Food Safety

How to Soothe a Kitchen Burn, STAT

Burn yourself? Here's what to do.

November  9, 2018
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Two Thanksgivings ago, I was whirling around our family kitchen, keeping an eye on the sweet potato casserole, stirring the cranberry sauce, and anxiously watching my dad give taste after taste of turkey to my sister. As I absentmindedly bent down to take the rolls out of the oven, I grazed my wrist on the rack and very nearly dropped the entire sheet pan as tears started flowing.

For anyone who has felt the splatter of hot oil or the sting of bubbling sauce, I don’t need to tell you how much a kitchen burn hurts. And for the lucky ones who haven’t, listen up. I spoke to Heather Van Horn, avid home cook and executive chef at the Mayo Clinic in LaCross, Wisconsin about ways to avoid getting scorched in the kitchen (and what to do if it happens anyway). Here’s what she had to say:

Know your enemy.

There are three different types of burns:

  • First-degree burns are the most mild, but can cause pain and reddening of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.
  • Second-degree burns affect the epidermis and the lower layer of skin, causing pain, redness, swelling, and blistering.
  • Third-degree burns are major enough to affect deeper tissues. They result in white or blackened, charred skin that may be numb.

You’re most likely to encounter first- and second-degree burns in the kitchen. There are the obvious culprits: hot ovens, handles, spilled coffee. But also watch out for steam. “Many times people will open the lid on a pot, pour potatoes or pasta into a strainer, and burn their face or arms or hands,” Van Horn said. “You could even burn yourself by opening steamed packages from the microwave.”

Prepare yourself.

To avoid steam burns, Van Horn recommends opening lids angled so that the steam escapes away from your face. You can also protect your arms and hands with oven mitts or rubber gloves, or wear fitted long sleeves to shield against hot splatters. "Wearing layers is important,” Van Horn said. "Even if you’re wearing an apron, if you spill grease on it, you can immediately take it off yourself or move it away from your body.”

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“For smallish and mild burns lavendar oil is a miracle for the pain and for quick healing. I’ve been using it since I was a kid and it’s never failed. ”
— Christina

Van Horn also suggests keeping a first-aid kit with burn ointment handy. "It’s something that keeps for a long time, so go ahead and buy it now. I keep mine in that miscellaneous junk drawer everyone has in their kitchen."

Here's What to Do If You Get Burned.

For major burns, like third-degree burns or burns larger than 3 inches (8 centimeters), call 911. While you wait for help, elevate the burn and cover the area with a cool, moist bandage or a clean cloth. Don't immerse large severe burns in water, which could cause hypothermia.

For minor burns, the Mayo Clinic recommends taking the following steps:

  • Cool the burn. Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water or apply a cool, wet compress until the pain eases.
  • Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area. Try to do this quickly and gently, before the area swells.
  • Don't break blisters. Fluid-filled blisters protect against infection. If a blister breaks, clean the area with water (mild soap is optional).
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment. But if a rash appears, stop using the ointment.
  • Apply lotion. Once a burn is completely cooled, apply a lotion, such as one that contains aloe vera or a moisturizer. This helps prevent drying and provides relief.
  • Bandage the burn. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage (not fluffy cotton, which will stick to the wound)). Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin. Bandaging keeps air off the area, reduces pain, and protects blistered skin.

What are your best ways for avoiding burns in the kitchen? Share tips in the comments section below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Todd
  • linda
  • Lucy
  • Christina
  • Vicky Denn
    Vicky Denn
Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


Todd February 4, 2023
Yellow mustard, slathered directly on the burn and reapplied when pain returns. I grabbed a 425 degree skillet handle and had zero blistering. Thanks, Mom!
linda January 5, 2019
Before going to the hospital with a third degree burn on my hand, I put my hand under water that was lukewarm, but NOT cold and I did NOT use an ice pack, as I erroneously learned to do decades ago in a first aid class. Current research indicates that you protect your cells from further damage by NOT using ice and not using home remedies like oils. The doc did a skin graft. I used aquaphor ointment--a non-scented air-impermeable, inexpensive, clear ointment--afterwards and you cannot tell that it ever happened.
Lucy December 29, 2018
This morning I have seen so many great articles on 52, but the images are just too small for sharing with pinterest, please fix this issue I am sure you will Start seeing sharing when there are larger images to share! ✨🔆❗📌📌
Christina November 16, 2018
For smallish and mild burns lavendar oil is a miracle for the pain and for quick healing. I’ve been using it since I was a kid and it’s never failed.
Caroline M. December 12, 2018
Yes! Lavender every time, for me. I hold the place under running cold water for as long as I can, first, then dry it and put neat lavender essential oil straight onto it. Reapply as necessary. It’s magical, and I would never be without it (it’s very good on mossie/midgie bites, too, takes the itch right away).
Vicky D. November 15, 2018
I read about applying cold milk for burns. I've been using it for years and works every time. If it's a finger burn I submerge the finger in cold milk for 20 min. Or if the burn can't be submerged I soak a sterile bandage in the milk and apply for 20 min. I wouldn't use anything else!
Angela R. November 12, 2018
I cured a sugar burn one Christmas by taking the advice of my sorority sister and using cold yellow mustard right on the burn. The burn was on the fleshy part of the palm under my thumb. As the mustard started to harden, I kept reapplying cold mustard until the burn didn't hurt anymore. No blister, no scar. Made me a believer!
siri November 12, 2018
I once burned the palms of both my hands as I removed a large oven tray with pizza on it from my oven using folded dishtowels that were not 100% dry. The wet dishtowels conducted the heat immediately, and my palms were so painful. I made a plaster from bicarb and some water (as I had no burn gel in the house) and wrapped them in damp towels for a few hours. By the next morning, there was no sting left in the burns, I never blistered and there were no scars. I don't know what that magic was, but it worked like a charm. Now I keep a burn gel out on the counter, just to be on the safe side...
soupcon November 11, 2018
The Mayo clinic should be up to date but..... The best dressing available for burns can be found in your local drugstore. Any dressing with hydrogel (gelled water) in it is the best treatment. Hydrogels are routinely used in hospitals for dressing small open wounds. For burn dressings they exclude the air and keep the surface moist which means no pain and fast healing. I keep them in my first aid kit and use them as necessary. For large burns head to your nearest hospital.
Jennifer November 11, 2018
I picked up a pan with a hot handle that had been moving back and forth from stovetop to oven forgetting the oven mitt. We put on wet black tea bags and wrapped it. The next day I was planning on going to the urgent care. When we unwrapped it you could not even tell anything had happened.
Jennifer November 12, 2018
Yes my husband looked it up on google and found it. He put cold black tea bags and wrapped it in an old tee shirt. It hurt but no more than anything else would and it worked so well we do it for sunburns too.
M November 10, 2018
Running water is good for the immediate soothing, but if it's a bad burn, it'll hurt the minute the water stops. So, I usually keep burns cool for as long as possible - a bag/glass of ice against burn for an hour or two. Then, cover in the blue lidocaine gel you can buy for sunburns.
bellw67 November 10, 2018
I have only burned myself twice in 47 years. Once when I was removing a dish from the oven with mitts on, I touched the top of both arms to the top of the oven. Hurt like the dickens, didn't drop the dish and was a mild burn. Second time I grabbed the knob on the lid of my cast iron casserole with my bare hand (don't ask). I did drop the lid, but back on to the pot. Ran my hand under cold water and then a bit of aloe vera. I am super careful now and if there is something really heavy, I get hubs to lift it out.
Rachel November 9, 2018
If you have a chemical burn (eg from cutting up jalapeños or other hot peppers), don’t bother with rinsing in water, instead soak the burn in liquid Mylanta.
Rachel November 13, 2018
I burned my hands horribly when cutting up several pounds of jalapeños without gloves. It was to the point that I was ready to go to the ER. But I called the CDC’s poison control hotline first. They saved my hands and a trip to the ER. Highly recommend keeping liquid Maalox around for this purpose.
Rachel November 14, 2018
Sorry I said Maalox above. I meant Mylanta.
Smaug November 9, 2018
Cold water (or cold vodka) is better, but in a pinch, your ear lobe can absorb a surprising amount of heat- grab a lobe for small finger burns, at least until you can get to a sink.