Cleaning the Bottom of Pans: Brown Stains & Beyond

Last Update: October 5, 2023

How can you tell an experienced chef from an amateur? A chef will have a kitchen as clean as his or her food is tasty. [1]

Okay, okay, maybe we got that from Ratatouillebut the idea behind it is true. Any chef worth his salt knows that taking care of your equipment is half the battle. Learning how to clean the bottom of pans to get rid of burnt oil and grease is vital to your feeling of well-being in the kitchen. The pristine pots and pans in your kitchen says just as much about your cooking abilities as the food you serve your guests.

For the most part, keeping your kitchen in tip-top shape is easy. Sharp knives just require a little regular maintenance, and cleaning your oven really isn’t as difficult as it sounds. But even washing your pans carefully after each use can’t protect you from one common cooking conundrum: brown stains on the sides and bottoms of your pans. Cleaning the bottom of those pans never looks easy.

Over time, oil and grease can stain your pots and pans brown. They’ll still work just fine, but if you’re all about keeping your kitchen sparkling clean, the stains have got to go.

But scrubbing with a little bit of soap and water often just doesn’t do the trick. So how are you supposed to clean the oil and grease off the bottom of your pan? For those stubborn, cooked-on stains, you’ve got to get creative. Different cooks recommend different pan cleaning methods, so you might have to try a few of these to find out which works best on your pots and pans.

Perhaps the simplest solution is scrubbing away the stains with some crumpled up aluminum foil. [2] The harsher surface can sometimes get off the gunk that a normal sponge can’t.

If that doesn’t work, you can try making a paste from baking soda and water. [3] Wet the baking soda just enough to create a thick paste, and cover the stains in it. Wait a few minutes, and wipe it off with a heavy duty steel scrubbing pad. The grease and oil should start to come off. Rubbing the stains with a cloth dipped in undiluted white vinegar can also be effective.

How to Clean Pans with Baking Soda and Vinegar

If rubbing the pans with a vinegar-soaked cloth, scrubbing with aluminum foil, or using baking soda paste does not do the trick, try this deep cleaning method with baking soda and boiling water:

  • Sprinkle baking soda onto your pan, and then add enough water to cover the entire bottom of the pan.
  • Bring this mixture to a boil for about 5-10 minutes, being mindful that all the water does not boil off.

For an even stronger grime remover, add some white distilled or apple cider vinegar to the water and baking soda mixture. Vinegar is one of the most popular ingredients used to clean discolored, burned, or stained pans. It works to help remove and unstick odors and dislodge residues that are difficult or seemingly impossible to remove by hand cleaning or via dishwashing machines. When combined with baking soda, that dynamic duo and powerful fizz will give you the leverage you need to return your pan to a clean and shiny state. Here’s how to do it:

  • Combine 1 cup of water, ½ cup of vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of baking soda sprinkled across the surface of the pan.
  • Boil your DIY pan cleaning solution for about 10 minutes, then allow the solution to cool.
  • Once cooled, any pesky stains or burnt-on grime should easily wipe away!

How to Prevent Soot on Pots

Soot is a collection of carbon deposits from burned or overheated materials, which results in that sticky black residue on pans. Here are two tips for preventing soot from accumulating on your pots:

  • Ensure that your stove stays clean to prevent soot and other black residue from accumulating on your pots. Remove any oils or cooking residues that remain after making meals by giving the stovetop a quick wipe-down.
  • Cooking with high heat while using oils with a low smoke point may also cause soot to accumulate on pans. Instead, switch to high smoke point cooking fats like avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee.

Being mindful of these two culinary strategies will go a long way toward preventing soot from building up on pans (meaning less cleaning time for you!)

If DIY cleaning isn’t really your style, you can always turn to an old favorite: Bon Ami. This nontoxic cleaning powder is surprisingly powerful, and combined with steel scrubbing pads, can get rid of almost any stain. [4]

With these tips in your cleaning arsenal, your pans will be looking as good as new in no time.

Photo credit: Trinette Reed via Stocksy

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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