Take a look at nearly any wedding registry, and you’re likely to find some enamel cookware. Dutch ovens and braisers are extremely popular in kitchens across the globe, and many people consider them a “must have” item.
Is enamel cookware safe though? Let’s take a look at how it’s made and what could be hiding in it.
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What is Enamel Cookware Made Of?
To put it simply, enamel cookware is aluminum, steel, or (most commonly) cast iron with a glass coating.
The enamel starts out as a powder, and it’s poured and melted over the metal to create a seamless coating that’s bonded to the pan.
Are Old Enamel Pots Safe?
Vintage enamel cookware is popular among a lot of homeowners as well. The beautiful colors and fun designs can give your kitchen an upbeat look, and you can often find it at steep discounts when you’re shopping at estate sales and thrift stores.
Unfortunately, vintage cookware and antique enamel can pose a serious health risk.
This is because it can contain toxic levels of heavy metals, like lead and cadmium.
Old Enamel Cookware May Contain Lead. The FDA didn’t start regulating levels of lead until the 1970’s. Any pots and pans that were made before that time should not be used for cooking. It’s especially prevalent in yellow, orange, and red cookware because companies used it to brighten these colors.
High levels of lead can result in lead poisoning. Lead poisoning increases your risk of anemia, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and kidney damage. It also has some effects on the reproductive system, including a reduced sperm count in men. If you’re pregnant, the lead can cross the placenta and also harm your unborn child, leading to nervous system issues and developmental delays. It can also reduce your child’s IQ.
If you’re at all concerned about the lead levels in your current cookware, you can purchase an at-home lead testing kit.
Vintage cookware can also contain cadmium. Cadmium is a known carcinogen, but many companies used it in their cookware prior to FDA regulation.
When you eat food that’s contaminated with cadmium, you may get nauseous or experience vomiting or diarrhea. The long-term effects are even more troubling though.
Cadmium can cause cancer and damage your kidneys and bones.
If you love the look of vintage cookware, but you don’t feel safe using it (I don’t), you can decorate with it instead! It looks great above kitchen cabinets and can really add some fun color to your room.
How to Clean Enamel Cookware
Cleaning your dutch ovens and other enamel-coated cookware is a breeze. It’s important to note, however, that you should always let it cool before you begin the cleaning process. A drastic temperature change (like going from the stove or oven to the water in the kitchen sink) can cause the enamel to crack.
Once your cookware is cooled off, all you have to do is use water and dish soap, just like you would with any other dish. Soap won’t damage it like it will damage uncoated cast iron!
For tougher stains, you might try creating a paste with baking soda and water. It’s slightly abrasive, but it won’t damage your pots and pans.
Our Favorite Brands
Lodge’s enameled cookware comes in a variety of different colors, and it’s a little less expensive than the other brand we’ve chosen (below).
The company has been around for over 100 years, and it’s still family-owned and operated.
In their FAQ’s, they’ve mentioned that their products all comply with California’s Proposition 65.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Le Creuset as it’s one of the most popular enamel cookware options that are available on the market today.
The company hasn’t been in business for quite as long as Lodge, but they’ll mark their 100-year anniversary in 2025.
Le Creuset used to have information regarding their usage of lead and cadmium available on their website, stating that they meet California’s Proposition 65 standards (which is the strictest in the country).
Since that information is no longer on the website (at least that I can find), I recommend Lodge as my number one choice. That being said, Le Creuset is manufactured in France, which has similar restrictions on lead and cadmium as the U.S.
Other Non-Toxic Cookware Options
You may also want to check out these helpful tips for finding lead-free dinnerware!