How To Clean A Burnt Pot With Vinegar And Baking Soda

CRYSTAL H.  |   |   Updated
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What to do if you have a pot with burned on food? It happens to the best of us. Here I cover how to clean burnt mess from a stainless steel pot and it involves pantry staples of baking soda, white vinegar, and salt as individual options.

how to clean a burnt pot

See also: How To Clean Black Residue Off Cast Iron Skillet

If the problem is food sticking to your stainless steel pan, check out my article on how to avoid it.

How to clean burnt Stainless Steel pot

For how to clean burnt stainless steel pots or pans, try these three simple steps: layer the moist residue with baking soda, let this stand for a few hours, and then loosen the mix to remove the burnt residue.

You definitely want to avoid cleaners with chloride, such as disinfectants and bleach products. I mentioned this in my article on how to fix discoloration of your stainless steel pans. The concern is that chloride can lead to the break down of the layer protecting the pan from pitting and rusting. Soaking with salt is another to avoid according to Monarch Metal Manufacturers.1

Below is the baking soda method I have used on my stainless steel pot.

This is my stainless steel pot with baked on food…

How to clean a burnt pot - an image illustrating burn on food in the bottom of a stainless steel pot
Yuk! Burnt on food that no soaking was going to remove

This photo was taken after I tried to clean it with soaking and then regular scrubbing in dishwater. No amount of regular soaking was going to remove the stuff.

How’d it get like this? Cringe. I burnt the leftovers I was reheating at the bottom of the pan. Well with all the holiday busy-ness, I admit I got distracted and heated a pot of leftovers, straight from the refrigerator, on medium to high setting on the stovetop without stirring or allowing the contents warm first. This is a definite no-no.

How to clean a burnt pot without vinegar?…use baking soda and below is the method.

How to clean a burnt pot with baking soda

Baking soda is one of the best agents to use if you want to clean a burnt pot, especially a stainless steel one. I find using baking soda works to my liking, the simplest. If you don’t have baking soda on hand, I’ve posted another method below using vinegar only.

Some manufacturers warn against using vinegar on stainless steel because of its acidic nature, which can compromise the product, especially if left to soak undiluted.1

If you’re looking for a simple hack or how to clean a burnt pot without vinegar, try this.

The benefits of baking soda are that it is non-toxic, inexpensive, and widely available (it’s a staple in the pantry for most).

My step-by-step simple approach using baking soda starts with removing the bits of loose food as you would with normal washing. Then sprinkle baking soda over the crud while it’s moist. Leave this to sit for an hour or so.

  1. Sprinkle baking soda over the burnt-on mess and leave to sit
    (Put your feet up or go and do something special or that thing you’ve been putting off.)

    While you’re away the baking powder will go to work and adsorb the moisture and penetrating to loosen the hold between the thick baked-on residue and the pot.

    baking powder in pot 2
    Showing baking soda layered over the burnt on food at the bottom of the stainless steel pan
  2. Loosen the baking soda and the burnt-on residue with it
    On returning to the pan you’ll find the burnt residue will easily come away from the pan. I used a knife (not a sharp knife like those I wrote about for fine work).
    I wasn’t too concerned about leaving cosmetic marks in this case, but if you are, or have fully ceramic or an enamel pot, I highly recommend you use a non-abrasive utensil for this. Try a small plastic or bamboo spoon or spatula or a wooden ice-cream stick.

    Here’s what it looks like. This picture shows half of the pan where I’ve loosened the burnt on residue with the baking soda that’s done its job.

    removing baking powder in pot
    Stainless steel pot showing half with the burnt residue coming off with the baking soda
  3. Rinse out, give final clean with non-abrasive scourer and then dry
    Once all the burnt residue is loosened with the baking soda, I rinse it off and then clean it as normal. To complete the process, I simply remove any small amounts of lingering residue with a non-abrasive scourer and then dry to bring my stainless steel pot back to a brilliant clean.

    Here’s a picture of the final result. My saucepan is once again squeaky shiny clean and ready for use.

    result of clean stainless steel pot
    Final result of using baking soda to clean burnt on food from stainless steel pot

Recommend products

ARM & HAMMER Pure Baking Soda 8 oz (Pack of 6)

For scratchless cleaning

Available at Amazon

Brillo Red - 18 Count
Steel wool presoaped pads

Available at Amazon

The following methods for cleaning a burnt pan are from Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming’s book: Spotless 2 (see it at Amazon).

How to clean a burnt pot with vinegar

  1. Half fill the pot or pan with water.
  2. Add 1 cup of white vinegar.
  3. Bring to boil on stove.
  4. Remove and allow to cool.
  5. Scrub with scraper or nylon brush.

How do you clean a stainless steel pan with baking soda and vinegar?

Method 1.

  • Sprinkle the pan lightly with baking soda.
  • Then add a little vinegar.
  • The mixture will fizz. When it does get a nylon brush and scrub.

If this doesn’t shift stubborn burned on residue, do the following…

Method 2.

  1. Add white vinegar to ¼” depth to the burnt pan when it’s cold
  2. Then place the lot in the freezer.
  3. After the liquid freezes, remove the pan and thaw.
  4. Sprinkle baking soda over the top of the vinegar and while fizzing scrub with nylon brush.

Why the freezing? It will cause the vinegar to penetrate underneath the stain, making it easier to scourer off.

How to clean a burnt pot with salt

Salt is another staple item in your pantry. Grab the salt pot and try the following.

  1. Sprinkle salt over the burnt-on bottom of the pot or pan (about 3 tablespoons)
  2. Add enough vinegar to cover the bottom
  3. Bring it to boil on the stove and then reduce heat to low.
  4. Sprinkle a lashing of baking soda into the pot (about 4 tablespoons).
  5. Continue until the liquid evaporates and then remove the pot or pan.
  6. Wash with a water.

Bottom line

You especially don’t want to throw away quality stainless steel pans that perform well and can last you for eons or premium 100% ceramic cookware just because you’ve burnt the bottom. Rather than looking to throw the pan out, try rescuing it with a simple cleaning trick like the baking soda one I’ve used again and again or the others that I have shared with you here.


Info sources

  1. Monarch Metal Manufacturers: Cleaning and maintaining stainless steel.
  2. Lush S. & Fleming J. 2009 “Spotless 2”. ABC Books.

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