Anyone that has cooked anything will have burnt food at some point. It's all too easy to get distracted, leave something to cook for too long and end up with unsightly burnt marks on your best cookware.
Despite this, it is relatively simple to clean stainless steel pans, even if burnt food seems to be stuck forever.
Here, cleaning experts have shared their tried-and-tested cleaning tips for removing burnt food from stainless steel pans for a brilliant shine and even better non-stick.
Cleaning a burnt stainless steel pan
We often reach for a harsh abrasive to help scrub away the food deposit, such as steel wool. But this could be causing more damage, as Laura Avila, a professional cleaner at Cleaning Fan, warns.
‘Abrasive sponges or harsh chemicals can scratch or damage the surface of stainless steel, so it's best to use non-abrasive materials and gentle cleaning methods.’
Laura Avila, the cleaning enthusiast, has years of cleaning experience, and now provides practical tips to her clients on how to maintain a clean and organized home.
1. Baking soda and vinegar
There is a never-ending list of things you can clean with vinegar including stainless steel pans. Using natural food-safe ingredients helps to protect the stainless steel and prevent further damage. Mixing vinegar with baking soda can help to create an effervescent cleaning paste perfect for breaking through tough deposits like burnt food, adds Laura Avila.
‘Apply the paste to the burnt area and let it sit for a few minutes before using a non-abrasive sponge or scrubber to gently scrub the area until the burnt residue lifts off. Rinse the pan with water and dry it thoroughly. Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can help remove burnt food without damaging the stainless steel,’ she explains.
2. Boiling water and baking soda
If the burnt food is relatively fresh on the pan, or the pan is still hot, then using a layer of baking soda and boiling it with water on the stove can help to loosen burnt food – including burnt sugars.
‘First, fill the pan with water and add one teaspoon of baking soda for every quart of water inside. Heat the mixture on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes and let it cool off. Once the pan has cooled, you should see that some of the burnt food has loosened from the sides,’ says Justin Carpenter, owner of Modern Maids in Houston.
‘Next, pour out the baking soda mixture and use a metal spatula or spoon to scrape off any remaining bits of burnt food. Be careful not to scratch the surface of your pan.’
3. Boiling water and dish soap
Often, boiling water and dish soap is enough to help remove burnt food, especially a powerful dish soap such as Dawn Powerwash. ‘Fill the pan with enough water to cover the burnt area, then add a few drops of dish soap. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes,’ suggests Laura Avila, cleaning expert. ‘Turn off the heat and let the pan cool. Use a non-abrasive sponge or scrubber to gently remove the burnt residue, then rinse the pan with water and dry it thoroughly.’
4. Try a stainless steel cleaner
If things are particularly bad, try a cleaner designed specifically for stainless steel. Bobby Griggs, vice president at Heritage Steel Cookware, recommends using a powdered stainless steel cleaner to help freshen up stainless steel that has burnt or scorched.
‘Wet the bottom of the pan before adding a layer of powdered stainless steel cleaner,’ he advises. Be careful to select a cleaner safe for pots as opposed to a product designed for cleaning stainless steel appliances as these may not be food safe.
‘Rub the pan in a circular motion with a soft cloth to work the paste into the burnt areas, lifting them away to leave a beautiful luster and shine. Then wash with dish soap and dry thoroughly,’ says Bobby.
5. Salt and baking soda
Cleaning with baking soda and salt is another great solution for tough burnt food, as it's natural and will not damage the metal.
‘Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and baking soda onto the burnt area. Add a small amount of water to form a paste,’ cleaning expert Laura Avilla suggests. ‘Use a non-abrasive sponge or scrubber to gently scrub the area until the burnt residue lifts off. Rinse the pan with water and dry it thoroughly.’
6. Lemon Juice
Cleaning with lemon juice is often underrated and underutilized around the home. This highly acidic substance is perfect for breaking down grease and burnt food without damaging surfaces or risking food contamination. What’s more, this method works with both fresh lemons and pre-packaged lemon juice you may have at the back of your pantry.
‘Cut a lemon in half and rub the cut side over the burnt areas of the pan. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse with hot water,’ says Jeniffer Smith, professional homemaker and appliance expert at Urban Home Corner.
‘Lemon juice contains citric acid, which is a natural cleaning agent that can help remove stains and discoloration from stainless steel.’
Jeniffer Smith is a homemaker and blogger with Urban Home Corner. A self-taught appliance expert, Jeniffer is now the go-to for organizing appliance queries on the blog, helping clients find affordable solutions to common home problems.
What is the downside to cooking on stainless steel?
A stainless steel pan is not the best for cooking acidic foods as the metal and the acid can react when cooked for a long time, leaving stains on the metal, or even giving your food a slightly metallic taste – especially if your stainless steel pans are of lower quality.
Is a burnt stainless steel pan ruined?
Often, the metal of the stainless steel pan is not burnt, and it is a layer of burnt, stuck on food giving the base of your pan a blackened, uneven texture. With a bit of effort, this burnt layer will often come away leaving your pan as new.
If the metal of the pan has discolored, in cases of severe burns or overuse, then you may start to notice a burnt taste in your food, even if it has been cooked perfectly. At this point, you may need to replace the pan entirely.
Burnt food on the bottom of a stainless steel pan does not mean you have to throw it out. There are some simple, household solutions to lift even the toughest of burnt food away from the pan base and leave the steel gleaming.
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Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.
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