Pan cleaning myths and what actually works

Want your pots and pans to look like new? Here are the tips to skip and those that actually work.

Alina Bradford
1 of 16 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

There are so many tips out there on how to get your baking pans looking like new. We tried 16 of them to find out which ones worked and which ones were bunk.

2 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Boiling the pot or pan

This tip is for stuck-on food that you can't seem to pry off. The instructions say that you fill the pan with water and then put it on the stovetop or into the oven until the water boils. Then you let the water cool and wash the pan as normal. I have to say, this one worked for the most part. The food scrubbed away much easier.

3 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Fabric softener sheets

The trick calls for putting a dryer sheet in the bottom of the pan, then boiling water in the pan to loosen up the gunk. As I mentioned, boiling water in a pan does a fairly good job of loosening up burnt food particles. Taylor Martin found that using a dryer sheet really works.

4 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Scrubbing with baking soda

Baking soda is supposed to fix everything, right? Not in this case. Scrubbing with baking soda didn't remove stains on my pans and it didn't make stuck-on food any easier to get off.

5 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Baking soda and peroxide

Will adding peroxide to baking soda help? The internet seems to think so. This was one of them most common tips I came across. The tip is to mix one quarter of a cup of baking soda and a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide into a paste and then rub onto the pan with your fingers. This was a bust. After five minutes of scrubbing I tried using the scrubby side of a sponge and still got very little in the way of results.

6 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Baking soda, vinegar and salt

The trick to this tip is sprinkling on a layer of baking soda, then a layer of salt, then spritzing on a layer of vinegar. This is one of the better tips for removing stains. After five minutes of scrubbing, the pan was much shinier and a lot of the gunk had come off. I also found that sea salt works a lot better than table salt.

7 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Bleach cleansing powder and hot water

A method that was passed down to me from my mother for removing baked-on crud is letting your pan soak with bleach cleansing powder, such as Comet, Bon Ami or Ajax. It works great and makes cleaning your pans much easier. As soon as you are done with a pan, fill it with hot water and all over the pan add a liberal sprinkle of bleach cleansing powder. Leave it for about 30 minutes and the gunk will come right off.

8 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Aluminum foil and Bar Keeper’s Friend

This is the most effective tip for removing stains out of all of the tips I've tried. Simply ball up a piece of aluminum foil, sprinkle Bar Keeper's Friend onto a wet pan and scrub the pan with the ball of aluminum foil. Worked like a charm. My only caution is you should never use this cleaning method for pans that are painted or that have a special coating. The foil will scratch the coating off.

9 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Aluminum foil and baking soda

I read that you can use baking soda with aluminum foil and get the same results. So, just in case you can't run out and buy Bar Keeper's Friend, I tried using baking soda. It worked just as well, but you need to keep reapplying the baking soda throughout the cleaning process. This cleaning method isn't for pans that are painted or that have a special coating, either.

10 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil, also called melaleuca oil, popped up in a few tips. I tried using it several different ways. It removed sticky grime, but didn't do anything for stains. The best way to use it is to put a few drops on your pan and add a drop or two of dish soap. Scrub the pan for around five minutes and the sticky gunk on your pans will be gone.

11 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Baking soda, vinegar and peroxide

People really love sprinkling baking soda on their pans. In this tip, readers are instructed to sprinkle the pan with baking soda and then peroxide. The pan is left to soak for 10 minutes, then a layer of vinegar is added. If anything, this tip just seemed to make the gunk shiny.

12 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Magic eraser

Using a magic eraser sponge is the simplest solution I tried, and it was one of the best. Even scum from non-stick sprays came off. You can make your own magic eraser for just 10 cents with this tip from Taylor Martin.

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Borax and warm water

Borax is usually for laundry, but I had seen a couple of sites claiming that it was good for cleaning pans, too, so I gave it a try. All you do is add half a cup of borax to a sink of warm water. Let your pans soak in the water for a few minutes and wipe. It works really well on stuck-on food. The only thing to remember is to make sure the borax is fully dissolved before you start scrubbing. The borax crystals will rub the coating off of pans.

14 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Chainmail scrubbers

Once your cast iron rusts, it's not easy to re-season. One tool that works really well is chainmail scrubbers like The Ringer or a homemade version, if you have some crafty friends. The chainmail works off the rust without adding any cleansing products like salt.

15 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET

Steel wool

Another cleaning tool that works really well on cast iron that needs to be re-seasoned is steel wool. It strips away the rust and gets down to the surface faster than anything else I've tried.

16 of 16 Alina Bradford/CNET


I have to admit, I was super skeptical about this one. According to the internet tips, the acid in ketchup will eat through stains on your pans and make them look new. I have to say, this one was a winner. The stains on my pans came off with very little scrubbing and no soaking.

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