Ask Tamara: Does cast iron have lead? Are cast iron pans safe?

Ask Tamara: Does cast iron have lead? Are cast iron pans safe?Ask Tamara

Question: Is cast iron safe?  Do cast iron pans ever contain lead?

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 itself to contain lead).

There are TWO exceptions to this…

  1. 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.Ask Tamara: Does cast iron have lead? Are cast iron pans safe?
  2. 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.*****

I often get asked about Lodge brand pans specifically. New Lodge brand pans are terrific from a toxicity perspective (and they also come in at a very reasonable price point) but 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 people have reported to me that their new Lodge cast iron pans arrived broken when ordered and shipped by Amazon.)

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 as an option. As a result I do not recommend their products. Here’s link to more information about those cast iron pans.


*****

  • 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.

As always, please let me know if you have any other questions about this or other areas where lead and lead toxicity might interact with your life.

In my home I personally have vintage cast iron pans that I got from my grandmother and great aunts – and I love these pans! When we lost our home in a total-loss house fire 16 years ago, they were among the very few things that survived the fire!

Thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.

Tamara Rubin
#LeadSafeMama

Amazon links are affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking on one of my links I may receive a small percentage of what you spent at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my advocacy work in this way!

Ask Tamara: Does cast iron have lead? Are cast iron pans safe?

16 Responses to Ask Tamara: Does cast iron have lead? Are cast iron pans safe?

  1. Nelina October 5, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

    Hi Tamara,

    Your posts are really valuable.
    May I ask you which Dutch oven you advise to cook acidic foods. I have been doing my research ; but my head is spinning now because of conflicting data.

    • Tamara October 6, 2017 at 8:04 am #

      I’m sorry. I don’t have a recommendation as I don’t use that type of product. I would imagine a natural clay one (no glaze) might be your best bet… I have seen them in red clay and white clay. The clay base is less likely to have lead than almost all of the glazes used for these things.

  2. Nelina October 6, 2017 at 5:52 pm #

    Thank you. In fact I know that’s the best option.. but I have electric TOP. I have been using clay pots to cook rice and prepare acidic food ; but on gas TOP. Could you please let me know stainless steel options you would recommend. I heard aluminium will leach to food if it’s not good quality.

    • AJackson January 28, 2018 at 2:22 am #

      Kindly be aware that lead has not been used in enamelware glazes, including cast iron, since at least the 1960s to 1970s. That’s at least fifty years’ worth of enamel that is safe for use, including *all* the enamelware made today.

      • Tamara January 28, 2018 at 11:51 am #

        Actually that is not true. Much of the modern enamelware I have tested has had at least some lead. Primarily things like Le Creuset. It is also often positive for high levels of cadmium.

  3. Rachel Janzen April 25, 2018 at 12:16 pm #

    Dear Tamara,
    I bought my son a set of dishes from Totally today – Made in China -It has a lighthouse glazed in the middle and around the edges…
    Do you think this is safe or have you every tested this brand. It is about 10 years old at this point. Also, I have contacted Churchill England Willow to inquire about their dishes.
    any results?

  4. Magdeline July 3, 2018 at 4:18 am #

    Thank you Tamara for your post

    Do you know which of the Le Creuset enamel cast iron are cadmium and lead free?

    Does LC black enamel cast iron contain lead and cadmium? Both on the inside and outside?

    Thanks

    • Tamara July 3, 2018 at 6:43 am #

      I personally avoid Le Creuset altogether, as different batches/years/colors have had varying test results. If you are talking about brand new product the sand colors (beige) seem to test negative the most frequently – although I have only tested a few of them. I do not recall testing any black ones from Le Creuset, sorry. I may have, but I don’t photograph and archive everything I test.

  5. Chris November 17, 2018 at 8:27 am #

    Hi Tamara. I suffer from lead poisoning but I am also allergic to nickel. I was thinking about using cast iron cooking ware instead of stainless steel. Do you think it is safe to buy any new cast iron stove pot without enamel coating as far as you know? I want to be sure of that before ordering as they are pretty expensive here in Europe. I really appreciate your efforts and dedication for raising awareness on lead poisoning. Thank you.

    • Tamara November 17, 2018 at 10:10 am #

      I think they are a good choice. Ikea stainless if often low-nickel or no-nickel, so that’s another option to explore. Where a normal stainless steel pan has 82,000 ppm nickel and Ikea pan might have zero to 2,000 ppm Nickel (in my experience based on the testing I have done.) I use primarily clear glass, cast iron (uncoated) and stainless in my home. I haven’t done enough testing of the pre-seasoned stainless steel pots and I do have some concern (just speculative concern) about what is in the “factory pre-seasoning” on some of the cast iron sold these days – so I think I would buy high quality unseasoned if I were to buy new cast iron, and handle the seasoning part myself. Thank you for reading, Chris! Hopefully I will make it to England soon to do some outreach events. I just need to find a sponsoring agency or business to cover my costs to get over there! – Tamara

  6. Sheryl January 2, 2019 at 2:53 pm #

    I have not purchased Lodge cast iron pans because they were seasoned with soy oil, and my son is allergic to soy.

    • IlonA February 12, 2019 at 2:19 am #

      isnt it enough to just wash it out with a vaery hot water and seasone with the oil you prefer_

  7. Kelly March 16, 2019 at 7:46 pm #

    Hi Tamara,

    You are my source for lead free cookware, etc and i bought Le Creuset pots in the color Palm because somewhere i read that it was a safe color in comparison to the reds, etc.

    I see you say that some colors are safe like the sandy or neutrals and no mention of the Palm.

    I bought a whole colection of the Palm color based on that first blog, did i just waste my money? Thank you!

    • Tamara March 16, 2019 at 8:40 pm #

      Hi Kelly,

      Thank you for commenting. I have personally never recommended Le Creuset, except recommending that we should stage a formal boycott of the company for their lack of responsible manufacturing and materials sourcing over the years. There are some other bloggers who have used my findings and recommended certain colors. I don’t know enough about which colors are called what to make that recommendation.

      As long as that company still manufactures new product with Cadmium as a colorant (regardless of whether or not it presents toxicant exposure hazards to the end user) I will not recommend them or any of their products.

      That said “Palm” sounds familiar – like it is one of their natural colors that likely would have tested negative or low for lead, but I have not done a full work up of it here on my blog.

      Tamara

  8. M March 24, 2019 at 9:16 am #

    Hi Tamara,

    4 years later, do you still recommend Lodge Cast Iron pots?

    I have gone down the rabbit hole of trying to find toxin-free (or the closest to it) cookware. Xtrema and Lodge were my next bet until I saw that exchange on this website. Now I’m thinking of only purchasing Lodge cast ironware.

    Have your thoughts and experiences/test results changed at all regarding these products since 2015?

    Would greatly appreciate your input,

    M.

    • Tamara March 24, 2019 at 10:56 am #

      Hi again M!

      I recommend any brand of plain undecorated cast iron. More expensive brands might be less prone to breakage than cheaper brands. Lodge still has great options for their price points. I am lucky – I have my grandmother’s cast iron pans that she gave me 20 years ago. If you can get your hands on your grandma’s pans… that’s your best bet – LOL! In the absence of inherited pans, avoid cast iron that has any decorative non-iron elements (enamel, brass ends, etc.)

      Tamara

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