Here's how to save your burnt pots and pans

If there is one universal truth when it comes to the internet, it's that the communities who live there have your back when you encounter a problem or misstep, especially in the culinary world. Burnt pots and pans are part of the cooking experience – not a pleasant part, but an unavoidable one. You're bound to have something charred all over the bottom of a pan or pot at some point. But before you try any of the many ways to fix this problem, it's important to consider what your pots and pans are made out of because cleaning them is not a one-size-fits-all process. 

You don't want to truly mess-up your favorite frying pan by using a cleaning tool or chemical that's too abrasive and could do some irreversible damage. For instance, The Kitchn advises using a different approach to nonstick pans than the ones discussed here. For most other pots and pans, you want to start with the mildest method and go for harsher alternatives as needed. Translation: save those heavy-duty cleaners as a last resort. And guess what: there are plenty of options for cleaning your pots that don't require chemicals. Some methods make use of items you probably already have in your home. From baking soda to lemons to dryer sheets to aluminum foil and food items you never could have imagined, these simple household staples have the potential to help you save your burnt pots and pans.

Use baking soda and vinegar

Mentioned as a method for cleaning stainless steel pans, this technique requires baking soda, vinegar, water, and a scouring brush (via Apartment Therapy).  Add a cup of vinegar along with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Boil it, and then remove the pan from the heat. Add two tablespoons of baking soda. At this point, if you have ever made a volcano in elementary school science class, you know what is about to happen. Did anyone say "eruption?" 

This can be messy, so if you don't want to deal with that type of cleanup, you can also pour out the water-vinegar mixture before you add the baking soda. Once you discard the liquid, it's time to use your scouring brush and put a little elbow grease into scrubbing. If you find some marks aren't budging, you can create a baking soda paste using just a little bit of water. Coat the mark(s) with your paste and let it set in. Then resume cleaning.

Use lemons or other acidic items

Lemons are truly a pantry's secret weapon. They can add flavor to a dish, are incredibly aromatic, and it turns out their acidity can loosen up all the burnt-on gunk at the bottom of the pan. All you need are two or three lemons cut into quarters. Throw them in a pot with a few inches of water, and boil them for five to 10 minutes. This method apparently doesn't require much scrubbing after the fact either. 

If you don't have any lemons on hand, try using ketchup. This condiment is similar to lemons in that it's acidic. Squeeze a thick blanket of ketchup into your burnt pan that covers the bottom (via One Good Thing By Jillee). Leave it overnight, and the next morning, it shouldn't take a lot of work or scrubbing to get rid of the debris left behind. And if you can't spare any ketchup, see if you have a can of Coca-Cola in the refrigerator. Just pour the coke into the pan and let it sit for several hours. When you return, use a plastic scrubber to remove last night's dinner. Your pot will be as good as new and you might reconsider ever drinking Coca-Cola again.

Use aluminum foil and baking soda

The Kitchn notes that his method of cleaning your burnt pots and pans is one of their favorites. Baking soda really is our friend when it comes to cleaning, and this method starts with a paste made out of it and water to coat burnt spots in your pan. Next, ball-up a piece of aluminum foil and start scouring the bottom of your pan until all the charred food is gone. Simply rinse with warm soapy water, and voila: your pan is ready for the next cooking round. 

No aluminum foil in the house, no problem. It might be time to raid the laundry room. Fabric softener sheets for the dryer apparently have a place in your pots and pans cleaning arsenal. Add warm water to your burnt pan and then add the dryer sheet. Let it sit for some hours and then use the dryer sheet to scrub away the charred food remains.