Cleaning Showdown: We Tried 5 Ways to Deep-Clean “Seasoned” Baking Sheets — And the Winner Was Very Effective

published Mar 22, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

A baking sheet (or sheet pan) is one of the most frequently used items in a cook’s kitchen, and it almost always has the patina to prove it. You’ll rarely find a baking sheet in anyone’s kitchen that’s free of brown spots. And at some point, seemingly overnight, the entire pan usually takes on a very weathered, blackened hue. I call it “well-seasoned” and consider these marks as a badge of honor — but at some point a deep cleaning becomes absolutely necessary.

As you probably know by now, a sponge with warm, soapy water isn’t enough to get the job done. That’s why I tested five other popular cleaning methods. I wanted to learn the best way to get an aluminum sheet pan looking almost as good as new. Turns out, there was one clear winner. Let’s take a look.

How I Tested the Different Methods

Because sheet pans are so big, I was able to divide one (evenly) filthy pan into five different sections to test each method. For photography purposes, however, we used five separate pans, cleaning one half of the pan at a time (for effect!), but the results for testing and shooting were the same. It’s important to note that for both the testing and the shoot, we used aluminum pans, which had a decent layer of baked-on food residue from roasting lots and lots of veggies. The pans had all been scrubbed after each use and there was still a lot of baked-on gunk to chip away at.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn

The ratings: Each method received a rating of one to five, with five being the best method overall and one being the least favorite method. All the methods were effective — it’s just that some took more effort than the others or had some key step we didn’t love. Along with the rating you’ll find notes on how easy or difficult the method was, how much elbow grease it took to clean the pans, and how much time it took to remove all the gunk. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sheet Pan Cleaning Method: Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil

  • Total time: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Rating: 1/5

The method: Sprinkle your sheet pan with baking soda and enough water so that it makes a paste. Wad up a sheet of aluminum foil and use it like a scrubber sponge, working in circles all around the surface of the pan. Occasionally reposition the aluminum foil in your hand if it gets too flat, and continue rubbing it all over the pan until the pan comes clean. Rinse and wash with warm soapy water.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How it went: I had high hopes for this method because it worked wonders when I tested it on cleaning burnt food off pans, but it fell short. I did, eventually, get results, but it took time and lots of elbow grease. This method might be better used on baking sheets that have hunks of food stuck on, rather than flat, baked-on stains. Although I didn’t love this method the most, if you have a sheet of foil that would otherwise be used once and tossed, I do recommend balling it up and using it as a first pass. Just be sure to crumple the sheet in a way that keeps any food stuck to the foil on the inside of the ball so you don’t end up spreading more gunk onto the pan you’re attempting to clean.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sheet Pan Cleaning Method: Baking Soda and Vinegar

  • Total time: 45 minutes (15 active minutes)
  • Rating: 2/5

The method: Make a paste with baking soda and vinegar and spread it on the surface of the pan. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then scrub away with a damp sponge. Rinse, wash with warm soapy water.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How it went: The baking soda method removed a good amount of grime but took a significant amount of time and a lot of scrubbing. I actually switched out my regular sponge for a scrubby one, halfway through. I found that letting the stuff soak for longer didn’t make much of a difference, either: In one test I let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, and another test I let it sit for eight hours. Each test area came out equally clean but required the same amount of scrubbing.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sheet Pan Cleaning Method: Cream of Tartar and Vinegar

  • Total time: 8+ hours (10 to 15 active minutes)
  • Rating: 3/5

The method: Sprinkle cream of tartar evenly across the baking sheet, activate by spritzing the cream of tartar with enough vinegar to soak through. Let the mixture dry for at least eight hours, then scrub away with a scrubby sponge and warm water. Rinse with soap and water.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How it went: I found this method to be the most surprising because, when you think of a powerful kitchen cleaning agent, you probably think of baking soda, not cream of tartar, but when this acidic byproduct from the wine-making process mixes with vinegar, it breaks down grime and makes scrubbing a lot easier. This process required quite a bit of downtime, but the longer I let the mixture sit and do its job, the less time I ended up spending scrubbing my pans. With just a scrub sponge and warm water (read: very little actual effort) I was able to get the pan looking good as new. If any stains persist you can repeat the process.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sheet Pan Cleaning Method: Easy Off and Brillo Pads

  • Total time: 30 minutes (10 active minutes)
  • Rating: 4/5

How to: Spray the entire surface of the pan with Easy Off, place the pan in the oven or set it outside in a safe place for 20 minutes. Then, put the pan in the sink, run warm water, and use a Brillo pad to scrub away any remaining grime. Rinse and wash well with warm soapy water. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How it went: Because the Easy Off is a bit fume-y (lemon-scented fumes), I sprayed the pan outside in the garage and left it there for 20 minutes. Once my timer went off, I brought it back inside and scrubbed it with a Brillo pad. I assumed it wouldn’t take much effort at all and that I would be able to wipe off the grime with a paper towel — just like when I used it to clean my oven — but 20 minutes wasn’t quite enough time to completely obliterate the grime. So a small amount of scrubbing effort was required on my part, but I was very pleased with how quickly the stains came off — all the stains, even the really tough old ones.

Impressive as it was, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was using a bunch of chemicals on my baking sheet that I’d soon be using to roast my organic veggies. This process clearly passed the test (it quickly loosened grime and required minimal scrubbing) but it wasn’t my favorite method.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sheet Pan Cleaning Method: Baking Soda and Peroxide

  • Total time: 8+ hours (10 active minutes)
  • Rating: 5/5

The method: Sprinkle baking soda liberally all over the surface of the pan, then spray a generous amount of hydrogen peroxide over the baking soda until all the powder is wet. Let the whole thing sit overnight. Then, use a plastic scraper and scrape all the baking soda into a pile and dump it into the garbage. Wash the pan in warm, soapy water with a scrubby sponge. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How it went: After scraping away the dried baking soda, I got down to business with the scrubber and was pleased to see that the stains were coming up quite easily. It took some effort, but not much, and most of the stains were lifted. The before and after was seriously impressive and I loved the hard work was done for me while I slept.

Have you tried any of these methods? How do you deep clean your baking sheets? Discuss in the comments below!