How To Get Sticky Grease Off Pots And Pans

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Let’s say (hypothetically speaking, of course) that you were multitasking (scrolling Pinterest) and your panini somehow melted into your skillet, leaving you with a salvageable lunch, but a sticky greasy mess on the pan. That cooked on grease will make it through a cycle in your dishwasher, I know from experience. I also know the secret to getting sticky grease off pots and pans – easily and quickly.

PS: this method is for stainless steel pots and pans, I’ll cover other types of pans later in the post. 

What You Need To Get Grease Off Stainless Steel Cookware

Whether you’ve got the best pots and pans, or a starter set, a sticky grease gunk can ruin your day. The good news is that you probably have everything on hand to clean up your gunky pan. While you can get creative with oven cleaner, magic erasers, lemons and more, you really only need a few kitchen basics to get the job done:

An arrangement of baking soda, dish soap, a pan scraper and sponge sit on a black and white granite countertop in a neutral kitchen.

Step By Step Instructions To Remove Grease Off Pots And Pans

Quick Simmer

If your pan is in really bad shape, fill it with water and a squirt or two of dish soap. We are essentially making a burnt grease and soap soup here, it will not smell good so turn on all the vents. The heat and simmering soapy water will dissolve oils and help lift burn-on grease.

Simmer it on the stove for just a few minutes to loosen up any tougher areas. You don’t want the pan to get so hot that you can’t handle it though. Soaking is not the answer here!

A simmering stainless steel pan of water and dish soap sits on a lit gas stove.

Scrape and Rinse

Once the pan is cool enough to handle, use a pan scraper tool, or if you don’t have one (you’re missing out!) reach for a firm non-metal spatula or the rough side of a kitchen sponge to scrape off any large pieces of residue.

A green pan scraper scrapes sticky residue from a stainless steel skillet.

Then rinse the pan in hot water. It should look significantly better, but it’s still not ready for the dishwasher.

A moderately dirty stainless steel pan is rinsed in the sink.

Make The Secret Sauce

Put equal parts dish soap and baking soda in your pan. I measured 100% with my heart, but it’s probably about a tablespoon of each. You can add more of either ingredient if the vibes are off. You want just enough dish soap to make the baking soda stick together. Thin enough to qualify as wet but thick enough to stick to the vertical sides of the pot or pan

Detail of orange dish soap mixing with baking soda on a stainless steel skillet.

You can get right to scrubbing if you have some energy to get out, cover the pan with the paste and let it sit for a few minutes. The soap will work to release the grease-pan bonds.

Detailed image of a dish soap and baking soda combination used to degrease pans.

Scrub It

Use the abrasive side of a non-abrasive dish sponge (I like to cut mine in half so I can manage them better and so they aren’t wasted when a corner gets funky and needs to be tossed) to scrub the gunk from the pan. The sponge and baking soda will work (as well as you do) to physically loosen the grease and gunk from the pan. 

A stainless steel skillet is scrubbed with a blue sponge and white foamy paste of dish soap and baking soda.

Using a non abrasive sponge allows you to put your back into it without worrying about scratching the pan surface. Pro tip: set your pan on a dishtowel so that you have a buffer between it and your countertop.

A sudsy stainless skillet is washed in a black sink surrounded by black and white granite.

Rinse and Repeat

At this point your pan might be ready to go in the dishwasher or back in the cabinet, but if you’ve really gunked it up (like I did) simply repeat the magic sauce / scrub / rinse steps until your pan is sparkling clean again.

A blue scrubbing sponge rests on the edge of a stainless steel skillet covered in cleaning paste. It sits on a gray dishtowel on a black and white countertop with a black sink basin behind.

From here, you can do a quick hand wash or pop the pan in the dishwasher just for good measure.‍

A stainless steel skillet is washed under a stream of hot steaming water as the sink below fills withs suds.

How to Prevent Burnt Grease Stains on Pots And Pans

Preventing baked-on grease is much easier than cleaning it off. First, pay attention while cooking (@me haha). Here are some more tips to keeping your pans grease-free:

Preheating your pan before adding food can help create a non-stick surface and reduce the chances of food sticking and forming baked-on grease.

While cooking spray can help prevent foods from sticking, using too much oil can lead to a buildup of baked-on residue. Apply a light, even coating and wipe up any excess.

Cooking at lower temperatures can reduce grease splattering and it baking onto your pans.

Wipe up grease splatters right away with a paper towel or a cloth to prevent them from burning. 

Always thoroughly clean your pots and pans after each use and avoid abrasive scrubbers that can cause damage.

A shining clean stainless steel pan rests on a gas stovetop.

What Exactly Is The Sticky Grease Residues On Pots and Pans?

That brown or amber-y gunk clinging to your pan like it’s the first PSL of the season is likely a combo of cooking oils and fats released from the food being prepared. When exposed to heat, these fats undergo chemical changes and solidify upon cooling, creating stickiness. 

Small bits of food, sugars and carbohydrates present in certain foods can caramelize (sometimes what you want to happen) and add to the sticky residue. Proteins, when cooked, may denature and become sticky when interacting with the cooking oil you used in hopes of making a nonstick experience.

All of these elements combine, often in varying proportions, leading to the stubborn, sticky residues on pan surfaces. 

Detail of the sticky grease on the sidewall of a stainless steel skillet.

Why Does Grease Form On Pots And Pans?

Greasy residues form for several reasons, from the type of foods you’re cooking to the cooking process itself:

Oils and Fats: Most foods contain fats or oils. As they heat up, the particles melt and spread out over the cooking surface. Then, as they cool they can solidify, creating a greasy residue.

High Heat: When those fats and oils are exposed to high heat, they undergo chemical changes causing them to become stickier.

Inadequate Cleaning: If cookware isn’t thoroughly cleaned, any remaining grease or food particles can accumulate, forming an increasingly problematic greasy layer.

Cooking Duration: Longer cooking times or cooking at high heat levels can intensify the release and solidification of fats and oils, leading to more substantial grease residues.

Type of Food: Foods high in fats or sugars, like meats or sweet sauces, are more likely to leave behind greasy residues.

A stainless steel pan covered in sticky grease sits on a gas stovetop. There are marks from where the grease was attempted to be scrubbed off the pot.

How To Remove Sticky Grease From Hard Anodized Pots and Pans

To remove sticky grease from a hard anodized pan, first let the pan cool down completely before attempting to clean it. Trying to clean a hot pan can be dangerous and may not be as effective.

Remove Excess Grease

Use a paper towel or a spatula to scrape off any excess grease or food particles from the pan’s surface.

Soak the Pan

Place the pan in warm soapy water and let it soak for 15-20 minutes. This will help loosen the remaining grease, making it easier to clean.

Scrub Gently

After soaking, use a non-abrasive sponge to gently scrub the pan’s surface. Avoid using abrasive materials or steel wool, as they can damage the anodized coating. If the grease is stubborn, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda onto the sponge.

Rinse And Repeat (If Needed)

Rinse the pan warm water to remove any loosened grease soap residue.Give it a quick hand wash and rinse again. Ensure that you rinse all the soap off. Check the pan to see if any sticky grease residue remains, if it does repeat the scrubbing step.

Dry Thoroughly

You want to be sure that your pan is totally dry. Use a kitchen towel of paper towels to thoroughly dry the pan. 

A Hard Anodized Pan sits on a stove drying after having the grease removed.

How To Remove Sticky Grease From Cast Iron Skillets

First, let the cast iron skillet cool down before handling and cleaning. 

Remove loose Grease

Use a soft sponge or dish scrub brush to scrub off any loose particles. You can also use a plastic scraper or a wooden spatula to help with this step. I don’t recommend using metal scouring pads as they can damage the seasoning.

Salt Scrub

Sprinkle a pile of coarse salt (I use kosher salt) onto the skillet. The salt acts as an abrasive to help physically remove the sticky residue. If needed, you can add a small amount of vegetable oil to the salt to create a paste.

Use a paper towel or a clean cloth to scrub the salt into the skillet’s surface, really focusing on the areas with sticky grease. Scrub gently in a circular motion, applying pressure where needed. 

Rinse and Dry

Rinse the skillet thoroughly under hot running water to remove the salt and any loosened grease. This is a bit controversial but you can use a little bit of mild dish soap to hand wash teh skillet at this point. 

Then, to make sure it’s completely dry to prevent rust, I towel dry and then ‘cook’ my pan on low heat to get all the moisture out. This is so important when working with cast iron. 

Add a small amount of oil to a paper towel and wipe down the surface of your cast iron. Or if thing’s got really aggressive with scrubbing you might need to re-season the pan.

a degreased cast iron skillet sits on a black stovetop.

How To Remove Sticky Grease From Ceramic Or Non Stick Pans

Removing sticky grease from ceramic or nonstick pans requires some TLC to avoid damaging the coating. Always let the pan cool down completely before cleaning. Cleaning a hot pan can be unsafe and is honestly less effective.

Remove Excess Grease

Use a paper towel or a non-metal spatula to gently scrape off any excess grease or food particles from the pan’s surface.

Soak the Pan

Place the pan in hot soapy water and let it soak for 10-15 minutes. This will help soften and loosen the sticky grease from the surface.

Scrub Gently

After soaking, gently scrub the pan’s surface with a sponge or dish brush. Don’t use abrasive materials, as they can permanently damage the coating. If the grease is really stubborn, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda onto the sponge to amp up your scrubbing power.

Rinse And Dry

Rinse the pan thoroughly under warm running water to remove any soap residue and loosened grease. After cleaning, use a clean, dry towel or paper towels to thoroughly dry the pan. Be sure that it’s completely dry to prevent water spots and to protect the nonstick coating.

Store Properly

Store nonstick pans in a way that avoids stacking other cookware on top of it, to prevent scratching the nonstick surface. Use soft cookware protectors or kitchen towels to separate pans if necessary.

A clean ceramic pan with a stainless steel handle sits on a stove. The edge of a black and white countertop in visible in the right corner.

The Best Degreaser For Pans

I personally have had success with a solid scrub with baking soda for most if not all of my greasy pans. However, if you are dealing with a super difficult situation, I would try Bar Keepers Friend

I’ve used this with great results at our last house that had lime in the water and for getting utensil marks off of some stoneware. Always check the label to be sure it is safe for your material first.

A sparkling clean stainless steel pan sits on a black grate of a gas stove.

Keeping Your Pans Sparkling Clean

I love to keep my cookware looking it’s best, but sometimes the realities of cooking can make that a challenge. With these techniques, pots and pans of all types can live their best shiny and clean life.

About Author

TiaGoodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!

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