It’s not that we’re absent-minded, exactly. We’re just trying too hard to multitask. “We” refers to a segment of the population that spends an inordinate amount of time online, Googling remedies for our recurring, shameful problem … burnt pots. Have you ever put a saucepan full of rice or beans on the stove and merrily gone off to hang a load of laundry or pay a batch of bills, only to return to the kitchen (too late!) and been confronted with that horrible burning smell? Then you need the lowdown on naturally cleaning burnt stainless steel pots and pans – what works, what doesn’t.
Soaking (and Hoping)
For more years than I’d care to admit, pouring hot or cold water into the crusty black mess on the bottom of the pot and leaving it all to sit for a few hours was my method of choice. Second only to avoidance, it made me feel that at least I was taking some kind of action. Problem was, while I was doing something, the water soak was not. It didn’t make the burn any worse, but neither did it make it appreciably easier to clean.
Since the patient “wait and see” approach was such a dismal failure, I decided I'd show the burned-on goop who was boss. I grabbed a scouring pad and got assertive. Still no luck … although my right biceps muscle became considerably more toned. Steel wool (the plain stuff, not the soap-saturated pads, which contain potentially toxic ingredients like sodium nitrite and titanium dioxide) was next on my go-to list; the results were more successful but hardly worth the huge effort. Besides, it scratched my stainless, as did my other elbow grease-y method, scraping with a knife. Not great for the knife, either.
When I strayed out of my cleaning comfort zone, I was ready to trust suggestions from anonymous posters on the Internet more than my own tired brain. Filling the poor pot with heavily salted water and boiling hard sounded promising. At least it didn’t involve any scary-sounding chemicals and I vowed that I wouldn’t leave my pot unattended this time. Unfortunately the salt water boil worked about as well as ... or rather, as badly as the solutions I had come up with on my own.
Baking Soda Paste
Baking soda is one of the stars of the environmentally aware cleaning scene these days. I got very excited when I first heard about the idea of using baking soda paste as a substitute for oven cleaner and other harsh cleaning agents. The result was that I went on a binge, merrily spreading it on all sorts of things, from the inside of my oven to my stainless steel pots. The moment of reckoning came, though, when I tried to wipe the now dry paste off. It left a gritty, messy residue that was very difficult to remove completely. And since my goal was to clean eco-friendly and easy, baking soda paste was a fail in my book.
Next I tried a suggestion from Apartment Therapy – a 50-50 vinegar and water solution. After putting this mix into my long-suffering pot, I turned on the burner and let it simmer for a minute or two. Then I turned off the flame and added a couple of tablespoons of baking soda, figuring that, mixed with liquid, it would be easier to get rid of afterwards. And voila! Clean, clean stainless steel at long last! FRINGE BENEFIT: I poured the vinegar/water/soda mixture into my toilet bowl when I was finished so it could also get a bit of green clean benefit. Some folks recommend subbing stewed tomatoes (which have a high level of acidity) for the vinegar in this formula. However, experienced plumbers in Atlanta and other American cities strongly advise against disposing of solid food via the toilet.
Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.