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Dec 8, 2010 10:03 AM

Somebody please explain to me the obsession with stains on cookware

I don't get it.

I'm not suggesting that you should store soiled pots and pans or not properly care for your investment.

But why do so many people get upset about stains in the bottom of a dutch oven or minor discoloration on copper? It's cookware for crying out loud. Signs of use are inevitable if - GASP! - you actually cook with it.

Take a deep breath, folks. It's just a stain. Your friends and family still love you.

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  1. I agree that signs of use equate to a well loved piece of cookware. As far as I can tell it's just preference, like the person that spends all day sunday detailing their car to make it look like it just rolled off the showroom floor. It's all how people want to present themselves and their things.

    1. NJC: You know the reason: The marketeers and fearmongers have our culture pretty well-trained to become upset at the least sign or whiff of uncleanliness or imperfection. Unless everything looks completely new, it's taken to be unwholesome/unhealthy, and that reflects on our sense of self worth. It's so pervasive we're often judged on it, and judging about it in others. You might as well ask why many of us wash our hands with anti-bacterial soap 6x/day or give our kids antibiotics whenever they get a sniffle--basically the same questions. The same real answer, too: Consumerism.

      How's that?

      BTW, I probably polish my copper every 3 months, or when I'm entertaining (rarely these days). I polish because I prefer the glow, but there's no real need to do it. I CHERISH the dings and imperfections, and wonder at who--100 years before--knocked that skimmer down too hard on the rim.

      8 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        Actually anti-bacterial soap can be unhealthy for you (agreeing with you).

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Chem: Yes, that was my point. So can be tripping over the 24/7 Roomba!

        2. re: kaleokahu


          I know where you're coming from, but I wash my hands because I don't want to get sick. And I wash my pots because I want to take care of them and also, for hygiene reasons.

          But I don't POLISH them or buff them to a shine everytime I use them, you know? And I wouldn't use the color of the interior or the work involved in keeping the exterior clean as the basis for not purchasing cookware.

          But to each his own.

          1. re: NotJuliaChild

            NJC: You asked, and I gave you my take on the truth.

            It's a slippery slope, isn't it? No one wants to get sick, but where do you draw the line with hygiene? I'm all for hand- washing. But many times a day, with strong anti-bacterial soaps, and methanol-based gels? Do we really need 10 color-coded cutting boards? I believe this obsession with disinfecting everything, as with reflexive resort to antibiotics, will ultimately do more damage to more people (by breeding superbugs and killing off beneficial microbes) than not washing AT ALL. I think soap and hot water is enough unless you work in caring for sick or immunosuppressed people, or handle biohazardous materials. [Footnote: I have a friend who LOST A LEG to MRSA, one of these bred superbugs].

            There are many people in this world who would rather suffer a beating than even use soap to clean their wok or cast iron skillet. Just a scrub with a grungy brush (culture THAT!) under hot water and dry with a week-old dishtowel. Is that hygenic?

            Let me bore you with another example. I'm a winemaker. I used to obsess with having my glass and transfer stuff perfectly sterile at bottling. Vastly more experienced makers laughed at me (they still laugh, but for other reasons). Over time I learned that, if spoilage and health were the measures, a far lower level of "hygiene" is necessary. Clean, but not sterile, is good enough.

            End of rant.

            1. re: kaleokahu

              Oh man! I am soooo with you on this point!

              1. re: kaleokahu

                I'm in total agreement with you on the anti-bacterial soap issue. We don't use it here, for both the reasons you site, and because we have a septic system and it kills the bacteria that are needed to maintain the system.

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  "There are many people in this world who would rather suffer a beating than even use soap to clean their wok or cast iron skillet."

                  That is the funniest thing I read for a long while. I guess I must have missed that part the last time I read it.

            2. Well, it is a preference thing. I know a lot of people want bright white kitchen cloth too. Same for shiny flatware.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I like things to be clean. My nearly 30 y.o. stainless cookware is spotless, because I got all the crud off of it each time I used it. I season cast iron, I allow a bit of staining on the bottom of my dutch oven, but accumulated grease collected from use and incomplete cleaning skeeves me out, what can I say? I like clean, shiny, bright things, unless they're cast iron pans.

              2. Thank goodness, I thought it was just me. I love the dents and stains on my kitchen things, they're not just for show you know. I've had people tell me, time to replace that, and I tell them you don't know what you're saying.

                2 Replies
                1. re: coll

                  "time to replace that" seriously people tell you this? If I knew anyone like that, I would tell them that I know of a special recycling facility that handles cookware and that if that person ever had anything needing "recycling" to bring it to me and I would take care of the cookware piece for them, so they can be "green" and all that. ;)

                  1. re: cannibal

                    And of course you would actually be doing something very green: taking something that was on its way to a landfill and giving it some love and time in your kitchen. : )

                2. I understand the appeal of shiny, attractive stuff. Particularly if you store it within view. Still, it is, as NotJuliaChild suggests, tools and indications that it gets used should be a mark of honor.

                  The trick is to think of all those battle scars as "patina". Then you get both your utility and an aesthetic quality as well. ;>