The most common Instant Pot problems, and how to fix them

Most Instant Pot problems are easy to fix. We'll show you how to handle them

The Instant Pot is highly versatile, and while it’s also pretty intuitive, it can be confusing too. If you’re running up against issues like a stinky Instant Pot, or trouble with the timer, you’re not alone. Most of the problems you’re seeing are likely pretty easy to correct.

From the lid not sealing to a streaky interior, simple problems may seem like big ones. We’ve got the tips, tricks, and even how to read that weird code on your Instant Pot. 

The Instant Pot is taking too long to start the timer

Remember, Instant Pots take time to heat up to their modes, unless you are using a simple sauté setting. For pressure cooking and other modes, the Instant Pot will take time, usually 10-15 minutes, to heat up and bring the pressure up to proper levels, and then 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 are in the right mode.

The Pot is showing a ‘burn’ message

Instant Pot

That’s a worrying thing to see. This usually happens when sensors think the pot is overheating and in danger of burning your food (along with potentially causing damage to the device). Often, this means that there’s not enough liquid in the pot, or that the liquid hasn’t reached all the bottom corners of the pot, which is easy to fix. You may also need to let your pot cool down if you’ve been sautéing on high heat for a while. For more complex meals, layer your starches and sauces on top of other ingredients to create a barrier between them and the bottom heater. Also, elevating meats using the cooking rack can help. Finally, if you have sautéed a liquid sauce or similar ingredient, make sure no bits are stuck to the pot before you move on to the next task.

I’m getting a weird code message

Instant Pots use error codes to indicate specific problems. If a code is popping up, you should look it up to see what it means. You can find a list of the codes on the support page. C1, for example, means there’s a faulty temperature sensor, C5 means that there’s not enough water in the inner pot, and so on.

The Instant Pot keeps beeping

It’s normal for the pot to beep as it starts yo heat, beep when it’s starting the timer, and beep when the timer is done. If it’s beeping otherwise, that usually means something is wrong, and you should look to see if there’s a code flashing on the screen. This most often indicates an overheating issue that your Instant Pot wants you to know about ASAP.

The float valve is stuck

That little float valve on the top of the lid is meant to loosely move between venting and natural pressure release. But if this valve is stiff or gets jammed, there’s a problem. It usually means that the valve has become clogged with food. Take the valve out and wash it thoroughly, then wash the lid all around the valve and make sure all bits of food are removed.

My pot is … kind of stinky

The rubberized sealing ring of the Instant Pot can absorb odors easily, especially when pressure cooking. If you are cooking a particularly pungent meal, then the ring may catch the smell, which is annoying when making a different meal. Garlic smells may be the most common, but it can happen over time with a variety of odors.

The good news is that smells from the ring will not ultimately impact your future cooking endeavors — the flavor itself isn’t affected. The one exception is possibly desserts, which you may want to cook elsewhere for a while.

If the odor is causing problems, take your sealing ring out and try washing it in the dishwasher. This can remove some of the worst of the smell and get the ring back into working order. You may also want to try soaking it in a pan of warm water mixed with baking soda to absorb as much of the odor as you can.

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I am pressure cooking, but steam is leaking out

Is steam leaking out of the pressure valve, even when turned to the upper locked position? That’s a sign you need to clean out and reposition the valve. If this doesn’t work, you may need to replace the valve.

If steam is seeping out the sides, make sure the lid is properly locked for pressure cooking. If the lid seems to be fine, examine your sealing ring. A stretched or cracked ring should be replaced. If the ring has become dislodged, you can usually put it back into place without trouble. A loose ring can firm up if you put it in the freezer for a little while, but this will ultimately hasten the silicone decay, so you should plan on getting a new ring either way.

Pressure isn’t building in my Pot

This usually happens when the pressure release valve has been turned to “open” when you sealed the lid, but you didn’t notice at the time — so steam is just slowly leaking out of the Pot as it tries to heat up. This isn’t good for the food inside and keeps the Pot from actually reaching pressure.

The best solution for this is to get in the habit of always check the pressure valve when you seal lid. Just look and make sure it’s in the locked position before you select your pressure cooking setting. It may take a couple of tries, but soon it won’t be a problem anymore.

Instant Pot 6-quart

I can’t figure out the timer

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

First, you will not be using the Timer button on the Pot to set the time. Confusing, we know. The Timer button is actually for how long you want to delay the Instant Pot heat-up, which is great for planning out meals before work, etc., but not something you want to use when you are ready to cook right now. Selecting an option like Pressure Cooking will automatically create a timer, which you then adjust to the proper time with the + and – buttons below the timer screen.

Second, remember that the timer does not include how long it takes the Instant Pot to heat up or cool down. It’s designed to only be the time that the food inside is actively pressure cooking. Therefore, your Instant Pot will take time to reach pressure – anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, usually, but it depends on what you are cooking. It will also take time to release pressure, especially if the recipe calls for a natural pressure release, which often takes another 15 to 20 minutes. Remember to include all this time in your cooking calculations.

I keep burning my fingers when trying to release steam

You’re not alone! The release nozzle on the Pot’s valve is pretty loose, and twitching it open for a fast release after pressure cooking can be painful for even fast fingers. If you’ve been burnt by steam before, there’s a very simple solution that Pot users have found: Just use a wooden spoon. Push the valve up with the spoon to release it and avoid any steam issues. Some Instant Pot lids make this easier than others, but it’s always a safe option, and you can often position the spoon to prop the valve open if it looks like it wants to close again while venting.

I can’t seal my Instant Pot lid

The pot lid can be tricky 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 you get the hang of it. If you know for sure that your lid isn’t locking properly, look for food blockages or a sign of a slipped sealing ring. The lid may also be damaged, but this is relatively rare — Instant Pot lids are very tough.

The lid won’t come off

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First, make sure enough steam has been released after pressure cooking. Whether you choose a natural pressure release or quick release, give the Pot time to get rid of the steam and cool down. Remember, Instant Pots are designed to be extra-safe, and if too much pressure is detected you may not able to open the lid yet. A little bit of patience can often fix this issue.

Otherwise, the lid probably won’t come off because the steam release button is stuck. If you’re sure all of the pressure has been released from the pot, use a spoon handle and tap the button beside the release valve. The lid will only open if this button is pushed down.

I added liquid like I was told, but things went wrong

When an Instant Pot recipe calls for “liquid,” it’s being very specific, especially when it comes to pressure cooking. This needs to be a true liquid, usually water or chicken/vegetable stock, but some recipes call for anything from juice to beer. You cannot use a sauce or a liquid with any thickeners (such as starches), which won’t add enough of the needed pure liquid to the mix — something that’s needed to create steam. Doing so results in burnt foods and other problems. Pressure-cooked meals will require at least one cup of liquid to work properly. Instant Pots will often warn you if they sense a lack of liquid, but it pays to understand what the recipe requires. Add sauces and thickeners after the cooking is completed.

The Instant Pot display won’t turn on

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

This is probably a power issue. Make sure that the cord is securely plugged into the back of the Instant Pot. Double-check that your power outlet is working (you can try switching to another outlet to find out). If this doesn’t work, contact Instant Pot support.

The pot is getting streaky or cloudy

The stainless steel inner pot will typically get streaky or cloudy after the first use. This is not uncommon, especially when pressure cooking or sautéing with oils or fatty foods. The discoloration will not harm or affect your cooking, although it may not easily come off when hand washing. The pot is dishwasher safe, so you can put it in the dishwasher to help remove these streaks if you really want to. You can also try rubbing it with a vinegar mixture if you want to restore as much of the shine as possible.  It isn’t much to be concerned about though.

My Instant Pot isn’t searing very well

The Instant Pot can be used for sautéing, but a good sear usually takes more than that. If you are trying to sear certain foods, particularly steak, the Instant Pot is simply not a good tool. Unless you just need small steak pieces for a stirfry, the Pot probably won’t be able to reach a high enough heat for a good sear. This leaves your meat a bit soggy and lifeless and can feel like a failed experiment. If you are cooking larger steak or similar foods, we suggest you use a heavy-duty frying pan instead, the way the cooks of old always did it.

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