In many kitchens, a colorful, enameled Dutch oven is an irreplaceable staple used to stews, soups, and braises, and even to bake loaves of crusty bread.
And, if properly cared for, a Dutch oven can last many, many years (in fact, most manufacturers offer lifetime warranties). But how does one properly care for and clean a Dutch oven? What about tough stains or burnt on bits? Are dings, chips, and dents normal? To find out how to preserve and care for this kitchen workhorse, we chatted with folks from popular brands Le Creuset and Staub (the makers behind two of our two favorite Dutch ovens) to get the best tips for cleaning your pot.
First, Let’s Cover the Basics: What is a Dutch Oven?
Dutch ovens (also sometimes referred to as cocottes) are pots made out of enameled cast iron that can be used on the stovetop and inside the oven (both Staub and Le Creuset boast that theirs can withstand up to 500°F). Dutch ovens come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and are known for being hefty, sturdy, and for excelling in distributing and retaining heat. Plus, their enamel coating helps make them somewhat naturally nonstick, without any chemicals. And, a well-made Dutch oven can last a lifetime—if you take proper care of it.
Basic Daily Cleaning and Care
Nate Collier, director of marketing communications and culinary for Le Creuset, told us hard-to-clean stains often form on Dutch ovens due to improper heating.
“One of the most common reasons for stuck-on food is using a heat setting that is too high,” he says. “Because Le Creuset enameled cast iron has exceptional heat distribution and retention, you only need to use low or medium heat while cooking.”
In addition to taking care not to blast the heat on your Dutch oven, Staub, another legacy Dutch oven brand, has a few tips to ensure your pot’s cleanliness and longevity.
In a short, informative video on cleaning Dutch ovens, Staub recommends the following: 1. Soak using hot water and your choice of dish soap. 2. Wash with a non-abrasive cloth or sponge. 3. Put the dish away when completely dry.
And while many Dutch ovens—including those from Le Creuset and Staub—are technically dishwasher-safe, we caution against using the dishwasher, as this can cause the enamel finish to dull. (If your Dutch oven is looking a little dull and needs a refresh, rubbing a tiny bit of vegetable oil on the interior with a paper towel will do the trick.)
While many stains can be taken care of by hand cleaning with soap and water, repeated use of any beloved Dutch oven can lead to normal wear and tear such as scratches, faint stains, and general dulling of the enamel.
For Tough Messes
Perhaps you accidentally left some sauteing onions unattended for too long, and now they are crispy and stubbornly burnt to the bottom of the pan. In this case, it’s time to move beyond the simple soap, soak, and wash method. Collier at Le Creuset suggests “filling the pot with warm water and a tablespoon or two of baking soda, and bring the water to a simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes” before scrubbing, rinsing, and drying. This can be repeated as necessary.
Alternatively, the team over at Staub suggest boiling a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water in the Dutch oven. After, once the cookware is completely cooled, clean it with basic dish soap and then thoroughly rinse and dry it.
For Stubborn Stains
If stains on either the inside or outside of your Dutch oven won’t go away no matter how many times you try the soap, baking soda, or white vinegar solutions, then it may be time to go another route. In this case, Staub recommends using Bar Keepers Friend, a soft cleanser. Simply rinse your Dutch oven with water, and while it’s still wet, sprinkle some of Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser on the bottom of the pot or whatever spot you’re trying to clean. Then, scrub the Dutch oven with a sponge using a circular motion. Finally, rinse and dry the pot completely. (These steps can be repeated if necessary.)
America’s Test Kitchen suggests using an easy bleach solution (especially for Dutch ovens with a light-colored enamel interior). They say to “make a solution of one part bleach to three parts water and let it sit in the pot overnight. If it’s extremely stained, you might have to do it again the next night.”
What to Avoid When Cleaning
There are a couple of ways to ensure that your Dutch oven lives a long, beautiful life. One simple way to avoid damaging it is to not use steel wool or any other sort of abrasive cleaning cleaning pad that can scratch the enamel. Instead, opt for a regular sponge, dish rag, or soft brush. When you’re finished cleaning, make sure that the Dutch oven is completely dry before storing it, as to avoid rusting on the upper rim.
To avoid cracking the enamel, Le Creuset suggests steering clear of putting a hot Dutch oven in direct contact with cold water or air. Collier says that a “drastic change in temperature may result in cracking of the enamel. So if you are storing your cookware in a particularly hot or cold place, allow it to slowly acclimate to the ambient temperature before using.”
One more trick to preserve the enamel is, as we said above, to avoid cleaning the Dutch oven in the dishwasher. While many Dutch ovens—including much of Le Creuset’s cookware—are indeed dishwasher-safe, repeated trips through the washer can wear out the enamel finish. (Side note: we don’t recommend placing many things that are purportedly dishwasher-safe in the dishwasher. Here’s why.)
When to Replace a Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens can withstand quite a bit of heat (no pun intended; some can sustain up to 500°F). With regular cleaning and maintenance, a Dutch oven can last for a good chunk of time. As to be expected, though, using a Dutch oven often can result in some light dings and scratches, but often the dish is still safe to use. However, if the damage is severe enough that there is actual chipped or peeling enamel on the bottom, then continuing to use the dish is not recommended. After all, no one wants to gamble with the possibility of chipped enamel ending up in their food. Make sure to check your particular Dutch oven’s warranty to see what’s covered.
In Short, Taking Care of Your Dutch Oven Can Ensure Its Longevity
Dutch ovens are versatile kitchen workhorses that have a place in any kitchen. And, if taken care of, they can last years on end. It is normal for there to be some wear and tear in the form of faint stains, dulled enamel, and light marks from utensils. And if you’re using your Dutch oven for baking or stovetop-to-oven applications, it’s also likely the pot will get brown specks on the exterior, which is a result of oil polymerization, which, while tough to remove, doesn’t hinder performance.
But it isn’t hard to keep your Dutch oven’s interior clean; hot water and soap will do the trick most of the time. For more challenging messes—such as staining or burnt on bits—Bar Keepers Friend, or various mixtures of baking soda, vinegar, or bleach are effective. Above all, make sure to avoid abrasive cleaning materials and don’t rely on the dishwasher to keep your pot clean. Do all this, and your Dutch oven could last a lifetime.
What is the best way to clean a dutch oven?
The simplest way to clean your Dutch oven is to soak it with hot water and dish soap. Then, wash it with a cloth or sponge that is not abrasive (you don’t want to accidentally scratch the enamel). When the dish is rinsed, let it completely dry before storing.
How do you clean a badly stained Dutch oven?
There are a couple of straightforward fixes for attacking any major staining on your Dutch oven. One is to simmer warm water and a few tablespoons of baking soda in the pot for 8 to 10 minutes. Another option is to combine a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water, and bring it to a boil. After it cools, clean it with water, dish soap, and a non-abrasive sponge or cloth. If you’re still having trouble with stains, then try making a paste with this cleanser from Bar Keepers Friend and letting it sit for a while before rinsing it off. Alternatively, try a solution of one part bleach to three parts water soak inside your Dutch oven overnight before cleaning with soap and water.
How do you clean a non-enameled Dutch oven?
While many popular brands offer enameled cast iron Dutch ovens, there are also uncoated Dutch ovens that require a whole different set of cleaning rules. Our guide to cleaning uncoated cast iron can be found here (we reference a skillet, but the same rules apply to a cast iron Dutch oven).