Skip to Content

How to Clean Burnt Carbon and Baked-on Food and Oil from Stove Top

Key Points

  • When food is completely burnt, it goes through a chemical process that leads to off-gas (i.e. carbon dioxide, etc.) and leads to oxidation and polymerization, resulting in carbon black
  • Carbon black is chemically neutral thus multiple cleaning methods must be used for removal

Table of Contents

In addition to working from home, I pretty much cook three meals a day so it is really difficult to do a thorough cleaning afterward cooking.

Well, after about a eight months of “good enough” cleaning, I noticed layers of black charcoal stuff forming around my stove top burners.

This post describes my research and cleaning methods without resorting to harsh chemicals like Easy-Off Oven cleaner.


I recommend you read the entire post but also understand sometimes you need answers in a hurry.


I first tried pouring some hot water and soap and wipe it off but it had no effect.

Being that my stove top was finished with a shiny enamel black paint, scouring was not an option as it would scratch the surface.

Before making any cleaning attempts, please consult your owner’s manual to understand what can and cannot be used to clean your particular cooktop surface.

By the way, some of the methods described in this post can also be used to clean your burnt pots and pants.

Black Charred Stuff when You Burn Food and Oil

It is natural to end up with bits and pieces of vegetables, meats and oil drippings when cooking.

If not removed, these leftover food stuffs get re-heated over and over (especially if they are close to a burner) and eventually turns into something that looks like this:

Credit: reddit – barfuzio
Credit: reddit – wonthappenagain

When food, grease and oil pass their smoke point, sugars and amino acids will go through a chemical reaction called the Maillard Reaction.

Maillard Reaction in turn will caramelize or brown food.

Cooking sugars and amino acids above their smoke point and repeated pyrolysis results in non-crystalline structure that resembles charcoal or coke.

So what exactly is black crusty stuff?

The crusty stuff you see consists of several layers of black charcoal-like stuff formed after going through repeated pyrolysis (pyrolysis is a process where carbon inside food stuff is expelled via combustion, releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane plus burnt carbon).

Because carbon is essentially inert at room temperature, it can be challenging to remove it from your stove top.

Know Your Stove Top Material

As previously stated, you should first consult your owner’s manual before trying to clean your stove toop.

In general, there are three different types of materials:

  • Glass / Glass-ceramic cooktop
  • Enamel (painted steel) stove top
  • Stainless steel range top

Glass / Glass-ceramic cooktops

Mostly found in electric/induction cooktops, a glass surface hides radiant elements underneath.

Glass stove tops have a smooth, flat surface so they are easy to wipe off after cooking.

However, the glass surface can easily scratch, mar or even shatter without proper care.

You should consult your owner’s manual but in general, you should avoid these cleaning methods:

  • Scrubbing Sponges – Like this Scotch Scrubbing pad, the scrubbing side is too abrasive and can lead to micro scratches
  • Steel wool – Definitely avoid; steel wool pads will leave deep gouges
  • Glass cleaners – Concentrated ammonia in glass cleaners are too strong that can lead to hazing and/or micro-pits

If you want more information, read “What is a Glass ceramic” at AZO Materials.

Enamel Stove Top

Most enamel stove tops come in gas appliances.

Much more sturdy than glass cooktops, enamel stove tops are made from steel and are powdered coated with either black or white high-gloss enamel paint.

  • Powder coat painting is made from polymer resin combined with pigments, curative, flow modifiers, leveling agents and several other additives. Electrostatic spray deposition (ESD) process is used to achieve a uniform finish

White enamel stove tops show more dirt but hides surface scratches. Black enamel stove tops hide dirt better but show more scratches.

Again, you should first consult your owner’s manual but you probably should avoid these cleaning methods:

  • Scrubbing Sponges – You may be able to use scrubbing sponges with light pressure
  • Steel wool – Steel wool will remove layers of enamel paint so it should not be used
  • Glass cleaners – May be used depending on the type of chemicals contained in a particular cleaning product

Stainless Steel Range Top

Stainless steel look imitates commercial kitchen appliances. SS is durable but they are highly susceptible to showing scratches.

  • Scrubbing Sponges – You should only use the sponge-side
  • Steel wool – Definitely should not be used
  • Glass cleaners – Yes but certain cleaning products can etch the surface so refer to your user’s manual first

^ Return to Table of Contents

Understanding Chemistry of Cleaning Products

Chemistry is an important part when selecting a correct cleaning agent.

Specifically, we first need to understand what pH is and how it effects our cleaning effort.

The abbreviation pH stands for potential hydrogen. It indicates: (1) how much hydrogen is in liquid solution and (2) how active the hydrogen ion is in solution

Any material with a pH value between 0 and 7 is known to be acidic while a pH value between 7 and 14 is alkaline (a.k.a. base)

A pH of 7 is neutral which means that the amount of hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions in a solution are equal (as in distilled water).

Corrosive vs Caustic

The word “corrosive” is used to describe chemicals that are in the acid category. The word “caustic” is used to describe chemicals that are in the alkali (base) category.

In chemistry, both terms are used to describe a chemical reaction that can damage or eat away materials

Acids (Good for cleaning mineral deposits)

An acid is a substance that produces hydrogen ions in water and it dissolves and soften the tough mineral deposits (from hard water), rust, soap scum and water “rings”.

Alternatively classified as a corrosive agent, here are some common acids found in food:

  • Acetic (vinegar)
  • Ascorbic (oranges)
  • Benzoic (cinnamon)
  • Citric (lemon juice)
  • Formic (venom of bee and ant stings)
  • Fumaric (lichen, bolete mushrooms)
  • Lactic (yogurt, pickles)
  • Malic (apricots, blackberries, cherries, grapes, etc.)
  • Phosphoric (carbonated soda)

Common household acidic items are lemon juice (citric acid also referred to as tribasic acid) and vinegar (acetic acid or referred to as monobasic acid).

Commercially available cleaners like toilet bowl cleaners, tub and tile cleaners and rust removers are all acid-based products.

INTERESTING FACTS: You can learn more about the differences between acetic and citric acid at (click here)

Alkali (Good for cleaning fats, oils, food)

Known as a caustic agent with pH greater than 7, alkaline products are great at removing organic material like oil and food stuff from surface.

Common alkaline products accept hydrogen ions to separate oil and grime from the surface:

  • Ammonia
  • Baking Soda
  • Bleach
  • Borax
  • Drain Cleaner
  • Glass cleaner (“Windex”)
  • Oven Cleaner
  • Soap
  • Sodium Bicarbonate
  • Toothpaste
  • Washing Powder

Some of these products contain powerful solvents used to dissolve and loosen organic materials, so you should carefully follow the manufacturer’s direction.

INTERESTING FACTS: Alkali is a noun that is often used as a category of products. Alkaline is an adjective to describe a particular product. The term “base” is a broader category that includes alkali. Another words, all alkali are bases but the reverse is not true (not all base are alkali). Confused? Check out Difference Between Alkali and Base article ( for more information

Optional Cleaning Tools

  • Old toothbrush
  • Sponge (not a scouring pad)
  • Spray Bottle
  • Expired credit card or plastic gift card
  • Scraper with plastic and metal razor blades
  • Micro fiber rags
  • Plumber’s putty (for a stove top that is not quite level)

Warnings for all Household Cleaning Chemicals

Combining regular household chemicals is not safe. So please:

  • NEVER MIX ammonia with bleach
  • NEVER MIX hydrogen peroxide and vinegar which produces a corrosive and irritant chemical called peracetic acid
  • NEVER MIX bleach (or ammonia cleaning products) with vinegar which may releases chlorine and chloramine vapor which can cause chemical burns
  • DO NOT use dry baking soda powder to scrub as it will leave thousands of light scratch marks on the surface
  • DO NOT use tin (aluminum) foil or heavy-duty scrubber as they will also leave lots of scratches

Commercial Degreasing Products

Primarily used to clean engine parts and tools, automotive degreasing products are combined with other chemicals so that they can be used in kitchen.

There are two primary category

I am fully aware that there are some amazing cleaning chemicals like Easy-Off Heavy Duty oven cleaner and Weiman Gas Range and Stove Top Cleaner and Degreaser.

However, I personally do not like or recommend these products because they contain many harsh chemicals that are both bad for human health and environment. has an excellent article titled What’s Inside: Foamalicious, Vaporlicious Easy-Off Oven Cleaner which describes harsh chemicals in detail.

I’ve heard of people resorting to engine cleaners but I don’t think that is a good idea, especially where you cook!

Cleaning Agents

Generally speaking, acidic household products are good for cleaning metals, removing mineral deposits from hard water or oxidation on surfaces (i.e. rust).

Household products that are alkaline based is better at removing food stuff (i.e. oils, fats and proteins).

Lastly, have a small tub of plumber’s putty to create a dam around the burnt food area. Without it you will have to use a lot more cleaning purpose.

Acetone (acid)

Acetone, commonly found in nail polish, is a common solvent that can remove dirt and grease from metals (but not on plastic surface).

Ammonia (base)

Ammonia is corrosive, base product that can breakdown kitchen grease and grime build up on enamel surface which is also a mild grease solvent

Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can cause burning of the eyes, nose, throat and cause respiratory problems, leading to blindness, lung damage or even death so please use a small amount in a well ventilated area.

Baking Soda (base)

Also referred to as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is the go-to product for many cleaning duties around the house.

Baking Soda + Lemon Juice (neutral)

Combining baking soda with lemon juice will cause them to bubble. Although it may look cool, in actuality, both chemical properties end up cancelling each other out.

Instead, it would be best to use one at a time.

Baking Soda + Vinegar (neutral)

Combing acid (vinegar) with alkaline (baking soda) produces a chemical reaction that generates carbon dioxide (bubbles).

Some say that may help loosen burnt food from the surface but in my experience, it did nothing.

Baking Soda + Vinegar + Salt (neutral)

verify this combination

  • hgfhf

Bar Keeper’s Friend (commercial)

Although I don’t recommend commercial cleaners due to harsh chemicals, I have used Bar Keeper’s friend with success

Bleach (base)

You can use bleach with hot water to remove grease and oil spills

Bonami (commercial)

Features finer grit material than Bark Keepers Friend product

  • Safer for use on sensitive surfaces such as non-stick pans or glass cooktops
  • Bon Ami Powser Cleanser for all types of surfaces
  • Contains calcium carbonate (limestone), Feldspar Powder (mild abrasive), Sodium Carbonate (Soda Ash), Sodium Bocarbonate (Bakign soda), C10-C16 Alkylbenzene Sulfonic Acid (surfactant)
  • No chlorine, no perfume, no dyes, non-toxic, biodegradable
  • Not effective on copper

Borax (base)

Borax is a mineral consisting of salt of boric acid. Borax is also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate

Bounce Dryer Sheet (commercial)

Moisten a bounce dryer sheet and lay it on top of the effected area

  • Bounce Dryer Sheets – Laundry Fabric Softener 240 Count
  • Contains:
    • Dipalmethyl Hydroxyethylammoinum Methosulfate (softening and antistatic agent)
    • Fatty acid (softening agent)
    • Polyester substrate (fabric carrier)
  • How to use:
    • Place a new dryer sheet on top of the burnt food then pour 2-3 tablespoon on top to soak the fabric
    • Leave it for 15-20 minutes, then scrub

Coca-Cola (acid)

Similar to cleaning stained clothing, a can of coke remove burnt grease due to phosphoric acid with pH of 2.5 (which is stronger than some citric acid)

  • Can of coke
  • can it etch black enamel?

Cream of Tartar (acid)

Cream of tartar (a.k.a. wine tartar or wine diamonds) is chemically known as potassium hydrogen bitartrate (KC4H5O) in white crystalline powder form with mild abrasive property.

Derived from tartaric acid during winemaking process, cream of tartar can be combined with lemon juice or white vinegar as a cleaning product.

Polident Denture Cleaner (commercial)

Primarily made of mild bleach (i.e. sodium hypochlorite), a denture cleaner dissolved in warm water can be an effective cleaning agent to remove grease and grime

Easy-Off Oven Cleaner (commercial)

Although Easy-Off Oven cleaner is very effective at cleaning burnt food, they also contain some highly toxic stuff so I do not recommend using it.

Hot Water (neutral)

Although water is understood to be the universal solvent, it cannot dissolve food stuff that is fully carbonized (i.e. burnt)

Water also cannot dissolve oils because oils are lipophilic (i.e. oil and water do not mix).

But hot water can soften the fringe layers that are not completely burned layer so that subsequent solvents can penetrate deeper into the burnt food.

Hydrogen Peroxide (acid)

Hydrogen Persoxide is a weak-acid that can be used as a cleaner.

Isopropyl Alcohol, IPA, 90% (acid)

IPA is an effective degreaser that can be used to soften up hard grease residues.

Ketchup (acid)

Ketchup is an acid-based product but contains other food products so it may help in cutting through some types of grimes

Krud Kutter Cleaner/Degreaser (commercial)

Krud Kutter has multiple products intended for different purpose

Lemon Juice (acid)

Lemon juice is acidic so it is great at removing mineral and starch but not at removing fats

Magic Eraser (commercial)

Magic erasers are made from melamine foam and can scratch and remove protective finishes on certain surfaces

  • I do not recommend using toothpaste to clean stove tops

Mineral Spirits (acid)

Mineral spirits is highly caustic and will damage your cooktop surface

  • I do not recommend using toothpaste to clean stove tops

Pink Stuff (commercial)

The Pink Stuff is a versatile cleaner that can dissolve tough grease build up.

I don’t like to use multi-purpose cleaners in my kitchen but if your burnt food stuff is especially bad, you may want to try a small amount (use the cream).

Salt (neutral)

Salt can be used to soak up excess oil in pots and pans but is not suitable to be used as a cleaning agent

Soap, Dawn Professional Power Dissolver (commercial)

The most effective dis soaps include sodium lauryl sulfate

Soap, Dish (commercial)

The most effective dish soaps include sodium lauryl sulfate to cut grease.

Soap, Murphy Oil (commercial)

  • Contains 98% naturally derived ingredients (Specially formulated with water, coconut & plant-derived cleaning ingredients, natural fragrance, and 2% synthetic ingredients)
  • Murphy Oil Original Formula Oil Soap Liquid – 16 ounce 2 pack
  • Some report success in removing grease from stovetop but you should test in a small, invisible area first

Soft Scrub Multi-Purpose Gel Cleaner (commercial)

Unlike the white paste variety, Soft Scrub gel cleaner is safe to use on stovetops without worrying about scratches

Toothpaste (base)

Toothpaste (a.k.a. sodium monofluorophosphate) contains micro-abrasion agents

  • I do not recommend using toothpaste to clean stove tops

Tri-Sodium Phosphate, TSP (base)

TSP is a very strong alkali (pH of approximately 12)

Vinegar (acid)

Distilled Vinegar is great at removing mineral build up and starch residue but not at removing fats.

Weiman Non-Abrasive Glass Heavy Duty Cleaner(commercial)

A Biodegradable Formula helps easily remove heavily burned on foods, grease & grime. Safe for all surfaces

^ Return to Table of Contents

Steps to Remove Burnt Food

  • STEP # 1 – Make sure the burner is cool to touch before proceeding
  • STEP # 2 – Remove any loose carbon pieces by lightly scraping off the top
  • STEP # 3 Mix the appropriate ratio of cleaning agent and liquid into a toothpaste-like consistency
  • STEP # 4 – Spread the paste over the affected burner
  • STEP # 5 – Let the paste sit for about 20 minutes
  • STEP # 6 – Wipe off paste and gently work the area with microfiber and/or sponge
  • STEP # 7 – Repeat as necessary
  • STEP # 8 – Finish the surface by cleaning it with mild soap and warm water
  • STEP # 9 – If you are unable to remove the burnt food stuff, you will have to scrape it off

Scraping Off Mechanically

If your burnt food is really stubborn as mine was, you will have to resort to physically scraping it off.

Before attempting this method, please read your owner’s manual to see if a razor blade can be used to remove the gunk.

Things to Keep in Mind

Regardless of what you end up choosing, just keep in mind that:

  • Dull metal blades will most likely leave scratches
  • Plastic blade may also leave scratches
  • Use olive oil or Crisco as a lubrication between the blade and stovetop surface

Available Tools

There are many scraper products out on the market.

By the way, before buying a scraping tool, I tried to peel off some crud with my dull dinner knife.

As you can see, I had some success with the knife but quickly realized that it was leaving large scratch marks!

Depending on the surface contour of your stove top, certain tool will perform better than others.

  • Steel wool, Super Fine Grade #0000 (check the price here)
    • Many people say #0000 super fine grade steel wool will not leave scratches but based on my personal experience, this is NOT true
    • So I personally don’t recommend this product but your experience might be better than mine
  • Titan Scraper Tool (check the price here)
    • Comes with replaceable metal and plastic blades
    • Scraper handle is long, allowing two hand control as well as better leverage
    • Easier to keep the blade flat against the stove top surface than short, stubby blade handles
  • Skrapr (check the price here)
    • Balanced and curved handle for excellent control
    • Comes with a large and small scrapers
    • The only drawback is that once the blade is dulled or chipped, it must be discarded
  • The Original Scrapers Set (check the latest price)
    • Made from thick polycarbonate
    • Edge is thicker than other bladed-tools, resulting in increased effort to get under the residue layer

My Recommendation

After carefully reviewing several products, I settled on a Titan Tools Scraper 22 Piece set.

Unlike other products, Titan scraper set came with a long-shafted scraper with two different types of blades.

Plastic blades do a good job of scraping off soft burnt food but the edge quickly gave out after scraping few times.

I was bit hesitant to use a metal blade because I thought it could damage the black enamel finish.

Surprisingly, as long as I applied even pressure on the tool, it kept the blade flat against the surface, allowing me to get most of crud off the stove top.

Titan Tool with a plastic blade

Before and After

Instead of solely relying on the scraping method, I mixed up my cleaning process by combining these steps:

  • First, use my Titan tool to carefully scrape off, starting from the edges then working inward
  • Once I hit a stubborn particle, I would apply the baking soda paste and let it sit for 10 minutes
  • Clean up the baking soda paste with hot water and dish soap
  • Repeat back to scraping step

It took me about 2 hours to clean the entire stove top (did not get to clean my grills), but it came out pretty good.


What if You Can’t Get the Stove Top Clean?

Residential stovetops surface are not designed to be replaced.

I suppose you can always paint the effected area with a high-temp spray paint (i.e. wood burning stove paint) but I have yet to see one that is visually appealing.

If you are really bothered by it, you can always purchase a stove top high temp liner like this one or search on ebay (examples below):

How to Remove Minor Scratches on Enamel Stove top

For minor scratches, I followed the steps outlined at and had great success

Cleaning Schedule

Ideally, a cooking surface should be cleaned often to make sure you don’t end up in my situation.

  • Daily – Wipe down the surface after cooking using a microfiber cloth or soft sponge.
  • Weekly – Thorough weekly cleaning should be done with done with baking soda and vinegar
  • Monthly – Use a mechanical method (i.e. razor blade mentioned earlier) to remove stubborn baked-on gunks


The reason I do not like to use products like Easy-off Oven Cleaner or Carbon Off’s is that they contain pretty toxic stuff.

Check out Carbon Off’s MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) here.

You will see that it contains ammonium hydroxide (usual issues with skin and eyes but may also cause issues with lungs – see Ammonium Hydroxide- Hazardous Substance Sheet) and more troubling dichloromethane (a.k.a. methylene chloride) which is a carcinogen (National Institute of Health link).

Granted, you probably have to be exposed to these chemicals at length to encounter negative health consequences but do you really want to take that chance, especially cleaning a cooking surface?

I think I rather accept a not-completely clean oven rather than dealing with toxic chemicals, especially in my kitchen.

I hope you found this article to be useful for your DIY project and sign up for my newsletter. The signup form is found on the upper right hand corner of your screen.

Thanks and good luck!


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can you find sodium hydroxide naturally?
    • Sodium hydroxide can be made by electrolyzing brine (salt water) or salt solution
  • Is sodium hydroxide harmful to humans?
    • Sodium hydroxide is caustic. Sodium hydroxide can harm workers who come in contact with it. The level of harm depends upon the amount, duration, and activity. It can burn the eyes, skin, and inner membranes, and cause temporary hair loss
  • Is baking soda and caustic soda same?
    • Sodium bicarbonate – otherwise known as baking soda – has the chemical formula NaHCO?. Meanwhile, caustic soda is also called sodium hydroxide and its chemical formula is NaOH. Crucially, baking soda is non-toxic while caustic soda is toxic
  • Can I just dissolve grease?
    • If grease has not been pyrolyzed, you can use white vinegar to remove it. Remember, white vinegar is acidic so make sure to use only non non-porous materials like meatal and glass
  • How do I remove dried grease?
    • You can mix an equal part of dawn dish soap, kosher salt, baking soda with enough water to make the mixture like peanut butter. Apply and let it sit for few minutes before wiping it off. If there are multiple layers of dried grease, you may have to repeat this process quite a bit
  • How do I remove rock hard grease?
    • Hot water and baking soda. Must repeat
  • What is the difference between distilled vinegar vs vinegar?
    • No difference; white vinegar, white distilled vinegar and distilled vinegar are all made from fermented, distilled grain
  • Does vinegar dissolve or clean burnt carbon?
    • Vinegar is a mild and effective agent when cleaning mineral build up and general cleaning. Vinegar is not good for removing bunrt carbon
  • How to remove water stains from black enamel stove top
    • Vinegar is a mild and effective agent when cleaning mineral build up and general cleaning. Vinegar is not good for removing bunrt carbon
  • How to remove burnt sugar?
    • Try a non-flavored club soda followed by hot water
  • How do you remove carbon buildup from pots and pans?
  • How do you remove carbon buildup from stainless steel
  • How do you get carbon off the stove burner?
  • How to remove caked on mess on pans
  • How easy is it to clean old carbon deposits from a frying pan?
  • What breaks down burnt carbon deposits?
  • Thick carbon layer on wok?
  • Another household items to try is baking soda and hydrogen peroxide
  • What Things and Sodium Hydroxide (
  • What breaks down burnt carbon deposits? (Physics Forum)
  • Selection and Use of Home Cleaning Products (New Mexico State University)
  • What is the chemical composition of burnt oil when cooking (
  • Detox Your Home – 5 Common Toxins found in dish soaps
  • The inorganic chemistry of carbon (Purdue University)
  • Burnt Food and Carcinogens: What You Need to Know (Dana-Farber)
  • Pyrolysis – definition (BioGreen Energy)
  • Krud Kutters Products (Rust-Oleum)