift in 1974. I never have a problem with it and nothing sticks.

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    lebear.other

    Tip 5 weeks ago

    If you have Stainless Steal or Cast Iron pots, with that thick burned
    layer inside, then the quickest and simplest way is to fill the pot
    with a strong Caustic Soda solution.


    (pearl caustic is the safest to use)


    CAREFUL using caustic.
    Read all safety instructions first and get the
    right protective gear for yourself.


    Leave stand for a few days, then just rinse out.


    Don't use this method for aluminium or copper pots or you will say
    goodbye to that pot.

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    leslielimpid

    5 weeks ago on Step 5

    Another method - 1) Spray with "Easy Off" oven cleaner and leave for at least 30 min.
    2) Scrub with "SOS" pad removes all but the hardest bits 3) rise with water
    4) scrub with wet 600 or 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper 5) wash with detergent and repeat step 4 if necessary. total time 45 minutes.

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    n4mwdleslielimpid

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    I was going to say the same thing. You forgot the "Put on Rubber gloves" step. That is very important or else it will eat your skin and you might not realize it for several days. Anyhow, Easy Off works really well - especially for carbonized build up. Its also good for cleaning drip pans on electric stoves.

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    Chimonger

    5 weeks ago

    I learned, long ago, that removing as much as can be easily removed from the burning pan, is step 1. Step 2 is, immediately pouring cold water into the very hot pan, enough to cover the burned parts, cover with lid, and let set on hot stove...occasionally, I’ve simmered that for about a minute, turned it off, let set for about 20 minutes. Cold water shocks the burned food off the metal pan, because the burnt food expands/contracts at a different speed than the metal pan, forcing those to separate.
    If that didn’t do it, then use vinegar trick described. The instant foaming caused by baking soda into vinegar, can sometimes help lift the burnt food, once it’s softened by the hot vinegar.
    We keep Bon Ami on hand, for its versatility and, it’s nontoxic. It + elbow grease & a scrubbie, is usually all that’s needed. Have used BonAmi to polish Corian countertop material using a buffer; use it to clean glass stove tops; even use it with toothbrush, to polish teeth as good as dentist. Baking soda can also be used for these things. They dissolve in water, so, to polish, just dampen.
    Last ditch to remove burnt food is use a steel spatula or knife, at as close-angle to surface being scraped, as possible, to push under the edge of the crust to break it free. Close-angle to the surface, to reduce scratches.

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    IamTedV

    5 weeks ago

    What is the point of adding the baking soda to the vinegar? All your doing with that, is neutralizing the acidity of the vinegar. Wouldn’t it be better to just let the pot soak with the vinegar overnight?

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    Cstyle

    5 weeks ago

    The easy way is to remove any non-metallic parts and put it in the oven when you use the oven cleaning setting on your range. After it cools just wipe it off.

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    mole125

    5 weeks ago

    I've found adding a dish washer tablet and bringing to the boil quick and effective. Does sometimes need a second one for more stubborn larger pans but a great simple way to rescue it without lots of scrubbing.

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    thefaceof

    5 weeks ago on Step 5

    Much better than the 80 grit to 600 grit on an orbital sander. Might want to let the Bartenders Friend soak. Will also help the crust to release.

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    jannie.lloyd

    5 weeks ago

    After telling me I can't cook MOH does all the cooking. This week he has burned a pan (watching YouTube) and the kettle (went out and forgot it was on the gas stove).
    I think I'm going to be using this Instructable a lot. Wish I'd known it before :)

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    goldenskyhook

    5 weeks ago

    A properly seasoned cast-iron pan would never reach this burned state, plus scouring and scrubbing like this will completely destroy the seasoning finish. I know some people get downright apoplectic about using detergent on a cast-iron skillet, but I've never had any trouble with that. I think the "no soap" rule dates from back when people used actual soap to wash dishes instead of today's modern dish detergents.

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    Wild-Bill

    5 weeks ago

    Your instructions are simple and it looks like it takes a lot less elbow grease. Next time I put my porridge on more than simmer and go off and post comments on Instructables I will have to give it a try. Good post and simple memorable instructions - Thanks.