The best part about cooking in your own kitchen? A delicious, homemade meal you can be proud of. The worst part? Now you’ve got to deal with a sink full of dirty dishes. And even if you swore you only took your eyes off that pan of searing steak for just one teeny tiny second, you could end up with scorched pans, caked-on foods, or a greasy mess at the end of your kitchen session. But that grease is no match for you, your soap, or your sponge. Here’s our tried-and-true guide to how to clean the bottoms of pots and pans, no matter how dirty.
How to clean a dirty pan: boiling water method
For scorched, blackened stainless steel pans and burnt on foods, turn up the heat. Add water to your pan and bring to a boil for 5-7 minutes (don’t worry about covering the dirty sides with water – the steam will take care of that). After the food loosens and easily comes off the pan, pour out the hot water and wipe any remaining food with the scrubby part of a sponge. For glass or metal baking dishes, add boiling water and let sit for several minutes before using the scrubby side of a sponge to easily wipe away any residue.
Hot water soak
A hot water soak can loosen baked, caked on food from dishes like cheesy lasagnas or rich chocolate brownies. Fill the dish with warm to hot water right away, covering the sides. Let soak for 15-20 minutes or until food loosens. Didn’t get around to soaking your dish the moment the food left the pan? That’s ok. Add hot water later and let soak overnight. Then, wash in the morning.
Baking soda, vinegar, & lemon juice
Head to your pantry to get your pots and pans extra clean and shiny. Baking soda, distilled white vinegar and fresh lemon juice are a triple cleansing threat. Add a dash of baking soda or vinegar during the boil method to help clean scorched saucepans. Soak pots, baking dishes or cookie sheets in hot to boiling water with baking soda and fresh lemon juice for an accelerated clean. Rub half a lemon around the bottom and sides of stainless steel cookware for extra shine; rinse and let air dry. Finally, a squirt of vinegar followed by a rinse of water is great for removing any residual odors.
How to clean the bottom of a pan
Vinegar and baking soda are a great way to brighten up the darkened bottoms of a used pan
For the really tough stuff, try adding a dash of store bought cleansing powders like Bon Ami, Zud or Bar Keepers Friend. Don’t feel like heading to the store? Use Alka-Seltzer (really)! To help loosen stuck on foods and lift stains, add hot water and a tab or two of Alka-Seltzer or other effervescent to your dish.
Cleaning cast iron pans
Everyone wants to know: How do you actually clean cast iron? If there is one thing to remember, it’s to never use abrasive sponges! It will ruin the seasoning (the oil-treated surface that protects the pan and your food). Instead, rinse your cast iron with hot or boiling water. If there is still anything stuck to it, use kosher salt, warm water and a soft sponge to loosen residue and rinse again. After the dish is totally dry, run some vegetable oil in a thin layer onto the bottoms and sides to keep it lubricated and prevent rusting.
Wash wood by hand using regular dish detergent– don’t place in the dishwasher. If your wooden spoons have stains from a curry or tomato sauce, wash and let air dry in the sun to take out some of the smell and color.
Keep copper away from water and regular soap or else it will oxidize (turn your beautiful cookware green)! Instead, dip your copper in boiled water with a good amount of vinegar or use the vinegar-water solution to wipe the copper clean.
To prevent hard-to-clean dishes in the first place, keep your eye on the stove! Line pans with aluminum foil, parchment or wax paper or use a nonstick cooking spray for certain recipes to avoid the sticking of any food that will later burn to the dish. Watch the food in your pots and pans – make sure the temperature isn’t too high and stir occasionally to avoid future cleaning problems. And dry your food thoroughly before searing. Wet or even slightly damp proteins (think chicken, beef, etc.) will stick to your pan!
But if your chow does start to burn or appear to cake on, you can still save yourself from cleaning a mess. First, lower the heat and throw a little water onto your pot, pan or dish if you can. Then, make sure to stir and scrape down the sides of your pan or pot with a wooden spoon (especially when filled with stews, soups or sauces) or wipe any splatters on baking sheets or dishes that are going into the oven. Liquids or splatters will cook off and leave markings. The longer the markings stay on the side under heat means they will caramelize, brown, blacken and burn.