Is It Safe to Use Scratched or Chipped Enamel Cookware? Find Out Now

Sirwan Ajman
Sirwan Ajman

Sirwan Ajman

Sirwan writes cooking guides and product reviews for The Skillful Cook. In his writing, he draws from his experience running a health-conscious café.

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Is Scratched Enamel Cookware Safe

DISCLAIMER: THIS PAGE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE.

This page is intended for informational purposes only. No material on this page is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before changing your dietary or cooking habits.

Most enamel cookware on the market is made with a cast iron core and enamel coating. But you can also find aluminum cores, which are lighter in weight.

Enamel is a hard, glossy finish made from porcelain glass and containing minerals like quartz and kaolin clay. In manufacturing, the powder made from these minerals is fused to the core metal’s surface through electricity and heat. 

But as hard as the enamel coating is, it can chip and come off with use and abuse. So, is it safe to use if your beloved enamel cookware is chipped or scratched? 

scratched enameled cookware

Is It Okay To Use Chipped Enameled Dinnerware?

It’s best to replace enamelware (including dinnerware) if it’s deeply chipped. 

Lightly scratched enameled dinnerware is safe to use as long as you keep it clean. If the dinnerware is chipped and the underlying metal is exposed, more bits of the coating might separate from the surface and end up in your food. These chipped areas can harbor germs and bacteria – especially if the underlying metal rusts. 

What are the Risks of Using Scratched or Chipped Enameled Cookware?

Based on my research, I believe that enameled cookware is one of the safest materials that you can have in your kitchen arsenal. It won’t react with acids, is made without polymers, and requires less oil than some other types of cookware. 

chipped enameled cookware

But if your Le Creuset or other enameled cookware chips or has deep scratches, you will want to consider these concerns:

Leaching Metal

Enamel coating creates a barrier between the metal body of a pan and your food. So, whether the pan’s body is aluminum or cast iron, you can be sure that it won’t react with your food – even if you cook acidic dishes like tomato sauce.

cooking acidic dishes on enameled cast iron

But a chipped enamel pot can’t offer the same solid barrier. Aluminum and cast iron are both considered generally safe metals for cooking by the CDC, and the exposed area in a chipped is probably too small to leach a lot of metal into your food. But you may want to be cautious, especially with acidic foods. 

Corrosion and Rust

Corrosion is probably the biggest downside of chipped enamel cookware. The enamel coating protects your food against metal leaching and prevents the underlying metal from corroding and rusting. Both aluminum and cast iron rust very quickly if not protected by enamel or seasoning!

Corrosion and Rust on enameled cookware

According to the FDA, rust from cookware shouldn’t enter the human body since it’s not a food-grade material. Plus, the exposed metal may not get cleaned thoroughly and become a growing hub for bacteria. 

Enamel Pieces in Food

Enamel coatings are strong and don’t come off easily. But once they start to chip, they’ll keep going! And there’s a good chance that those bits will end up in your food — and eventually in your mouth! 

If the chipped bits have sharp edges, they may injure your mouth or throat. And since they’re hard, they can damage teeth or dental work, too. 

Regarding chipped enamel that may find its way into our stomach, there’s no evidence to show it can be dangerous or whether the body successfully passes it. 

Heavy Metals (Lead or Cadmium) in Enameled Cast Iron

Modern enamel cookware from reputable companies like Le Creuset or Staub is made in accordance with regulations like California Proposition 65. These products should not contain harmful levels of toxic metals or chemicals, according to the FDA, or be labeled with a disclosure if they do.

Older enameled cookware, especially those with yellow or red colors, may contain heavy metals such as lead and/or cadmium. Lead and cadmium were traditionally used as pigments or pigment enhancers in ceramics.

cooking meat dishes on enameled cast iron

Most cookware companies have now abandoned or limited their use, or discovered ways to encapsulate these metals so that they do not leach into food. Every company has a different policy on this, and some are more transparent about it than others.

At The Skillful Cook, we have several articles that discuss the safety of modern enamel coatings, like those on Le Creuset or Staub Dutch ovens, in great detail.

These articles are reviewed by a medical doctor and pull together all the current research we can find on the topic, including reviewing tests done by consumers. These articles address concerns such as small amounts of lead found in some brands of enameled cast iron, and I encourage you to explore them as you consider this topic.

That being said, the US began to regulate the use of lead in pigments in the 1970s, and California Proposition 65 was passed in 1985.

If you use a vintage enamel pot or one made without the oversight of US/EU regulations, you should have it leach tested by a lab to make sure it doesn’t contain heavy metals. 

What To Do With Scratched Enamel Cookware

So, your beloved Le Creuset enamel Dutch oven is scratched – what should you do with it?

If only there was a way to undo the damage!

Before doing anything about the problem, first, make sure it’s a real scratch or crack in the enamel. Sometimes, the fine lines on the cookware’s surface are just marks of metal utensils. You can get rid of them with simple cleaning using Bar Keeper’s Friend and a soft sponge. (Then try to avoid using utensils on your enameled cookware next time!)

But if the scratches or cracks in the enamel are deep, there’s nothing you can do to fix it. These scratches are permanent and get worse over time. 

You may be able to salvage your thinning enamel with seasoning. But since enamel’s surface is glossy and smooth, you may never get the well-developed patina of, say, a seasoned bare cast iron. But it wouldn’t hurt to try if you’re done with your pot and want to throw it out. 

I will say – don’t be tempted to get a recoat from third-party services. The coating materials may not be food-grade and nothing like the original manufacturer’s coats. Even if the coating is food-safe, it’s probably not as good and strong as the original and will eventually flake off. 

In these cases, you should replace your enamel cookware. Reputable manufacturers like Staub and Le Creuset have lifetime warranties and replace your cookware if it’s not damaged due to dropping, misuse, and normal wear and tear. 

Disadvantages of Enameled Cookware

Enameled cookware is praised for its versatility, safety, and durability. The hard enamel coating doesn’t scratch or chip easily, and it’s non-reactive. But it has some downsides. These include:

  • Not 100% chip-resistant. Even the enameled cookware made by top brands isn’t 100% scratch and chip-resistant. Thermal shocks and metal utensils are the most common causes of chips, cracks, and scratches. 
  • Not 100% nonstick. If you want a nonstick surface, you need to use oil. 
  • Hard to clean. Although enameled cookware has a smooth, glossy surface, it’s hard to clean if food sticks to it. 
  • High maintenance. Enameled coatings are hard and durable. Still, you need to treat your enameled cast iron gently. You can’t abuse it with metal utensils or heat it when cold from the fridge.
  • Expensive. The manufacturing process of enameled cookware is costly. So, reputable brands are on the expensive side. 

What Are the Alternatives to Enameled Cookware?

So, depending on what you want out of your cookware, you may want to look for alternatives. Here are the best ones: 

  • Cast iron. Regular cast iron is as versatile and functional as enameled cast iron. The only catch is that it’s reactive to acidic foods. But a perfectly seasoned cast iron pan becomes even more nonstick than enameled cast iron!
  • Pure Ceramic. Not many people are aware of this option, but cookware made from clay is growing in popularity. There are a few brands that can be used on the stovetop, including Xtrema and Emile Henry.
  • Stainless steel. Stainless steel is lightweight, safe, and affordable. If you get the hang of preheating, there’s nothing you can’t cook in your stainless steel cookware. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does cast iron cookware contain lead?

Natural cast iron cookware doesn’t contain lead. It’s made of carbon and iron, sometimes alloyed with silicon, manganese, or other metals. But lead isn’t one of them! Lead has a melting point so much lower than cast iron that it’s not found in iron pan bodies.

However, the enamel on some cast iron cookware might test positive for traces of lead, which could be a concern if it chips into your food. Please search our site for other articles that explore this topic in more detail.

Can you repair enamel cookware?

I don’t recommend trying to repair damaged enamel cookware. Some people suggest using a food-safe epoxy to fill in gaps, but the epoxy may not be heat-safe.

If your Le Creuset piece is chipped or scratched, the damage is permanent and gets worse as the cookware expands and contracts with temperature changes. I recommend contacting the manufacturer to see if you can have it replaced under warranty.

Conclusion 

To be on the safe side, you should replace badly scratched or chipped enameled cookware. Over time, these damages get worse, and more underlying metal is exposed. In addition to rust and corrosion, metal can leach into your food. Plus, the chipped-off bits of enamel can get into your food, and you may ingest them. 

Do you have scratched enamel cookware? Did you try to replace or repair it? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below. 

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Sirwan Ajman
About The Author
Sirwan is a food writer and a proud owner of a health-conscious café. He enjoys experimenting with new flavors. Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines hold a special place in his heart.

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