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Jan 25, 2012 03:35 AM

Cleaning pots without releasing heavy metals

I am not sure if I am posting this in the right room, hopefully I am.

I have been using for a long time this industrial kind of a stainless steel scouring pad that does a fantastic job of cleaning my pots and pans. I am not concerned about scratching the pots or pans. I am more concerned about using healthy products to clean my pans and I believed that this was a healthier way vs using all sorts of harsh chemicals to get the gunk out. Now I am thinking that it might have been a bad idea because the stainless or (whatever kind of metal alloys it is made out of) releases metals into the pot. I am concerned about it releasing heavy metals into my food. My teakettle recently broke, so I needed to boil some water in the pot and I noticed some weird stuff floating in the water .

Does anyone have some better alternatives that are non-toxic to clean the pots and pans and if anyone knows about the safety in terms of heavy metals of those scouring pads.?

How about brillo pads, do anyone know if they have heavy metals?


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    if something weird is floating in the water, it is not heavy metal; if there is some heavy metal in the water, it will be in such concentration that it will not be visible by human eyes.

    if there is some heavy metal in the water, then it probably come from a lot of different sources than the pan or the cleaning tools/products that you use.

    Stainless steel is quite a stable product for cooking equipment.

    but, I suggest you use less "chemical" products as possible when cleaning your pots and pans, you can use a "plastic" scrubbing pad with baking powder to get the most gunk out of them.

    I also think that you will find many web sites talking about that and giving contradictory conclusions...

    Since I'm not that paranoid, I don't really care about such things...

    1. they don't manufacture cooking utensils with heavy metals for exactly this reason. (Like in all things, I'm sure there is some trace amount, but well below any hazardous threshold)

      The particles in your teapot were almost certainly particles from the WATER in your teapot like lime, calcium or iron -- it depends on where you are as to what they might be -- but those are minerals, and not heavy metals. (the lime, calcium, and iron are harmless, by the way -- the chunks are unpleasant, but harmless)

      2 Replies
      1. re: sunshine842

        Well, actually stainless steel is an alloy of iron that contains Chromium and Nickel, all of which are transition elements, which are some of the elements that are considered heavy metals. The question becomes, is it really possible for you to dislodge these elements from the SS alloy in the process of cleaning and if so, can it be done at a level that could be harmfull. Based on current environmental knowledge, I would say no.

        1. re: mikie

          If I recall my reading from a decade ago correctly, chromium atoms in the alloy do diffuse toward the surface where they react with oxygen atoms that diffuse in, forming the protective chromium oxide layer. When this layer is worn away, more chromium diffuses to the surface. But unless the environment is particularly corrosive or wearing, this process is very slow, and would not be noticeable to unaided eye. In addition chromium(III) oxide is not harmful, at least not in these minute quantities. But then neither is aluminum oxide - i.e. it is not harmful to suck on a ruby or sapphire.

      2. How would heavy metal float?

        Really, I think your pans and methods of cleaning are fine.

        3 Replies
        1. re: sueatmo

          Hi Sueatmo. I guess I gave the wrong impression. Yes I guess what I wrote does sound stupid, I don't think I expressed myself well. I'll try again. What I meant was that I use an industrial metal scouring pad. On the package it does not even say if it is designed for cookware etc . When I use it, small pieces of the metal come off and do float on the surface of the water and it leaves a greyish metallic looking weird color water behind. This seems pretty clearly to be coming from the metal pad and not from the water nor the pan. No, I am not an expert nor do I know how to identify heavy metals. Just wondering if the grey metallic water released from the pad .... could have heavy metals in it.?I try to cook as healthy as possible and use healthy cookware.

          1. re: madonna

            I really, really don't intend this to sound smartmouthed...

            But buy a regular scouring pad at the grocery -- one intended for use with pots and pans.

            There's Brillo pads, there's Scotchbrite, there's plastic scrubbies, there are stainless-steel scrubbies -- all of which are plenty tough enough to handle anything you could do to a stainless-steel pan, and none of which are cause for worry.

            (if you need more than any of these for a stainless pan, we need to talk about what you're doing to the pan in the first place)

            1. re: madonna

              If you rinsed very well, then you should be OK. I agree with sunshine; use Brillo or Scotchbright on your pans. Or use Bartender's Secret or Cameo. Just rinse well.

          2. What are you cooking in your SS that leaves behind stuff that needs a scouring pad to clean?

            What type of cookware are you using?

            Eggs, veggies, and chicken I have mastered so my SS cleans like nonstick every time. I can usually get away with hot water and a 3M soft sponge. I just want to let you know it can be done without using scouring pads or brillo pads.

            1. I regularly use Bon Ami to clean our cookware with a nylon dobie scrubber. Then I wash with dish soap to remove any gritty residue. Never had a problem. Bon Ami is a feldspar cleanser and has no chemicals and to me is gentler than Bar Keepers Friend.

              9 Replies
              1. re: dcrb

                I finally got around to picking up a can of Bon Ami and I am very pleased with its cleaning ability. It's not as abrasive as BKF and doesn't need to be. It's gentle, but still good enough to clean everyday pan residue. Bon Ami doesn't contain harsh chemicals like the oxalic acid in BKF.

                I might be able to get away without having to use gloves when I use Bon Ami.

                1. re: unprofessional_chef

                  Thanks guys for all your input. One of the things that I cook often is steel cut oatmeal which does leave a nasty residue on my saucepan. I think it is obvious what kind of residue is left in a sauté pan. I am not sure why this is so surprising. Bon Ami seems to be working so far with a regular sponge. Maybe one day someone will do a study on this, it would be interesting to know. It is something that I know I did not really consider for a long time, but maybe there is something to it.

                  1. re: madonna

                    I would suggest you revisit your cooking technique and your cleaning technique. I cook in stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron, enameled cast iron... I do not ever use even a plastic scrubber. I use only a soft dishcloth. If I have a little something stuck on or staining the pan, I use Barkeepers Friend or Bon Ami, once again with a soft cloth. There is really no need to scrub a pan hard. Ever. And yes, I've made steel cut oatmeal. It shouldn't leave a residue that is that hard to get out. Empty the pot and rinse it out immediately. I suspect you are letting it sit and get crusty. If you get it rinsed out right away, you will not need any kind of abrasive scrubber.

                    1. re: MelMM

                      if you put some water in the pan as soon as you empty it, then put the pan back on the hot burner (now turned off), you'll find that most of that oatmeal cement comes loose pretty easily with just water and residual heat from the burner.

                      I did get distracted the other day and burned some oatmeal in my stainless saucepan but good -- that one took some elbow grease, but it came off with no problem.

                      I also usually use a small non-stick for oatmeal - it's the only non-stick pan (other than my good saute pan) that I own, and the cleanup is far easier.

                      1. re: sunshine842


                        Unfortunately, sometime I don't have to do it at the moment. One can still fill the pan/pot with water and bring it back up to boil and turn off the heat and wait for it to soak.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          that works, too -- and the downside of my method is you have a pretty gnarly-looking pan hanging out on the stovetop for an hour or so...but I don't usually have much company at that hour of the day!

                    2. re: madonna

                      If you are using steel wool industrial scrubbers, all you are seeing is the steel wool disintegrate.
                      I find for stubborn stains, especially milk and oatmeal residue, simply put about 1/4 inch of vinegar in the pot and let it sit overnight. The next morning, the residue will come right off without much effort.
                      I use a nylon scrubber or a Scotchbrite pad.
                      Try the vinegar, it works!

                    3. re: unprofessional_chef

                      We have a couple of Nesco roasters that get used and the Bon Ami cleans the porcelain well with ease. We also use it on glass casseroles, the counters, just about everything when the need arises. It is inexpensive and simply works. Glad you liked it.

                      1. re: unprofessional_chef

                        Bon Ami lists its ingredients as feldspar and limestone, plus soaps meant to deal with oils. The stones are mild abrasives, not quite has hard as quartz, which is the main ingredient of beach sand. BKF is not abrasive, instead it uses a mild acid, oxalic acid. This is the acid that gives rhubarb its sour taste. Rhubarb stalks are safe to eat, but the leaves have too high of a concentration of this acid.

                        So which do you want to clean with - soap and an abrasive stone, or a vegetable acid? I choose the acid route. Sometimes I even use bleach (a strong alkaline) to clean things (lilke coffee stains). Keep in mind that vinegar is also an acid, while baking soda is alkaline. These are all chemicals.