The Most Common Instant Pot Problems and How to Fix Them

Instant Pot is a very versatile appliance that can save time and energy in the kitchen. While the best instant cookers are intuitive, these multi-functional pressure cookers can also be confusing. If you’re having issues like a lingering bad smell in your Instant Pot or timer issues, you’re not alone. Most of the problems you are seeing are probably fairly easy to correct when you know what to look for.

We’ve got the best tips, tricks, and hacks to solve some common Instant Pot problems.

Instant Pot is taking too long to start the timer

Remember, Instant Pots need time to heat up. It will take 10-15 minutes for the Instant Pot to heat up and bring the pressure to the proper levels, and then will start the timer. So when a recipe says “pressure cook in Instant Pot for 5 minutes” you should always mentally add the extra time beforehand. If it still seems like it’s taking too long, check your settings carefully to make sure you’re in the correct mode.

The Pot displays a ‘burn’ message

Record message in Instant Pot.
Instant pot

The burn message usually appears when the sensors believe that the frypot is in danger of burning food or damaging the device. This often means that there is not enough liquid in the pot or that the liquid has not reached all the lower corners of the pot, which is easy to fix by adding more liquid. You may also need to let the pot cool if it has been sautéing over high heat for a while.

For more complex meals, place your starches and sauces on top of other ingredients to create a barrier between them and the bottom warmer. Additionally, it can help to elevate meats with the cooking rack. Lastly, if you’ve sautéed a liquid sauce or similar ingredient, make sure there are no chunks stuck to the pot before moving on to the next task.

I get an error code message

Instant Pots use error codes to indicate specific problems. If a code appears, you need to look it up on the support page to see what it means. C1, for example, means that there is a faulty temperature sensor, while C5 means that the pot is not positioned correctly on the warmer.

The Instant Pot keeps playing

Remove a bowl from the Instant Pot.

It is normal for the cooker to beep when it begins to heat up, a beep when the timer starts, and a beep when the timer ends. If it beeps in another way, that usually means something is wrong, and you need to look to see if there is a code flashing on the screen. This usually indicates an overheating problem.

The float valve is stuck

That little float valve at the top of the lid is designed to move freely between venting and natural pressure release. If this valve sticks, there is a problem. Usually it means that the valve has become clogged with food. Unclog the valve and then wash the cap around the valve and be sure to remove all food debris.

My pot is … kind of stinky

The rubber sealing ring of the Instant Pot can easily absorb odors, especially when pressure cooking. If you are cooking a particularly spicy meal, the ring can retain the odor, which is annoying when preparing something different in the pot. Garlic odors may be the most common, but they can occur over time with a variety of scents.

If the odor is causing problems, remove the sealing ring and try washing it in the dishwasher. This can remove some of the worst smell and make the ring work again. You can also try soaking it in a pot of warm water mixed with baking soda to absorb as much of the odor as possible. Some people even choose to buy a replacement sealing ring and use one for meals and one for desserts.

Sauté vegetables in the Instant Pot.
Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

I’m pressure cooking, but steam is coming out

Is steam coming out of the pressure valve, even when it is turned to the upper locked position? It is normal for a small amount of steam to escape from the valve as the cooker heats up, but if it continues to drip during the pressure cook cycle, you may have a problem. This problem could be a sign that you need to clean and reposition the valve. If this doesn’t work, you may even need to replace the valve.

If steam is coming out of the sides, make sure the lid is tightly closed for pressure cooking. If the cap appears okay, examine its sealing ring. A stretched or cracked ring needs to be replaced. If the ring has come loose, you can usually snap it back into place without a problem. A loose ring can harden if you put it in the freezer for a while, but this will eventually speed up the breakdown of the silicone. Plan to get a new ring either way.

Pressure is not building in my Instant Pot

This usually happens when the pressure release valve has “opened” when you sealed the lid, but you were not aware at the time. In this case, the steam slowly escapes from the pot as it tries to heat up. This is not good for the food inside and prevents the cooker from reaching the correct pressure levels.

The best solution for this is to get used to always checking the pressure valve when sealing the lid. Just look and make sure it’s in the locked position before selecting your pressure cook setting.

Instant May 6-quarter.

I can’t crack the timer

This is a very common problem when using the Instant Pot for the first time, and there are a couple of guidelines that you really need to know to avoid mistakes or problems.

Selecting an option like poultry will automatically create a timer, which will then be set to the appropriate time using the plus and minus buttons below the timer display. Remember, the timer does not include how long it takes for the Instant Pot to heat up or cool down. It is designed to be only the time when the food inside is actively pressure cooked. It will take 5-20 minutes for your Instant Pot to build pressure. It depends on the amount, type and initial temperature of the ingredients. It will also take time to release the pressure, especially if the recipe calls for a natural pressure release. This step usually takes another 10-20 minutes. Remember to include all of this time in your kitchen calculations.

I keep burning my fingers when trying to release steam.

The release nozzle on the pot valve is quite loose, and opening it for a quick release after pressure cooking can be painful for even the fastest fingers. If you’ve been steam burned before, there’s a very simple solution that Pot users have found: just use a wooden spoon. Push the valve open with the spoon to release it and avoid steam problems.

I can’t seal the lid on my Instant Pot

The pot lid can be difficult to lock and unlock without a little practice. If you are new to your Instant Pot, try moving the lid back and forth from the locked position until it gets the hang of you. If you know for sure that the lid is not closing properly, look for food locks or a sign of a slipped sealing ring. The cap can also be damaged, but this is relatively rare. Instant Pot lids are very hard.

The lid won’t come off

Lid of an instant pot.
Erika Rawes / Tips Clear

First, make sure enough steam has been released after pressure cooking. Whether you choose a natural pressure release or a quick release, give the Instant Pot time to remove steam and cool down. Remember, Instant Pot is designed to be more secure, so the pot will not allow you to open the lid with too much pressure still inside the pot. A little patience can often fix this problem.

If not, the lid probably won’t come off because the steam release button is stuck. If you are sure all pressure has been released from the pot, use the handle of a spoon and touch the button next to the release valve.

I added liquid like they told me, but things went wrong

When an Instant Pot recipe calls for “liquid”, it is very specific, especially when it comes to pressure cooking. This should be a true liquid, usually water or chicken / vegetable broth, but some recipes call for anything from juice to beer. You cannot use a sauce with thickeners, such as starches, as it will not add enough liquid to the mixture necessary to create steam. Doing so will cause food burns and other problems. Pressure cooked foods generally require at least one cup of liquid to function properly. Instant Pots will often warn you if it detects a lack of liquid, but it’s worth understanding what the recipe calls for. Add sauces and thickeners after cooking is complete.

Instant Pot display won’t turn on

Instant pot on a counter.
Erika Rawes / Tips Clear

Most display problems are often the direct result of a power problem. A quick way to try to fix your screen is to make sure the power cord is fully plugged into your Instant Pot. If you’ve tried this before and the screen still won’t turn on, you should try plugging your Instant Pot into a separate outlet entirely. If still not successful, contact Instant Pot support.

The pot becomes streaked or cloudy

If you saw streaks or clouds inside your pot after your first few uses, that’s normal. Contrary to their name, fats and oils tend to stain stainless steel a bit. Fortunately, those stains won’t affect your kitchen at all, but they could be difficult to remove by washing your hands. The pot is dishwasher safe, so try running it with other cookware to remove streaks and stains. Another solution is to mix a little vinegar over the residue to restore the original shine to the pot.

My Instant Pot is not burning very well

Sautéing with your Instant Pot is convenient, but it can be a challenge to get a decent browning on specific cuts of meat. We recommend opting for a completely different appliance for browning most larger cut foods, such as fillet, because your Instant Pot will not get hot enough to perform a deep seared. Smaller cuts of meat may be successful, but we cannot promise that the meat will not become chewy or soggy. Searing isn’t the Instant Pot’s strong suit, so you should leave that job to your trusted skillet.

Read our Instant Cooker Tips and Tricks guide to learn more things you can do with this kitchen appliance. Interested in a new model? See which Instant Pot is right for you.

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