Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.
I'm terribly afraid that I have ruined a family heirloom.
My parents received a lovely Le Creuset dutch oven as a wedding gift about 35 years ago, and I inherited it when I moved into my first post-college home, as my mother has others, and this one had sentimental value. I recently made chili in it, and after spending a little too long in the fridge (clearly I'm A Gross), it had some crusty bits that needed to be scraped out. So I set it on the outside table "for a minute" while I was finishing up the rest of the dishes so the sink was free, then I forgot about it.
It's one week later, and I think I've grown an entire galaxy in my beautiful pan— possibly more than one. Now, I'm super grossed out by mold—it makes me want to vomit just thinking about it—and if it were any other pan, I would be a terrible wasteful person and just throw it away. It's not just cleaning it (that's gross yet doable), but also this thought: Can it ever really be clean again? I have this phobia of things being infected even though you can't see anything wrong with it. So any help or tips on what to do once the gross bits are gone to get it super-extra clean and make me think that it is safe to eat out of again without totally ruining it would be amazing. I have a general inclination to just volcano the shit out of it, but I'm not really sure that would help ... What do I do?!?!?!
I'm having one of those blinking-cursor moments right now. I just … I can't quite figure out what to say to you about this one. So I'm staring at a blinking cursor and feeling like I don't know what to do. I mean, I definitely know how to clean the mess you've made of your pot, but I can't guarantee it will also work on your mind.
And also? I don't know that I want to get into the business of worrying about your minds. Like, the ethics on that seem like they'd be pretty murky.
Instead of worrying about your mind, I've decided to only worry about your Le Creuset. Which I definitely know how to save—and also how to generally care for, so we're gonna talk about that, too. Whether or not it's saved to your satisfaction is another story, but, like I said, I'm not going to worry so much about it.
I'm generally pretty hesitant to recommend bleach when it comes to cleaning kitchen items, and here's why: The suggestion sends a lot of people into orbit, and my tolerance for that sort of carrying on tends to run a bit low. Here's precisely why it annoys me—the use of bleach is an option. It's not the only option, nor is anyone insisting you use it. But no matter how clearly that gets stated, there's an inevitable HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST BLEACH, YOU IRRESPONSIBLE MONSTER?!? outcry. It's exhausting.
Today, however, is one of those times when I put aside my own desire to not be screamed at in deference to my interest in helping the people who ask questions of me. So, look, I can't climb inside your brain and rewire it such that your mold phobia goes POOF! I won't even try to talk you out of your mold phobia, because I know how phobias go, and it's best to just work with or around them. And given your particular phobia, I think that bleach is the closest we're going to get to making you feel comfortable with using your pot again.
Your letter didn't state the size of your LC, which is fine. I'm gonna just give you the water-to-bleach ratio, which is one teaspoon of bleach to 1 pint of water, and let you do the conversion. I'm also going to say something off the record. YOU DIDN'T HEAR THIS THOUGH. If you look at a teaspoon of bleach, which I promise is enough per pint of water to disinfect the pot, and you feel that there's not possibly enough bleach to disinfect the pot, you can use more. I really and truly promise that you don't need to, and also professional responsibility requires that I tell you that you shouldn't do so, but if that's what it's going to take to manage your phobia, then by all means. Just don't go crazy. I'm not saying you should add a cup of bleach. Just, like, a tablespoon. Once you've filled the pot with your bleach solution, allow it to hang out for two to three hours. Then dump the solution out and wash the pot with hot, soapy water.
Okay, so that's the bleach option for people with mold phobias. The rest of you can use the bleach if you want! If you prefer not to, here are a bunch of other good things to know about when it comes to the care and keeping of those pricey and beloved Le Creusets.
Speaking of things that are off the record! A few years ago, some OxiClean people and I were chatting about their product, and they mentioned that they used the stuff to eliminate discoloration from the interior of their Le Creuset pots. But they also mentioned that it was an unsanctioned use, so I've never written about it out of some weird sense of obligation to them? But I am now, and here's why: Le Creuset basically says it's okay.
Now, even before that conversation with the Oxi people, I already knew about the Oxi thing, because a friend (really) once used his LC to mix an Oxi solution in which to soak his shirts, and emailed me to tell me how clean the interior of his dutch oven was as a result. And I've used the trick myself from time to time, though to be honest, the stained interior doesn't bug me so much — I figure it's a sign that the pot is being put to good use. But! A lot of people have asked me over the years how to clean a stained Le Creuset interior, and now you know that dissolving maybe a tablespoon of OxiClean in hot water is one way to do so.
Bon Ami & Bar Keepers Friend
These two products are beloved by many and considered the go-to for regular upkeep of enameled cast iron. Both brands offer both powder and cream versions of their cleansers, and both of which are equally fine. The choice of both brand and product type really comes down to preference.
There are a couple of things that you shouldn't do to your Le Creusets. You shouldn't put a hot pan under cold water, nor fill a hot pot with cold water. You should also avoid steel-wool scouring pads and tools, which can cause scratching. That leads us nicely into a discussion of the Dobie Pad, which is a discussion I'm so happy to have with you, because I LOVE a Dobie Pad. I especially love a Dobie Pad, which is a sponge covered in a plastic-like netting that scours without scratching, for scrubbing enameled cast iron, because we tend to use those big, heavy pots to make meals that taste best when they've been simmered for a long time. Like chili! But then, of course, the consequence of that long simmering is often stuck-on foodstuffs. The Dobie Pad will help to unstick those stuck-on foodstuffs without damaging the enamel coating.
Okay, so I'm pretty much done here, which means it's time for you to warm up your vocal cords and scream at me about bleach.
Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume); more of her cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found onTwitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.
Image by Jim Cooke.
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