How to Clean the Outside Bottom of Pots and Pans

Effective techniques to revive burnt and stained cookware, from mild soapy scrubbing to heavy-duty solutions for stubborn marks.

Cooking delicious meals often comes at a cost – the outside bottom of your pots and pans can get burnt and stained from use on the stovetop. While this can detract from the appearance of your cookware, there are ways to clean the exteriors and restore them to a like-new shine.

Assess the Damage

Take some time to thoroughly inspect the exterior bottom surface of your pots and pans. Pay attention to the level of staining, areas of discoloration, and any burnt-on residue. Check to see if the stains come off with just a light scrubbing using your fingers. This inspection will help you gauge the cleaning required to restore the pans. Mild stains will need light cleaning, while pans with heavy staining or burnt-on food debris require more intense scrubbing.

Cleaning Mild Stains

Pots and pans with minor levels of staining, discoloration, or very light food residue burnt on can usually be cleaned using simple cleaning methods:

Dish Soap and Water

Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to warm water in your sink or a large basin. Swirl the water gently to create suds. Scrub the stained exterior bottom of the pan using a soft sponge or a plastic bristle scrub brush. The dish soap will help lift the stains and grease. After scrubbing, wash the pan thoroughly with clean water to remove all soap residue.

Baking Soda

Make a paste by mixing baking soda with just enough water to form a spreadable consistency. Apply this paste to the stained areas and let sit for several minutes. Baking soda is a gentle abrasive that can help lift stains without scratching the pan surface. Use a soft sponge or brush to scrub the pasted areas gently. Rinse thoroughly when finished.

Cleaning Heavily Stained Pans

Pans with more significant levels of staining, burnt-on food residue, or thick grease will need more intensive cleaning methods:

Salt and Baking Soda Paste

Mix 1 part salt with 2 parts baking soda for a more abrasive paste. Add just enough dish soap to make a spreadable paste. Apply this all over the stained exterior bottom of the pan. Let the paste sit for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours if possible. The salt provides extra abrasive power while the baking soda lifts and degreases—Scrub with a soft sponge or plastic bristle brush, applying pressure on heavily stained areas as needed. Rinse thoroughly after scrubbing.

White Vinegar

For pans where the salt and baking soda paste do not fully remove stains, try boiling a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water in the pan. After boiling, allow the pan to cool completely—Scrub with a soft brush or sponge. The acetic acid in vinegar can help dissolve some residue. Rinse thoroughly after scrubbing.

Barkeeper’s Friend

For extremely stubborn burnt-on stains, use a powder cleanser like Barkeeper’s Friend. Dampen the bottom of the pan with water, then generously sprinkle on the cleanser powder. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing with a soft brush. The oxalic acid in cleansers like Barkeeper’s Friend help lift even the most persistent stains and discoloration. Rinse very thoroughly after scrubbing.

Avoid Damaging Nonstick Surfaces

Use extra care when cleaning the outside of nonstick pans. Abrasive scrubbing can damage the nonstick coating. Use dish soap, baking soda, or diluted vinegar for nonstick pans. Scrub very gently with a soft sponge or plastic bristle brush. Even if stains remain, it is better than ruining the nonstick surface.

Maintain Your Cookware

To prevent excessive staining and buildup on your pots and pans:

  • Handwash cookware shortly after use to prevent residue from getting heavily baked on. Use hot soapy water.
  • Dry pans and pots thoroughly after washing to prevent water spots.
  • When cooking, use medium or medium-low heat for most tasks. Overly high heat can burn food residue.
  • Allow pans to cool on a heat-safe surface before washing. Hot pans can warp if washed immediately.


Should I use steel wool to clean pots and pans?

Avoid using steel wool on nonstick cookware as it can scratch the surface. Use fine-grade wool on stainless steel pans and scrub gently to prevent scratching.

How can I prevent stains in the first place?

Proper cooking techniques help minimize stains – don’t overload the pan, don’t overheat empty pans, deglaze pans after cooking, and clean spills promptly.

What about the inside of stained pans?

Similar methods can be used inside pans with care – baking soda or a non-abrasive cleanser. Avoid abrasives that could damage nonstick coatings.

Can stained pans be saved?

In most cases, yes – use non-abrasive cleaners and scrub gently. But if a nonstick coating is flaking off or damaged, it may be time to replace the cookware.