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How to clean a burnt pan without harsh chemicals

How to clean a burnt pan without using harsh chemicals

I grow attached to my pans. Their individual personalities become familiar; how quickly one browns onions and how gently another simmers. It took months of research before I replaced a favoured pan whose non-stick surface had all but disappeared. So imagine how thrilled I was when this facebook post appeared – help, how do I clean a burnt pan?

The post was by a dear friend, and Growngals contributor, Gill Paul. I asked if she would write-up the results to share with you and this is it:

While steaming vegetables over my sister’s Le Creuset pot, I accidentally let the water boil dry, leaving a blackened, blistered surface. I tried to remove it with a washing-up brush but quickly realised this would damage the non-stick surface, so I took to Facebook and asked friends for help.

The first to respond suggested putting a dishwasher tablet in some water in the pan and bringing it to a gentle simmer. Sounded sensible so I started doing that, when someone else said biological washing powder worked a treat, same method. I added some to my simmering pot and could see the water going brown, which seemed a good sign. The answers were pouring in now: bicarbonate of soda, rubbing it with salt, barkeepers’ friend, bleach, a combination of bicarb and vinegar, dish soap …

I left the pot steeping overnight in its washing powder and dishwasher tablet combo and next morning it looked pretty good but with a slight greyish patina. I then tried the baking soda route, because someone had left a reassuring link and the pot came up looking brand new. The only problem, I realised when I returned it to the pot stand, is that it was far cleaner than the other five pots in her set. Maybe I should have treated them all… (but I didn’t).


I wish I’d asked for advice before throwing out my burnt Le Creuset a few years ago. My husband assured me it couldn’t be saved but I wonder if the baking soda tip may have worked.

Tried and tested

Gill’s method of a pre-soak followed by a bicarb blitz is the ultimate in how to clean a burnt pan. It should work on stainless steel and copper as well as enamel. Note that we call it bicarbonate of soda in the UK, not baking soda. We do have baking powder, but that includes cream of tartar and is a raising agent for baking.

I prefer to use products that do no harm. I would pre-soak with an environmentally friendly washing powder or dishwasher tablet. UK ethical brand BIO-D is a current favourite but please note their washing powder comes in a paper-covered plastic bag. Why? Bio-D please package your washing powder in a cardboard box like everyone else.

I’m avoiding Ecover and Method products since they were bought by US cleaning giant S. C. Johnson. They remain as natural as ever but I don’t like the ethics of supporting an empire otherwise built on selling harsh chemicals. This is something of a dilemma because Ecover washing powder does come in a plastic-free cardboard box!

Wishing you luck and a little bit of bicarb magic when you next need to clean a burnt pan. If you want more information on greening your cleaning you might enjoy my A-Z of eco-friendly cleaning tips.

Avril x

Gill Paul is a bestselling author of historical fiction. Her latest book is The Lost Daughter. I am very grateful for her contributions to Growngals: Gill Paul’s hip replacement: me and my new hippy and Winter swimming: an exquisite madness.

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Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash