How to Clean Burnt Pans With Cream of Tartar

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Before giving up and tossing your burned pot into the trash, try removing the burnt-on gunk with cream of tartar.
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You may think you need to dispose of that scorched pan, but you can probably save it. Before giving up and tossing your burned pot into the trash, try removing the burnt-on gunk with cream of tartar. There are many handy cream of tartar uses, and saving your favorite pan is one of them.


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What is Cream of Tartar?

If you bake, you likely have some cream of tartar in your spice cabinet, but do you know what it is? Cream of tartar is an acid that forms and is left behind on barrels during the winemaking process. It has no taste but creates a chemical reaction when combined with baking soda. As such, chefs frequently use cream of tartar to stiffen egg whites and prevent sugar from crystallizing.

Why it Works on Pans

Like baking soda, cream of tartar is slightly abrasive. This allows it to dig into the burnt food and loosen it without damaging the pan's surface. Cream of tartar is also slightly acidic, breaking down the food to make it easier to scrub away. Cream of tartar is often lauded for it's cleaning ability and is frequently used when cleaning aluminum pan discolorations, stainless steel appliances, scratched dishes and stained kitchen towels and tablecloths.


Cleaning Pans With Cream of Tartar

The first step toward salvaging your pan is to scrape off as much of the burnt food as you can. Use a spatula or plastic scraper for this job. If you skip this step, you'll end up with a pan full of stinky water, so scrape with gusto.

After scraping, you can use the paste or boiling methods to clean your pan. To try a paste, mix cream of tartar and water until you get a spreadable consistency. Cover the bottom of the pan with the mixture and allow it to sit overnight. Give the pan a good scrub in the morning and the food should come off.


If desired, you can also try boiling the burnt food away. Combine 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar. Pour the mixture into your pan, bring it to a boil on the stove and allow it to simmer for 10 or 15 minutes. Discard the water and scrub the pot with hot, soapy water.

Cleaning Cast Iron Pans

Once they've been seasoned, you shouldn't wash cast iron pans in soapy water. You can still use a cream of tartar concoction to loosen burnt food, but you'll need a paper towel or cloth to wipe the pan down when you're done. You can even give the pan a rinse, but dry it thoroughly after you do to prevent rust.


If you're concerned about leaving behind some cream of tartar since you can't soap up your cast iron pan, you can remove burnt food with a small piece of chainmail known as a ringer. You can also rub the pan down with coarse salt.

A Word on Teflon

Just because you can save your pot doesn't mean you should. Think twice before trying to salvage burnt Teflon. When it gets too hot, Teflon begins to break down and release potentially toxic chemicals. Scraping the pot can also release these toxins and may scratch the nonstick coating.

A cream of tartar cleaning can save Teflon pans, but the risks outweigh the benefits. In this instance, it's best to throw the pan away and replace it.