Cleaning up with Science!

After my southern baking for my bookclub (which went over fantastically, by the way), I was left with a pretty big mess on my hands. My pot, used to boil sweet potatoes, was a disaster. There was a thick layer of sugary burnt goodness stuck like adhesive to the bottom and it was going nowhere. This is how it looked after soaking for two days:

I wasn’t looking forward to spending hours scrubbing at that, and potentially scratching and damaging the pot. So, I turned to science. I found this “recipe” online – it’s basic science stuff you do in elementary school, which never fails to impress me.

Everyone knows how this experiment goes, right?

What You Need

Stainless steel cookware blackened with burned on food from months and months of heavy use
Baking soda
Mesh dish cloth



1. Put your dingy old pot or pan on a stovetop burner.

2. Pour enough vinegar to cover the bottom. Add equal parts water and a tablespoon or so of baking soda.

3. Turn the burner on and bring to a boil (we cover the pan to speed this up a bit).

4. Let boil for 20 minutes.

5. After 20 minutes, the brown and black staining should be loosened from the pan. Test this by scraping lightly with a wooden spoon.

6. Remove from heat and pour off the now-brackish liquid. It may look gross, but it’s evidence that this is working!

7. Coat the bottom of the pan with baking soda and scrub with a mesh dish cloth. Again, the baking soda paste will turn brown, but this is proof that you’re getting the pan clean!

8. Rinse well and get cooking with your gleaming “new” pan!

I diligently followed the recipe, letting the elements bubble up like a witches brew on my stove. The best part of this is you could smell it working. After a few minutes, I could smell the faint sweet burning that I had the day I made this mess – it’s like the process was happening backwards.



After the requisite 20 minutes, the water had nearly boiled down and the burnt stuff was still pretty stuck where it was. So I have it a half-hearted scrub, then started the process over again, this time coating the bottom with baking soda.

I’d like to say that it was the easiest thing in the world, that all the burnt goop just floated up and the pot was left sparkling. In fact, a lot of it did come up, but there was still a little bit left on the bottom, refusing to go anywhere. There was a lot of scrubbing and a little bit of gentle scraping, but eventually the pot was back to working order.

Not perfect. The spots you see are brown staining, some of which I hope will fade. But way better than it was before – you remember the before shot, right? The important thing is I can use my pot again!

Word of the day:

Absquatulate: to flee; abscond


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