Reusing a stockpot after indigo dye
March 26, 2022 7:35 AM   Subscribe

My dear wife used one of our big stainless steel stockpots to make indigo tie-dye shirts with our nephew. He loves his shirt, they had lots of fun. Afterwards I scrubbed the pot clean with barkeepers friend and soap and put it back in the cabinet. But wife took it back out because she thinks it's no longer foodsafe after the indigo dying process. Is it safe?

I also ran it through the dishwasher a few times to "purify" it. What's the danger level here? Is this a permanent tie-dye stockpot or can I ever use it again for food, and what process could I put it through to satisfy everyone that it will not poison us.
posted by dis_integration to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what process could I put it through to satisfy everyone that it will not poison us


The price of a stainless steel pot is well worth paying in order to sidestep a dispute that you cannot win even though your initial assessment of the pot's safety after the clean you describe is 100% correct.

Our house has one specific fork that is reserved for doling out pet food and is not allowed into the dishwasher, on much the same basis.
posted by flabdablet at 7:46 AM on March 26, 2022 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Was it natural or synthetic dye? If it's natural then it's derived from plants and it's actually used in herbal remedies in some parts of the world and only toxic if you ingest a whole lot of it (though it will irritate your skin as it's pretty alkaline).

If it's synthetic then it may contain some toxic elements but nothing that will sink into stainless steel and last beyond the kind of washing and scrubbing you've put it though.

However, this may be a battle that you need to pick wisely. Depending on how useful/expensive the pot is, I would just replace it or let your wife replace it and keep the old one for future craft projects or other non-food uses. If she's not comfortable using it, then it probably won't be worth it to push her on this subject.
posted by fight or flight at 7:52 AM on March 26, 2022

Response by poster: The kit was natural indigo, soda ash, and sodium hydrosulfite
posted by dis_integration at 7:54 AM on March 26, 2022

To answer your question about is it safe? My vote is yes. First, on the pot side, the whole point of spending more to get a stainless steel is that it is resistant to picking up contamination or getting stained by what you put in it. Second, on the dye side, I looked up the MSDS for a random indigo die and it looks to have relatively stable. Clearly it's not edible, and you should avoid eating lots of it, but there was nothing that stands out as problematic in this situation. Don't tell the wife but that barkeep is likely got more going on than the dye.

To address your unstated question about is it worth being right? I have a cutting board that is reserved for meat use, and only meat use. My spouse and I joke about things being "clean, CHEMICALLY" in a Kids in the Hall Voice, but we still have segregated to gear to keep the peace. People have deeply deeply held beliefs about food and I have learned It isn't enough to just humour these needs but if I am actually going to 'break bread' with them - embrace them.

On preview: a theme has emerged
posted by zenon at 7:54 AM on March 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

To join in with the anecdata: I have a plastic jug I used once for collection of some, uh, bodily fluids for a range of medical tests. Since then said jug has been through the dishwasher multiple times as well as being hand washed. But even though I know, logically, that it's perfectly clean and probably didn't need anywhere near that much scrubbing, I will probably never use it for preparing food again because I can't get rid of the little voice in the back of my mind that shrieks "the pee jug! It's the pee jug! Unclean!" every time I see it.

So, ymmv. But sometimes you just gotta deal with the irrationality.
posted by fight or flight at 7:59 AM on March 26, 2022 [9 favorites]

Agreeing with the previous commenters: replace the pot and move on. The shoe will be on the other foot soon enough, and the pot replacement will be the chit you turn in to get your way. Making your spouse unhappy as the price of being right—and I promise you it will gall her every time she sees the pot—is one of the worst bargains you'll ever strike. (source: together 20 years in 2022)
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 8:02 AM on March 26, 2022 [12 favorites]

The kit was natural indigo, soda ash, and sodium hydrosulfite

None of those chemicals is even remotely toxic in the amounts that could conceivably end up attached to the interior of a stainless steel pot after a moderately thorough rinse in hot water, let alone after multiple aggressive cleanings. Ordinary dish soap is considerably worse.

Your wife presumably has access to Wikipedia and is every bit as capable of knowing this as you, and yet, here we are.

Just replace the pot. People get weird about food and cooking utensils and even weirder about having the soundness of our own weirdnesses questioned by those who don't share the same specific ones. Don't even go there.
posted by flabdablet at 8:04 AM on March 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

ATG (According To Google) Sodium hydrosulfite is highly soluble in water. Soda ash is alkaline. Indigo in trace amounts is not concerning. Stainless steel is non-reactive. I would fill the pot with water and a cup of vinegar, let it sit for a day and not worry about it. Throwing useful things away is against my nature. But if your wife really can't stand to use it, you'll have to discard it. It makes the tshirts hella expensive, though.
posted by theora55 at 8:12 AM on March 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

This may be a situation of "you can be right," or "you can be happy." :)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:17 AM on March 26, 2022 [17 favorites]

Throwing useful things away is against my nature.

Mine too, to a depth approaching religion.

But if your wife really can't stand to use it, you'll have to discard it.

I wouldn't discard it. I would just put it out in the shed and keep it for future non-food uses. Dye is by no means the only low toxicity mixture that could get a completely serviceable pot banned from use as cookware and it would be a shame to be forced to replace another one.
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 AM on March 26, 2022 [27 favorites]

Soda ash is alkaline

and as such it does a really good job at cleaning up cookware with burnt-on grease stains. Super useful chemical.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 AM on March 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Congratulations on your two stainless pots, the cooking pot and the tie-dye pot.
posted by kapers at 8:54 AM on March 26, 2022 [13 favorites]

Throwing useful things away is against my nature.

If you have NextDoor, you could also give it away, stating what it was used for. Or you could save it for future dye or other craft projects - sounds like that was fun, and maybe they'll want to do it or something similar again.

People just aren't always logical about feeling something is not OK for food use. The "yuck" factor is a huge thing for a lot of people, and it's not something you really can fight in yourself even if you're otherwise convinced it makes sense. If I felt the way your wife did, even if I logically thought the pot was safe, I'd probably always feel uncomfortable eating any food made in it. This is why I throw food out if I have doubts about its safety - I can't eat something once "maybe this is poison" is in my mind. That's just how brains work.
posted by FencingGal at 8:54 AM on March 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd keep the original pot and not worry about replacing it. A lot of surgical instruments are made of stainless steel, and they get cleaned and reused many times. Seems like you cleaned it out very thoroughly, so it's safe. Disclaimer: I'm pretty much immune to the "yuck factor".
posted by JD Sockinger at 9:09 AM on March 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

Turn the pot into a “shower-warming-water-saving” pot (use to water plants, wash car, flush toilet, etc.) and buy a new one. Keep your spouse happy and lower your water bill!
posted by Night_owl at 9:19 AM on March 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Is your wife interested in doing more plant and chemical dyeing? Buy a second pot and reserve this one for dye experiments. If this is not an ongoing hobby it is fine to use for food preparation.
posted by pipstar at 10:59 AM on March 26, 2022

You don’t have to throw it away. Keep it for non food things. You can boil paint off old metal hardware. Do another dye bath for something. Etc. Its very useful to have a pot for non food things. Or maybe it’s because I’m a crafter.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think the price of a new pot is a bargain if it ensures a happy spouse. And now you have a dye pot! All your clothing can change color any time you want it to!
posted by bink at 2:39 PM on March 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Personally, I would keep using it for cooking without a second thought, but as others point out, it's probably not worth having your wife worried. There are plenty of other good household uses for an extra pot.
posted by rpfields at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have been married 30 years to a wonderful woman. There is only one answer to this: get a new pot. Old pot is now the “tie-dye” pot.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 7:06 PM on March 26, 2022

The surgical instruments point above is a good one. Think of all the dishes and silverware at restaurants that have been used by hundreds of diners before you, the prep tools the cooks have used for hundreds of meals, the dishwasher who's thinking about anything but dishes as they go about their work...

I think you've already gone well into overkill territory as far as cleaning goes, but if you did want to be extra convincing you could use some Star-San or similar industrial sanitizer.
posted by papayaninja at 4:08 AM on March 27, 2022

Most tutorials about dying have people being very specific about not using your food pots to do it. I suspect this is largely an abundance of caution on the part of the people making tutorials who can’t count on everyone being as thorough as you have been in cleaning! But it does lead one to the impression that you should never reuse a pot used for dying for anything related to food. I would give this up as a lost cause and set aside the pot for a crafting pot.
posted by Bottlecap at 7:56 AM on March 27, 2022

You don't need to throw it out. It just becomes a Utility Pot. Use it for a bucket, to mix paint, to do other dye projects, as a planter, whatever.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also if your wife is the one that used the pot knowing it couldn't be used for food later maybe she wants a new pot and this is her way of justifying it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:45 PM on March 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

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