Spring Cleaning Tip: Start with Old Pots and Pans

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My Favorite Pot

The evils of nonstick cookware are still up for debate, but mine are in pretty good shape; the rusty cast iron pan waits for a good sanding and seasoning.  There are pots in the cupboard I haven’t used in years.  My four standby pieces are within easy reach, pushing the seldom-used wok and roasting pan up and to the back.  Why I delayed cleaning out the tall cupboard until this weekend, I don’t know, but it was a beautiful weekend to stay inside and get something accomplished.

Pots all over the counter.  Everywhere!

I ended up with five stockpots, three small saucepans, two big skillets, two small skillets, one fry pan, one cast iron pan, and one wok.  Too many for a small kitchen; it was time to take the plunge.

Step 1: Sort into piles.

My piles ended up as my four most-used pots and pans, a pile of a few “occasional” pans, and the junk pile.  How do you know if you need to put a pot into the junk pile?  If it has scratches like this:

Scratched Teflon.  That was in my food.Yes, I’ve been eating nonstick coating.  I know that the links between ingesting Teflon and getting sick are tenuous, but the sources I’ve seen (like this Guide to Using Nonstick Pans) recommend tossing out the pots and pans that are losing their coating.  Flaky Teflon is a good sign that your pots and pans are damaged by heat and the utensils you used, so even if you kept them, they wouldn’t be as effective.  And I would hate to find out several years down the road that it’s not a big jump from eating Teflon to getting Alzheimer’s.  I play it safe and junk the junky pots.

Pots also go into the junk pile if you don’t use them.  I find myself upgrading to a nicer pot occasionally, without getting rid of the old one.  Then it sits in the cupboard for months (or years).  Take the time now to sort out what you don’t use, even if it’s an heirloom piece or something really nice.  You can figure out what to do with it later.

Step 2: Rearrange your storage.

Now that you have a nice empty cupboard, put everything back in a way that makes sense.  Stick the seldom-used pieces behind the other pots and pans, or in another room altogether.  Keep the clumsy, heavy items like cast iron unobstructed for easy removal.  Step back.  Admire your work.

Step 3: Reuse, recycle, or trash.

I had some nice pots.  They had no lids, so instead of donating them to my brother’s first kitchen or the local domestic violence shelter, I repurposed them to grow catnip and basil.

Catnip in a pot.  My other plants don't grow this well.

If I’d had beat up stainless steel or aluminum pots in the junk pile, I would’ve called my local transfer station to see if they accepted scrap metal.  Earth911 gives a pretty good idea of what can be recycled in your area.   (As far as I know, no one will take nonstick-coated pots and pans for recycling, but you could always try to resurface your old stuff.)

If you have your great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet that you don’t use, consider displaying it.  Hang it on the wall (with reinforced nails and the like), or use it as a catch-all container by the front door.

Anything in between beautiful and junky get donated.  Whether it goes to the neighbor’s children’s play kitchen set, or the Goodwill down the road, get it out of the kitchen (and preferably out of the house).  You’ll feel a whole lot better if it’s out of your hands.

Step 4: Cook with gusto.

Every time you go for a pot or pan, remind yourself that it only took fifteen minutes to sort your stuff and clear it out.  Smile.  Add some more spice to whatever you’re making.  Cook happy.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I firmly believe that your food will come out better if you’re happy when you cook it.  Happy and unrushed.  And I’m not the only one.

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13 responses

  1. Interesting… We just got rid of our last non-stick coated surface pan, that we used for frying pancakes and other frying stuff, and replaced it with an already seasoned cast iron skillet. It was a very good quality piece that lasted us a few years but it was just starting to lose it’s surface, a couple little pieces were lifting off.

    Our challenge is that we we rarely cook with oil; not in the recipe and not in the pan, hence the “need” for non-stick.

    I’m hoping to right a post about it, I’m hoping it works out.

    Also your little kitchen for 2 had more pots than our kitchen for 5. Glad you were able to rearrange and reuse and make better use of your space.

    • I’m not proud of the amount of pots and pans I had. Most of them came from when Mr. Savvy and I moved in together. It took us a while to figure out which ones we liked the best. Of course, four years is a little long to hold onto old pans….

  2. Hi — I’m a representative of DuPont, and appreicate that you’re keeping an open mind, in spite of there being so much misinformation out there about Teflon non-stick coatings. You can use Teflon without worry. Regulatory agencies around the world, consumer groups and health associations have all taken very serious look at Teflon. I encourage you and your readers to take a look at this article from Consumer Reports. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/home-garden/kitchen/cookware-bakeware-cutlery/nonstick-pans-6-07/overview/0607_pans_ov_1.htm. On top of that, Teflon coatings for cookware play a role in a healthy lifestyle, enabling you to cook with less fats and oils. Anyways, I just wanted to share some of this information. I’d be happy to share other information or recipes if you’re interested. I appreciate your consideration. Cheers, Ross

  3. Thank you for the encouraging words about the pots and pans cupboard. It’s staring at me everytime I pull something out. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.
    I really liked your suggestion about using the old pots for growing containers. I don’t really want to give the old chipped teflon pots to the thrift store. It doesn’t feel quite right, you know. So just move them on out into the garden. Thanks again!

  4. I can’t believe Mr. Ross is seriously telling us that teflon is safe! When polymer polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Teflon starts to break down, the resulting gases are known to produce “hallucinations and flu-like symptoms for humans, and death for indoor birds.”

    According to Pristineplanet.com “The pet birds that have died from Teflon are reminiscent of the canaries formerly used in coal mines to warn miners of lethal gases, which would kill the canary first. Before that happens to you or your household members, consider replacing any Teflon-coated cookware with healthier alternatives, such as stainless steel, cast iron, silicon, or glass.”

    Hmmm…

    Great post, Christine!

  5. Ross4Teflon and Wendy Gabriel — you both make good points, points that I’ve seen before. I’m glad we have both sides of the debate going here. In general, I don’t like cooking with Teflon, but I know a lot of people are ambivalent, or even enthusiastic about it. Wendy, thanks for bringing up the topic of the dead birds. I couldn’t quite see how to work it in the post!

    Ciaran — thanks! Sometimes all we need is someone else to remind us to do something, like clearing out the pots and pans, to get us to do it. I’m glad I could help!

  6. Regardless of the teflon debate, never give up on your grandmother’s cast iron. A properly seasoned cast iron pan does not stick. It makes the best hashbrowns and never wears out!

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  8. great ideas about cleaning kitchen utensils. im trying to figure out how to save space in my kitchen, especially on how to organize my pans, thanks for this post.

    i also donated some of my pots as i have too much of it, and im really glad that i helped others.

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  10. If you want safe non-stick cokware, I suggest EarthPan. EarthPan pots and pans sets are completely unique in that they offer products that are made of Sand Flow which are entirely eco friendly. This Sand Flow material, which is actually created from sand, is made to provide food release for a non struggle cleanup process.

    • Hi Ashley — thanks for commenting. I’ve deleted your links to that storefront because I don’t allow unsolicited advertising on my blog — and also because I tried using an EarthPan and it was horrible. The nonstick-type coating grew sticky after just one use. I’m sure other people have had luck with EarthPan, but I’m not one of them.

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