Other than a few little dings on the rim—which nearly all these bowls have since they are now about fifty years old—it was perfect. Apart from the years of greasy grime that is, which covered the inside of the bowl in a grayish layer of sludge that completely resisted my fingernail. I bought it anyway, knowing that it might test my cleaning skills but willing nonetheless to take a shot at it. It might not sound that brave, but I have ruined more than one beautiful enamel piece in the past trying unsuccessfully to clean off schmutz. Once you've ruined the shine there is no way to get it back.
So, I've tried a lot of cleaners, which leads to THINGS THAT DO NOT WORK (and why):
- CLEANSERS of any kind: Comet, Bar Keeper's Friend, even non-chlorine "gentle" Bon Ami — they scratch the surface and remove the enamel along with the dirt
- HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS: Fantastic, 409, and Windex, et al, will stipple the enamel and eat away at it unevenly and make it look dull, and in some cases will dissolve the decorations; they are too strong for this application even though they will usually clean the gunk off
- VINEGAR or other acids: one of the natural cleaners currently in vogue is the enemy of enamel. In fact, all acids are bad for even heavy duty enamel like Le Creuset since it eats at the surface of the enamel and makes it porous (which is why cookware used often for tomato sauces wears out relatively quickly)
- LIGHT DUTY SCOURING PADS: the say they won't scratch, and they don't usually scratch your dishes, but they will definitely scratch your enamel
- HEAVY DUTY SCOURING PADS: by this point you were way ahead of me on this one, I'm guessing
And then, finally, to the exciting part: THINGS THAT WORK!
- BAKING SODA: this other common natural cleaner is your enamel's best friend. A paste made with baking soda and water will generally remove gunk with a light buffing using a soft sponge, paper towel, or even your finger (since it's non-toxic). Don't try and treat it like a cleanser by using brute force. If a light rubbing doesn't work, leave it on for a while (half an hour is usually enough) and come back to it and polish again. Rinse well with water when done
- LIGHTER FLUID: the do-all de-gummer can degrease almost any surface, your enamel included (seriously, it works on most things from metals, to glass, to paper). If the surface is mildly cloudy it will probably even make it a bit shinier. It's best for smaller areas of grease and sticky things like label residue. Apply it with a paper towel or tissue (don't use a cloth, it will get gummy), and remember to work quickly as it evaporates fast. For items you'll eat off of you should rinse with water and a light dishwashing detergent to be safe, but if it's for display there's no need
I wish I had a spiffy before and after photo set, but I wasn't planning ahead (trust me, it was dirty). In fact, given my past experiences I just assumed I was going to ruin the bowl, even though I had done research this time as to what to use. Turns out, the research was right, and now the little mushroom bowl looks terrific. I made this photo collage to show how sparkling clean it is. In the last frame you can even see the iPad that I took the photo with reflected in the enamel, that's how shiny it looks now!