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5 Ways to Get Gunk off Your Dishes (Even When You Can’t See It)

We’ve all been there before, with the daunting, sticky kitchen messes: cinnamon roll residue on a baking sheet, melted cheese “glued” to a casserole dish, burnt bits of rice fused to the bottom of a pot—not to mention that lingering layer of grease or food film you feel but can’t even see.

Even with a dishwasher on your side, cleaning ultra-dirty dishes is a huge pain when you’re not sure how to tackle them—but if you’re armed with the right products and some smart strategies, it can be a breeze. These five fast fixes will have you cleaning, scrubbing, and scouring like a pro.

Give it a good soak

If you don’t happen to have a dishwasher, this easy method takes some time but calls for hardly any elbow grease. First, scrape away whatever debris you can with a plastic spatula or brush. Then, place your gunky baking pan in the sink, fill it with hot water and add a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Then top it off with a dryer sheet (yes, really!) and let the pan sit like this for one hour. When the 60 minutes are up, wipe the pan all over with the dryer sheet—the grime should come off effortlessly!—and then give it a final rinse.

Let your dishwasher do the dirty work


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For those that do have a dishwasher, you don’t have to roll up your sleeves at all—even to pre-rinse dishes—so long as you use a dishwasher detergent that’s formulated to remove invisible food residue in just one wash, like Cascade Platinum + Oxi. It’s a powerful solution that contains stain-lifting ingredients that break down stuck-on food and leaves your dishes with a deep hygienic clean that you can see and feel. (Just don’t forget to scrape off the larger scraps beforehand.)

Pro tip: Load your dishes deliberately — and make sure what you are adding is dishwasher-safe. All the gunky items should be facing the spray arm (often located right in the center), with nothing blocking the water stream.

Get a lift from lemons


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Acid from lemon juice can get a darkened aluminum pot or pan to sparkle in minutes. Here’s how to apply it: Scrape away any remaining food, then fill the pot or pan with hot water first and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Place it on the stove to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then let it cool and pour out the water. Wipe away any remaining residue using a sponge, and rinse. Voilà: suddenly spotless.

Try a salty solution


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Finding a cure for crusty bits of burnt food can be as easy as shopping your pantry. All you need is a generous layer of table salt. After you’ve tossed any remaining scraps, coat the surface of the pan, and then top that layer with water. Put it on the stove to boil for 10 minutes, and after that, any residue should disappear with the swipe of a sponge. (If there happens to be any remaining crud after this, it can be scrubbed away with more salt and a sponge, and then rinsed well once more.)

Double down on scrubbing

Baking soda is another expert pick because it acts as a mild abrasive, removing grease and other grime without scratching a pan’s surface. Your best bet is to first scrub away as much of the gunk as possible without the baking soda, using only a plastic spatula, kitchen brush or gentle scrubbing brush, and then rinse.

To get rid of any remaining grime, coat the dish generously with baking soda and a few squirts of dish soap, and fill with piping-hot water. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then scrub again, adding more baking soda to any stubborn spots and repeating as needed.

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