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Sep 30, 2010 05:00 PM

Cleaning enameled cast iron

I have an enameled cast iron dutch oven that I just love, but the interior has taken on a stain from repeated red wine braises. Does anyone have advice on how to clean this? If it were ceramic or stainless steel, I'd probably just give it a good spray and sit with oven cleaner. (I know, aerosol oven cleaner makes the planet cry, but it breaks down things like this SO WELL!!) I'm afraid this might damage the enamel finish, though. Does anyone have any experience or advice?

Thanks so much!

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  1. Store it with the lid on and forget about it.

    5 Replies
      1. re: JayL

        Be careful when using bleach. I have used plain bleach on my enamel cast iron cookware and it dulled the finish! Make sure you dilute it if your are going to use it and just let it sit longer. If you use the right solution, bleach is the best to make it look like new.
        Rinse it well and let it air dry and all the residue will be gone.

        1. re: bestcookware


          1) Minimize staining/scorching by never using higher than low to medium heat (if you are patient, the pan will get hot to sear beautifully even with a pretty low flame).

          2) Clean after each use with a good & not too abrasive scouring powder (I love Barkeeper's Friend).

          3) When discoloration becomes objectionable, soak for an hour or so with diluted bleach (about 1 part bleach to 2 parts water).

          I have 2 LeC Dutch ovens that I've used about weekly for 25+ years and they look like new!

      2. re: JayL

        That was sort of my plan. It's just nice to have a super bright finish.

        1. re: JayL

          I'd choose this option too, however... I like to clean things. For what it's worth, I scrubbed a pot yesterday (pretty crusty, and from a thrift store) with baking soda paste (rubbing with fingers) and then goo-gone-orange stuff (with a plastic scrubby) and it worked wonders. Also, for the inside of the coffee carafe I use 2-3 denture tablets and it pretty much makes it look brand new. Before you do that though for enamel please do a test run on a similar surface. I don't want to be responsible. :) I think I may have read the denture tablet thing here somewhere a long time ago.

        2. Found on the Interwebs:

          We all love our Le Creuset Dutch ovens, but their light colored enamel interiors become discolored and stained with use. Check out this stain-remover solution!

          Can't get rid of stains on your Le Creuset-- check out this solution!
          Le Creuset's recommended stain-removal solution: 1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 pint of water.

          The outcome: The pots were slightly improved but still far from their original hue.

          Stronger, improved solution (ok'd by the manufacturer): 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. After standing over-night, a lightly stained pot was just as good as new, but a heavily stained one required an additional night of soaking before turning the stained pots back to blonde.

          Read more:

          31 Replies
          1. re: tanuki soup

            It seems to me that any person of a sound mind would rather have the residue of red wine in hanging around in their cookware instead of the residue of poisonous bleach.

            1. re: ToothTooth

              I wouldn't call residue of household bleach poisonous, only if you gulp it down straight out of the bottle. I like to clean with diluted bleach, it works well.

              I gave up trying to clean my Le Creuset anyway, used to use Barkeepers Friend but didn't do all that much to whiten really. No biggie.

              1. re: coll

                Well, bleach residue might not kill you immediately but I wouldn't want to ingest it in any amount if I had a choice. That bleach residue certainly won't help the taste or smell of the food you cook in that sparkling white vessel.

                1. re: ToothTooth

                  I guess that eliminates swimming in pools for you? (Not being perverse, just thinking of all the water I used to purposely swallow when I was a kid!) I also dip my fresh farm eggs in a weak bleach solution before cooking, just in case. For some reason, I love the smell of bleach, it smells clean. But pretty sure it dissipates very quickly.

                  1. re: coll

                    I think salmonella is in the entire egg, not just the shell, but only if the hen is infected.

                    I don't even rinse my hens eggs. The bloom keeps them fresh much longer.

                  2. re: ToothTooth

                    A dilute bleach solution is often used to sanitize kitchen surfaces, particularly in commercial kitchens (all those stainless counters, for example).

                    Bleach works by being a strong base. A bit of vinegar can used after the bleach to neutralize it.

                    1. re: paulj

                      I've been using vinegar to clean and disinfect lately too, especially on my floors, I know plenty of restaurants that do that to avoid the bleach smell. Works as good as expensive floor solutions I think.

                    2. re: ToothTooth

                      Clorine is basicaly a gas that disapates and does not last. A good rinse with water and allowing to air dry for a day or so and there will be no bleach (clorine) present.

                      1. re: Eric in NJ

                        I've noticed a lot of pinpoint pitting in the interior enamel of my beloved old Descoware Dutch Oven. Do you think that having used a bleach solution to clean it could have caused that?

                      2. re: ToothTooth

                        So how much residue to you think there is after washing and rinsing after a mild diluted bleach solution is used? Unfortunately the interior will seldom be sparkling white with use no matter how you clean it.

                        1. re: scubadoo97

                          There is nothing to worry about from the bleach, you rise it and neutralize it, and there isn't enough to do anything harmful. Think about the blind tastings where chlorinated tap water beats bottles water every time.

                          If you use a dilute bleach solution and leave it on a very low heat setting on the stove, the heat will make it work even better.

                          Main downside of bleach is getting it on your clothes.

                    3. re: ToothTooth

                      I'm with you, Tooth. I don't even want to breathe bleach in.

                      I used a bleach solution once, years ago, to clean a round oven, and IIRC, it made the finish less glossy. I wonder if bleach can get through enamel and cause some chemical change. I never did it again.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        I agree; I'd think bleach will degrade the enamel, however little. Between that and the fact that bleach is hell on the environment, why use it any more than you have to? I'd try baking soda and beyond that, just use the darn thing. Cooking stains mean cooking love!

                        Maybe a magic eraser?

                        1. re: Vetter

                          I haven't had bleach in the house in years. I remember leaving one of my newer LCs on the burner long enough to develop a nice crust of black, and I just soaked it in a mixture of Bon Ami and water. Between the two, that oven stayed nice looking--like new, really.

                        2. re: Jay F

                          I've ruined several LC pieces with bleach. If you look on their website they no longer recommend it as a cleaning solution. I would get a bottle of their own cleaner for stains. Bleach is highly alkaline and will etch the surface of the enamel. It might look whiter but over time it will become more porous and dull, and stain more easily with repeated use of bleach. I had used very strong solutions and boiled it and you could even see the iron under the enamel coming though in spots. I thought it was stain, but it was the actual darkness from the gray iron under the enamel I saw and they were just a few years old.

                          This was years ago and they were thankfully replaced by LC. Please be VERY careful with bleach as it does do damage. You do pay a dear price using it to get those interiors white again.

                          1. re: blondelle

                            Me too, I have also ruin one of my enameled cast iron Dutch Oven (not LC) with bleach solution.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              The inside of a washing machine is enameled steel, unless you have a plastic tub, and this sees bleach on a regular basis with no appearant ill effects. So do you think it's the concentration and or heat that is causing bleach to ruin the enamel on your DO? Just curious.

                              1. re: mikie

                                That is an excellent point about the washing machine. I don't know. I think that is a really interesting question. Obviously, washing machines are more than fine, yet it appears several people (including) has seen some problem with soaking their enameled dutch oven in bleach. I actually also heat the DO a bit too (yes, I know it is probably unsafe with chlorine gas release)

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  The dishwasher uses Lye. The active component in dishwasher detergent.

                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                    Just a point of clairification: when refering to a dishwasher, I will refer to that appliance as a dishwasher, when refering to a cloths washer, where chlorine bleach is commonly used, I will refer to that appliance as a washing machine. Sorry for any confusion with the clairity.

                            2. re: blondelle

                              blondelle, How many times did you use your bleach solution before you noticed damage? And was it just a gradual thinning of the enamel? I recently let a strong bleach solution sit overnight in my old Descoware oven and later I noticed a lot of pinpoint pitting in it. I wondered if I could have caused that with the bleaching. What do you think? Is that what you experienced?

                              1. re: Jungle

                                In my experience, I actually were doing low heating with bleach solution in my Dutch Oven. The Dutch Oven looked fine at first, but shortly later it depended hairline fractures. Very very minor visual fractures, they are so fine that when I run my fingers across it feels completely smooth. Then weeks later it depends a sandy surface.

                                I should also say that I have another enameled Dutch Oven made by the same company which I have never used bleach and that one never shows any sign like this.

                                1. re: Jungle

                                  It was over 20 years ago. Sorry, but I don't recall. I remember trying a more dilute solution but it didn't work so I used a really strong solution of almost all bleach not being aware of what it could do. I then heated it so as not to wait for it to whiten. A big mistake. I thought the stuff was impervious to everything. It wasn't!

                                  LC used to recommend soft Scrub with bleach and they do now recommend using an enzyme detergent like Tide. You call them for directions.

                                  1. re: blondelle

                                    "trying a more dilute solution but it didn't work so I used a really strong solution of almost all bleach not being aware of what it could do. I then heated it so as not to wait for it to whiten"

                                    Wow, I did exactly those steps.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      I would think long and hard about heating up a chlorine bleach liquid. Chlorine is fairly safe to handle....UNTIL IT IS GAS FORM!

                                      As a gas the chemical Cl(Chlorine) gets into your lungs and eyes and mixes with the water (H20) and produces HCl which is hydrochloric acid. If strong enough, it will eat your lungs and a lot of the eye tissue.

                                      That and you don't want to mix it with ammonia. Ammonium Chloride in an enclosed space can kill you. Every once in a while somebody mixes the two to clean a toilet with, if not disastrous, then intensely uncomfortable results

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          I figured you knew. I just decided to make sure everybody knows since heating it would be logical next step if you were desperately trying to clean a badly soiled dutch oven.

                                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                                            Agree, agree. Thanks for getting this information out.

                            3. re: ToothTooth

                              You could literally drink 4 ounces of household bleach and it probably wouldn't hurt you. Not that I am recommending it.

                              Restaurants sanitize dishes on a daily basis with a light solution (1 tablespoon per gallon) of bleach and water.

                              I assume you are concerned about residual bleach taste but that is easily remedied with a water rinse.

                              I would be concerned about regular use with that strong of bleach. I would worry that the enamel could get damaged, eventually.

                              1. re: ToothTooth

                                Bleach quickly evaporates and leaves no residue.

                                Wikipedia:The toxicity of chlorine comes from its oxidizing power. When chlorine is inhaled at concentrations above 30 ppm, it begins to react with water and cells, which change it into hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hypochlorous acid (HClO).

                                So, to the guy below, no, you could not drink it and be fine. But, it does evaporate and leaves no toxin behind. I just leave the windows or doors open if I use it for cleaning.

                                1. re: ToothTooth

                                  I agree. Bleach would be Poisonious straight, but many restaurants use a solution of water and bleach to sanitize eating surfaces etc. It is approved by the health dept also. 1tbs to 1gal of water. When I bought a used travel trailer, for some reason the fresh water had a onion smell, but we put in some bleach, drove the trailer around a bit to swish the water in the tank, drained it and to be sure, fresh water again, swish and drained. It was just fine.

                              2. You can lighten this stain by alternatiing wamring vinegar in the Dutch Oven and then baking soda solution. I would think warm vinear will be more effective for the kind of stains you mentioned.

                                The truth is that it is impossible to maintain a super bright white finish for these cookware. It will get dull. It will get stained.

                                1. I've killed a few I admit.
                                  Usually it's Bar Keepers Friend.
                                  A little water and it inside the pan, turn on and heat up, leave on the stove to loosen up crud and gently safely scrub with non ultra abrasive element.

                                  4 Replies
                                    1. re: paulj

                                      I was delighted to find a 12" LC skillet at a thrift store this week - no chips, but lots of burned-on stuff both in & out. I managed to remove all the crud from the exterior (we're talking hours of elbow grease) yesterday. Looked like new, and I was feeling pretty smug. Today I tackled the interior, using BKF, warm water, and a soft scrubbie. It did a pretty good job, and as I rinsed and dried the skillet, I discovered that the underside (blue enamel) suddenly had matte streaks where the solution had run down over the edge. To say that I'm dismayed is a gross understatement.

                                      After coming to this board and reading the posts, I looked at the fine print on the BKF, which states that it may etch "older porcelain". This skillet is one of the earlier designs with the flat handle, but it has the black enamel interior, so I don't know the vintage. In hindsight, I probably allowed the drips to remain on the outside of the pan too long while I labored. Who knew? Hoping my experience will save others from making the same mistake.

                                      1. re: lottapots

                                        Lattapots, Barkeepers Friend can also dull the enamel if used to scrub too vigorously. You can't use too much pressure with it. I didn't know it could etch though. You might try a small buffing wheel on a drill instead of a bit, and some compound they use to polish up car paint or maybe some jewelers rouge to see if you could buff out the matte areas by hand. Of course all this might cost more than the pot :-)

                                        1. re: blondelle

                                          Thanks, Blondelle! I'll try one or both and report results. The etched streaks don't affect the cooking capabilities, of course, but I'd sure love to undo my goof.

                                  1. At my other house I have a tub of English-made paste that was formulated and sold just for this purpose. I forget the name, but it works quite well (cleans well, with no discernible loss of finish gloss or depth of glaze. I think I got it at Sur la Table back when their one store was in Seattle. It has the feel of automotive polishing compound between the fingers, only thicker in viscosity. Undoubtedly a solvent+abrasive, but I have no idea what the grit size is

                                    That having been said, my experience with the light colored LC glaze is that, past a certain stage, stains don't really come all the way out, no matter what you do. But IMO, this paste makes it look as good as it's gonna get short of re-enameling.

                                    If anybody's interested, I'll report the brand, etc. when I'm at the other house.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                      Would like the name of the paste, if it still exists. Am against using chemicals per se. Called the Pike Center Sur La Table and they didn't know the name anymore.

                                      The discoloration is just that. There is no harm to food (being cooked) or human health hazards, after the pot or pan is cleaned.

                                      It's psychological, we become aware or conscious seeing the discoloration and, "flag goes up," something's wrong!
                                      When we as humans perceive something (such as enamel staining) our emotions override rational thinking.

                                      So, since starting the quest of the name of the paste and being new to this site, have no idea where to look if you did post the name. I got here from googling "restoring cast iron enamel discoloration." Joined so could post.

                                      1. re: 1flaccidmember

                                        LC sells a cleaner that is specifically designed for cleaning their enameled cast iron. In my experience it gets the vast majority of stains out with light rubbing with a paper towel.