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Stainless pot left on burner; are the fumes dangerous?

Q. Hi,
Recently, I was boiling water in my stainless steel kettle and had forgotten about it until very much later. The kettle was bone dry by the time I realized it. The surface inside, particularly the base had darkened and appeared damaged. After a wash, some discolouration and dark spots on the base surface can be seen.

pot boiled dry

My concern is whether it is still safe to boil water in this kettle.

Steven Heong
Retiree - Penang, Malaysia
April 23, 2024

A. Hi.
Stainless steel remains safe whether it's been hot or not. It's the same metal through and through, so heating doesn't create or expose other metals.

Is this pic before or after you washed it? I'm 95% sure that this picture can be greatly improved with a kitchen steel wool pad [on eBay or Amazon (adv.)]. But if whatever is causing the discoloration won't come off with hot steel wool scrubbing, it's not going to come off in your tea water either. No worries.
br Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up sign Hi Ted, thanks so much for your quick reply and yes the kettle has been cleaned. I'll try to clean it further as suggested but at least now I know I don't have to throw out the kettle.
Thanks again, cheers!

Steven Heong [returning]
- Penang, Malaysia
April 23, 2024

⇩ Related postings, oldest first ⇩

Q. How many of us has forgotten a pot on the stove, and come back to discover it burning. I left for work and was gone 6 hrs. and came back to discover I did exactly this. I'd forgotten a small stainless steel Farberware pot on the stove burner with 3 eggs boiling and just enough water to cover them. I arrived home and upon opening the door, thick, noxious smelling fumes poured out. I ran in several times my nose covered with a thick wet cloth, opening doors, windows, turning on fans. I stayed outside for 6 hrs. working, and waiting for the space to be breathable. Next day I vented the house again for the full day. Slept in my room with room venting, overhead fan circulating the air. The smoke infiltrated the house, drawers, closets, clothes. Is this smoke dangerous and does it cling to items and surfaces. The smell has not completely gone away ... house smells like a heavy smokers house.

Ambray Gonzales
homeowner - Austin, Texas, U.S.A.
April 27, 2010

Hi, Ambray. Stainless steel doesn't melt or fume at the temperatures you can reach on a stovetop, so I don't think the stainless steel is dangerous or the cause of the bad air. Probably just the eggs. As you say, this is very common, and despite how common it is I don't recall any warnings about it, so I doubt that it's dangerous after the house has been well aired out as you did or somebody would probably be warning us.

Some reported cures for a smell that isn't going away fast enough are simmering vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] or citrus fruit rinds, the use of incense for long enough to mask the smell until it dissipates, and baking soda [in bulk on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] anywhere it's practical to sprinkle. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I have another related question: there are many topics regarding stainless steel cookware containing Cr. I understand that is normal and there should be no health concern from regular use of the pot. But what about burnt stainless steel pot? Are the Cr fumes toxic if there are any?

I forgot I had my stove on, the next thing I knew was our house was full of burnt fumes, I turned off the stove right away, but the stainless steel pot was completely black on the inside. (I was cooking sweet potatoes) and of course they are burnt also. It took forever to get the smell out of the house, I think my house still smells a day after that.

My question is, will the Cr in the stainless steel pot become toxic fumes when the pot is burnt from the stove top?

Thank you so much for reading my question.
Be safe!

Farah Thomas
- Austin, Texas
September 7, 2021

A. Hi Farah. The melting point of stainless steel is more than 2500 ° F; I don't think a pot on a stovetop can ever approach that. And the vaporization (fuming) point is yet another thousand degrees hotter or so. And I've personally never heard of chromium fumes or other fumes from stainless steel. I'm pretty confident that there's nothing to worry about there. The smell is almost surely the sweet potatoes which disappeared into the air rather than the stainless steel pot which didn't.

But this is the 2nd time in 2 months you've come here to seek assurance against possible chromium poisoning; it was from a flaking faucet on thread 48245 previously. I'm not sure why you're so attuned to possible chrome poisoning in our world of myriad dangers ... but if you have some symptom that you feel points to chrome poisoning, maybe let us know the rest of the story. Thanks.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
September 2021


Q. Good day, I am using a camp propane burner for heat in a 480 square foot trailer. I misjudged the water/heat ratio in a stainless steel pot and woke up to an odor. I was hurting from the odor and my eyes itched for more than 24 hours. After about 5 hours of fresh air one eye became very painful as if I had rubbed pepper in it. I was very tired all that day. Side note, my CO2 detector and smoke detector did not go off, so the gases in the air must have been something different.
Background: I am without electricity is why I am heating with propane and not my natural gas furnace. I am without electricity because my slumlord refuses to maintain a 60-year-old mobile home park. Electrical meter boxes have not been maintained so I was getting 143 volts in waves into my house. All entities of recourse & info gave misinformation as to where to get help. All government officials ignored my requests or told me that it is not their job to enforce code. I got some relief when I reported to the Public Utilities Commission and the Oregon Real Estate Agency. This Oregon Real Estate Agency is a government office aptly named so to make it near impossible to find it.

Doug Bennett
Retired - Milwaukie Oregon
February 24, 2022

A. Hi Doug. Sorry for your hardships. What, if anything, was in the pot? Stainless steel does not even melt, let alone fume, at temperatures achievable on a cook top -- although the plastic handle on the cover might. But propane fumes require some ventilation and I would guess there wasn't any. Poorly burnt fuel seems a far more likely cause of irritating air thatn stainless steel pots 'fuming'.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up sign Thank you. The pot had only water. I have recovered fully, eyes took 30 hours.

The blue flame of propane is 3600 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a slight chance that it was the handle that let off the gas, but I don't remember it being hot, but I may not have even lifted the lid off when I removed the pot from the flame. This website tells of testing stainless. They run test to 1600 degrees From page 12 of this site, I now believe that the steel at 3600 degrees was what poisoned me.

Doug Bennett [returning]
Retired - Milwaukie Oregon [returning]

A. Hi again. We have a ventless gas fireplace and if no windows are open the house does acquire a smell, and I'm sure if we didn't react it would get worse until our eyes were burning. Gas and propane burn well but they do not burn 100.0%. Rather they produce quantities of contaminants.

Although the blue flame tip may reach about 3600 °F the vaporization point of stainless steel is about a thousand degrees higher. Plus, just because the tip of the flame is 3600 °F, that doesn't mean the pot is that temperature, even the bottom right where the flame is impinging. Believe what the evidence tells you, but crack the windows anyway :-) Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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