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I have several copper pans which I use daily. I don’t have the time to always clean them. Now they have a thick crust of black burned fat. When I wash it with dish soda, nothing changes. And I don’t want to use abrasive mechanics (steel sponge), because I am afraid this will scratch the copper surface.

Is there a chemical trick to dissolve the black crust? What is that black crust chemically and why is it so strong?

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The crust is a giant mess of hydrocarbons that have been burned, caramelized, and congealed into the surface of the pan.

I would recommend that you try the steel sponge to get some of the crust off, you may find that as you start breaking into the top layers of crust that it will fall apart. Another strategy would be to put the pan in the oven to the highest heat that is safe for the cookware and this might cause the pan to expand enough to create cracks in the crust or release it from the micro-cracks that were already in the pan surface. As a last resort you will have to chisel it off slowly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Aren’t hydrocarbons dissolved by any acid or the like? $\endgroup$ – erik Jun 8 '17 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ You could use white vinegar (weak acid) and salt as an abrasive to help with the scrubbing. You could try a commercial copper cookware cleaner (typical composition is of weak acids and long chain hydrocarbons). I wouldn't break out the lab grade chemicals because the cookware probably couldn't handle it. If you used a dirty pan multiple times, you'll have to use a little elbow grease as your detergent! $\endgroup$ – J. Ari Jun 8 '17 at 13:12
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Sprinkle a teaspoon or two of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) on the surface, cover with water and boil to dryness.
Add fresh water and repeat a couple of times but do not heat after the last addition of water.
Then try to scrub off when still wet and warm.
Repeat for harder stains.

If this fails try washing soda (sodium carbonate) and with the same process.

If that fails try letting it soak with water and caustic soda (sodium hydroxide, drain cleaner, heating is not recommended however the water gets warm when you dissolve the caustic soda, use gloves and glasses), watch the progress as it will start to etch the copper.

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