This Laundry Staple Is the Key to Cleaning a Burnt Pan

Those pans aren’t ruined—they’re one secret ingredient away from being perfect again.

May 28, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Have you ever burnt something on the stove so thoroughly that it more or less fused with the pan you were cooking in?

I have—more than once. In fact, I once spent an entire year of my early 20s cleaning the charred remains of homemade chicken soup from the bottom of my roommate’s soup pot. I was heating up leftovers, and my roommate was nice enough not to make me feel worse than I already did. But still!

I immediately started a long, arduous process of scrubbing and soaking (as I said, a full year of it). After 365 guilt-ridden days, I did eventually return the pot in pristine condition, but suffice it to say that my story should serve as a warning for what not to do.

Indeed, by the time I stumbled upon what I should have done, I was living in an entirely new apartment with new roommates, and a newly scorched pan. This time, it was crab dip (I think), and I wasn’t the culprit, just someone older and wiser, who had seen a few things. This time, I had the wisdom to say, “There’s no way we’re going through this again,” and took it upon myself to find a better cleaning method.

Thankfully, it exists—and it’s cheap, easy to use, and most likely already in your laundry room: a dryer sheet.

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Top Comment:
“New? "Burnt" has been around a loooong time. It's the past participle of "burn." "Burned" is also acceptable.”
— tia

Seriously. And all you have to do is put a single dryer sheet (or fabric softener sheet, if you prefer to call them that) in the bottom of your seemingly ruined pot or pan, add enough warm water to cover the charred bits, and let it soak. Depending on the level of destruction, you can go for as little as 15 to 20 minutes, or let it hang out overnight, but by the time you return, you’ll be able to sponge that scorched mess right off!

It feels like an absolute miracle—because it is. But, according to lifestyle reporter Anna De Souza, it’s also “likely the conditioning properties of the dryer sheet” that do the trick. And it’s not an exact science either: Feel free to use a second sheet if you’re dealing with an extreme case, and use hot water if you prefer. All I know is, it works.

Once you’ve gotten rid of the burnt remains of a would-be meal, wash your pot or pan with soap and water as you normally would, and be glad that you learned this information without sacrificing a year of your life. If only I had then what I do now: the guidance of a Food52 community that had this very wisdom to share with me.

In fact, upon further research, the first time someone ( a commenter also named Karen) recommended this dryer sheet hack on Food52 was in January 2014, by which time I was living in the second apartment. Was it her advice that changed my life? I can’t remember. But now I pass it on to you.

Do you have an even better way to deal with scorched pots and pans? Let us know in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Karen Lo

Written by: Karen Lo

lunch lady


Bev June 12, 2019
When I have a sugar based sauce that burns on to the point one wants to discard the pan and consider buying a new one, I use a razor blade to remove as much as I can then move to my chain mail scrubber. Lastly Barkeepers friend if necessary
Laurrie June 8, 2019
I cover the bottom of my Stuck On Cast Iron pots & pans with green dish washing soap, cover w plastic wrap and leave over nite. In the morning I wipe out the residue, flush w water, dry & oil my pan, and I'm good to go!
I'll try the dryer sheet!
Thanks, LV Laurrie
Jaye B. June 7, 2019
Anyone have a secret for easily cleaning off all those brown bits that accumulate on aluminum sheet pans?
Irene P. June 7, 2019
I have had great results with putting about 2" of water in the scorched pan, add 1/2 c. baking soda and boil for about 5 min. Dump out, rinse and if needed, a steel wool pad will remove anything left with no hard scrubbing.
shelagh June 6, 2019
This method requires constant supervision until pot removed from heat. Fill pot with 1/2 inch water, cover, bring to a boil for 1 or 2 minutes MAX. Do not lift lid, turn heat off and wait 15 minutes. The steam created from boiling water will remove most burned food.
Lori June 6, 2019
Boiling water, sprinkle with baking soda - let sit overnight. Use scrubbier the next morning. Magical!
Cookie June 6, 2019
Oxi-Clean. You must use very hot water to activate it; boiling hot is best. Cover all burned areas with water, then add a good dose of powder, say 1/4 cup for ever quart of water. Be careful because it does bubble at first in hot water. Leave for a few hours. It dissolves anything organic, which is why it works so well on stains. With crusty pans, it works even on old burned-on food, even on cast iron. I've tried everything else mentioned here --except the dryer sheet thing, which sounds too chemical-laden for my tastes, and Oxi-Clean works best, and is not toxic.
M.k. H. May 31, 2019
I clean burnt pans by filling them with water, dropping in a denture tablet or two, and letting it soak overnight. The next day, all the burnt-on grime just slides right off.
cookinalong May 30, 2019
If it's a stainless steel pan/pot, BarKeeper's Friend works great. It's a powdered cleaner that comes in a perforated shaker container like Comet or Bon-Ami. For almost any type of pan, I've used cream of tartar with a cup of boiling water to clean even baked on mac&cheese. Just let it sit awhile and all the burned on crud will come away with minimal scrubbing.
Cypress May 29, 2019
I use liquid Clorox/bleach; just enough to cover the bottom of the pan and let it sit 30 minutes to overnight. I learned this from a restaurant manager many years ago.
Smaug May 29, 2019
If you're not worried about toxicity, oven cleaner is actually made for this type of cleaning problem and works great.
Jamie May 29, 2019
I'll keep the dryer sheet in mind. I recently discovered another product that works quite well. (Unfortunately also after a multi year effort I thought futile with another burnt pan.) Biokleen's Soy Cream Cleanser. Rescued the aforementioned several years prior burnt pan, the inside of my oven from caked on overflow, and many other pans since. Liberally coat the burned bits, let sit overnight, then scrub.
GJN May 29, 2019
I've always had good luck by adding a spoonful or two of powdered dishwasher detergent to a pan and letting it soak. When I come back to it, the stuck-on food washes right off.
Smaug May 29, 2019
There's a great deal of controversy about the general safety of dryer sheets; their contents vary quite a bit and content listings on non food items are quite limited- at the least most of them contain scents. I've always used boiling with baking soda to clean off burned food; a lot of comments on the subject use baking soda, but for some reason few think to boil it, which makes a tremendous difference. Use a strong solution- 2 Tb./c and up- usually takes 10-15 min., but in severe cases may need more time. Some people also use oiling vinegar, which works pretty well but is expensive and reeks to high heaven
Smaug May 29, 2019
"...boiling vinegar..."
Bob May 28, 2019
Thanks, Karen. Any idea if this trick works on “aged” burned on problems? A small side question; is “burnt” the new acceptable “burned”?
tia May 28, 2019
New? "Burnt" has been around a loooong time. It's the past participle of "burn." "Burned" is also acceptable.