Short Answer: Cast iron (any type of iron) has a much higher melting point than Lead; accordingly, undecorated, simple cast iron pots and pans – at the time of their manufacture – almost never have any lead (as it is unlikely for the metal substrate of the pan itself to contain lead).
There are TWO exceptions to this…
- Exception One: Newer cast iron might be decorated (on the outside) with a decorative high-temperature enamel finish (often very brightly colored – like with many of the Le Creuset products.) This glass-like coating on the exterior surface of the cast iron pot or pan can contain high levels of Lead, Cadmium and other toxicants – used to enhance or create the colors. [Sometimes a “ceramic” coating is used as a non-stick surface on insides of the pans – and those can also contain lead.] For this reason, I avoid any decorated pots or pans for my family and stick with traditional, unadorned cast iron, clear glass or stainless steel as a result. I especially like vintage/antique cast iron that can often be found at yard sales and estate sales (mine is from my grandmother and great aunt), as the quality and durability of those pans seems superior to much of the [less expensive] newer cast iron you find sold today.
- Exception Two: Through my advocacy work I have learned that even unadorned vintage or antique cast iron may have lead residue on the surface too—it is not actually from the original manufacturing of the pot or pan, but because [given that cast iron has the unique quality of having a melting point much higher than that of lead, AND heats up evenly and easily maintains a high temperature well, and makes for a super sturdy and durable vessel] many “lead-enthusiasts” and hobbyists – folks who melt lead to make their own bullets and toy soldiers for example – have historically used their cast iron pots to MELT LEAD, which could leave a lead-residue behind in the rougher, “micro-pitted” surface that characterizes most cast iron [this micro-pitting is one of the reasons why cast iron pots and frying pans need to be “seasoned” before initial use and subsequently re-seasoned as part of proper care.] As a result of learning that these pans may have been used in this manner, I advise that if you do not know the ORIGIN of your cast iron pans that it is a good idea to test them for lead.*****(see below for details)
What about new cast iron pans from Lodge?
I often get asked about Lodge brand pans. Here are some of the concerns:
- While new Lodge brand pans may be okay strictly from a “Lead” perspective (and they also are sold at a very reasonable price point) they aren’t necessarily as solid and high quality as our grandparents’ cast iron – so that’s something you might want to consider when making your purchase.
- Several of my readers have reported to me that their new Lodge cast iron pans arrived broken when ordered and shipped by Amazon.
- Lodge was called out for issues with toxic metals exposure in a study out of China in November of 2021.
- Lodge recently acquired the Portland based company Finex (see below) and they continue to sell them with Leaded accents… so that one point moved Lodge to my #ShitList as far as companies go.
What about Finex (made in Portland, Oregon)?
Unfortunately the brand Finex (out of Portland) adds Leaded brass accents to their new high quality cast iron pans – which is very disappointing. It is my understanding that you can specifically request pans from Finex without the Leaded brass accents – but I am (overall) disappointed with the company in that they continue to use Leaded brass accents and they do not make it clear to their customers (from their website) that a Lead-free version is an option. As a result I would never recommend their products. Here’s link to more information about those cast iron pans.
*****Don’t know the origin of your pan? Read this:
- In a case like this (if the pan was used to melt lead and thus still has any lead residue), a swab test WILL turn pink right away.
- It’s my understanding that if your pan DOES have melted-lead residue, the micro-pitting will likely make it nearly impossible to completely clean all traces of lead out of the pan.
- Attempting to season a pot or pan that is positive for any level of lead [due to past use for melting lead] may also fume the lead into your environment – which can instantly poison your family.
- Any vessel previously used for melting lead should never used for cooking — it should be discarded.
- A swab tests positive at 600 parts per million lead and above, so if your pan turns a LeadCheck swab pink is likely that the surface lead on the inside of the pan is least 600 ppm lead (and levels well below that can be toxic if on a food prep surface).
- Note: if it turns darker brighter orange (vs. the yellowish orange in the solution), that is just the swab picking up more of the iron of the pan – NOT the swab detecting lead—the reagent’s direct contact with Lead always results in the swab turning a pink or red color.
Tamara, what brand of cast iron pan do you use in your home?
- In my home I am lucky enough to have vintage cast iron pans that I got from my grandmother and great aunt – and I love these pans! When we lost our home in a total-loss house fire right after we moved to Portland (in August of 2002), my grandmother’s pans were among the very few things that survived the fire!
- I also like this Made-in-USA brand of cast iron pan (link – image below) – and have one the manufacturer sent to me.
- Solidteknics also makes lovely iron pans in their USA factor, here’s a link to one of those (we have a few of these in our home too!)
As always, please let me know if you have any questions; I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment. Thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.
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