How I Got the Cooked-On Gunk Off an Enamel Pan

February  2, 2016

If you also shared two frying pans with upwards of 50 coworkers, perhaps you wouldn't be completely surprised that one of those pans would end up like this:


This robin's egg blue enameled skillet lives in our staff kitchen, where we all make our coffee and lunches. This poor guy had seen a few too many overzealous fried eggs and grilled cheeses, and was showing some wear—to say the least. (To say the most, it was one of the rougher looking pans I'd seen in a while.) But the issues—the dark grease stains, a weird film—didn't necessarily signify that the pan was dirty. On a baking sheet, you'd call this "patina." But on an enamel (or stainless steel) pot or pan, you'd call it gunk.

I decided to put a few of our community's tips to work in order to get this pan back in shape and see which ideas worked best. Here's how it went:

1. Elbow grease

Yep. Just elbow grease—plus the nubby side of a sponge, some dish soap, and hot water—started to bring the pan back from the brink. A strange, whitish film (possibly an egg white's footprint?) came off after a bit of vigorous scrubbing in a circular motion.

Left, pre-scrub. Right, post-scrub.

2. Baking soda-water paste

No newcomer to the altar of baking-soda-fixes-everything, I next tried a paste of equal parts baking soda and water. More circular scrubbing with the rough side of a sponge ensued, and with avail: It significantly decreased the amount of cooked-on oil stains on the pan.

A solution of baking soda and water went on with a sponge.

At this point, I'd gotten pretty far using just upper arm strength and a little assistance (by way of dish soap and baking soda): The pan only had a smattering of dark, cooked-on stains around the edges, and was worlds more serviceable than the pan I'd started out with. If you're really committed to sticking to all-natural methods, this is where to stop and embrace the new "patterns" on the pan's surface.

Left, a much cleaner pan post-baking soda paste! Right, the fewer stubborn hangers-on.

But just in case, I took it for a few soaks:

3. Hot water-baking soda soak

Next, I sprinkled on enough baking soda to lightly coat the inside of the pan (as though flouring a pan, but slightly more), poured boiling water over it, and waited two hours. This didn't do much of anything.

4. Hot water-dish soap soak

In an attempt to reach the remaining stains, which were cooked on stains all around the rim of the pan, I placed it in a long, low plastic bin (a 9- x 13-inch roasting pan would have worked well, too). Then I rubbed a layer of dish soap on the offending areas of the pan and filled the whole bin with very hot water. This, unfortunately, didn't do much of anything either.

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Alas, having stuck until now to the most natural possible strategies, it was time to call in chemical support to get the job done.

Ta-da! A beautiful thing.

5. The big guns (a.k.a. Bar Keeper's Friend)

If you're committed to getting your pan sparkly and completely stain-free, Bar Keeper's Friend—a gentle, powdered "cleaning polish"—is the way to go. It's what I used to get the remaining gunk off: I sprinkled it liberally onto the wet pan and then used an old sponge to scrub the powder around the pan. It did require a fair amount of scrubbing effort, but the result? Spotless at last.

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Top Comment:
“My guess is that the abrasive compounds in Barkeeper's Friend (and elbow grease) did most of the cleaning work in Caroline's task, not the oxalic acid. Note that if you use Comet or Ajax on stainless steel, you will get clean results, but dull looking metal. It is the oxalic acid that brings back the shine when you use a cleaner like Barkeeper's Friend.”
— 702551

What's your best tip for cleaning enamel pots and pans? Share them in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Joan S. August 4, 2018
I use this method on my oven and it works almost perfectly there too!
ariane B. January 2, 2017
finally someone who provides a method aside from baking soda. off to buy bar keepers friend now.
zoemetro U. April 16, 2016
I pour in vinegar and baking soda and then leave it on a low heat until it wipes right off--no elbow grease required. It works wonders on cooked cheese goo too.
Ricki F. February 6, 2016
I soak dryer sheets and a little dawn in the pan overnight. Works every time
zingyginger February 5, 2016
The least abrasive method I found (and still ok on Le Creuset pans) was actually posted here on Food52 earlier by Sam 1148. The stuff mostly lifts off and just need a little elbow grease after to get whatever is left. If the burned stuff is thick, I just repeat the process a few times. "Add about 1/2 inch of Hydrogen Peroxide to the pot. Add about 1-2 tsp of baking soda.
Heat until it starts to bubble up. It needs the heat to start the reaction. Simmer about 10 mins..and brush with a green scrub brush. Repeat as needed.
It gets into the bond of the carbon and lifts it of the pan. It will bubble and stink, so turn on your vent. But it won't harm the enamel.

I've tried all the above for high sugar crusts/carbon burned on stuff. This is the ONLY thing that works 100 percent of the time without scratching your pan."
Mark X. February 4, 2016
This method works best:
Patricia C. February 3, 2016
My go to method for this sort of thing is to pour liquid dish soap in the pan, enough to form a good thick coat over all the gunk. From there turn your stove burner on high, set the pan on the heat and with a nylon flat spatula rub gunk as the soap foams and bubbles until it all comes loose, then rinse. Easy.
Jim February 3, 2016
baking soda and water worked for me. Just boil for a bit and then scrub.
BAE February 3, 2016
What about Bon Ami? Isn't that pretty "green," and not harmful to pots and pans regardless of composition?
702551 February 3, 2016
Rather than use Barkeeper's Friend, you can use a simple bleach-based cleaner like Comet or Ajax.

The primary active ingredient of Barkeeper's Friend is oxalic acid which is particularly good with rust. If you are cleaning stainless steel, yes, this is the stuff you want.

That's not the problem with scorched food stains on enameled cookware. My guess is that the abrasive compounds in Barkeeper's Friend (and elbow grease) did most of the cleaning work in Caroline's task, not the oxalic acid.

Note that if you use Comet or Ajax on stainless steel, you will get clean results, but dull looking metal. It is the oxalic acid that brings back the shine when you use a cleaner like Barkeeper's Friend.
claire M. February 2, 2016
I just scored my stovetop with baking soda/water paste. That stuff is magic. I ran out of elbow grease about an hour and a half into the project. Now the stove looks almost perfect, but there's that darn essay to write! I checked and it didn't write itself while I was scrubbing....:/
tjo759098 February 2, 2016
I had great results cleaning a roasting pan with a loose paste of vinegar & cream of tartar.
Bryan February 2, 2016
i just put water in the pan and boil then clean the pan while it's hot.
Susan B. February 2, 2016
My mother recently shared with me the trick to use a little ammonia on tough baked-on gunk. It stunk like crazy but it worked! I put it in with a little water and let it sit overnight and the dish easily came clean in the morning.
Carmen L. February 2, 2016
Olivia B. February 2, 2016
Our pan thanks you, Caro.
Lindsay-Jean H. February 2, 2016
I needed this! Thank you!
Smaug February 2, 2016
I don't know that I'd describe Barkeeper's Friend as "gentle"- the principle ingredient, oxalic acid, is a powerful chemical and is also (although present in spinach and some greens) quite poisonous. To get any real action from baking soda, you need to boil a strong solution in the pan; if it's working, you will see small bubbles forming under the edge of the burned on gunk.
ChefJune February 2, 2016
For decades I've sworn by Shaklee Products' paste called Scour Off. It's totally organic and biodegradable (and has always been when there was nothing else that was). There is virtually nothing it doesn't clean (including a very dirty oven) with very little elbow grease. If you want some, I can get it for you... ;)
caninechef March 10, 2017
I am not familiar with what criteria if any exist for calling a cleaning product "organic" but I certainly doubt it meets the one defined Organic definition in the USA, the FDA's NOP program. What on-line claims I see call it "all natural" which in the US is in the eyes of the beholder, you can label anything you want natural. I tried searching for ingredient information but it appears to be unavailable.
Hemz7781 February 2, 2016
Le Creuset also makes its own cleaner that works beautifully for its pots