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The Hidden Dangers of Vintage Pressure Cookers

Every now and then I am asked about replacement parts for some ancient relic of a pressure cooker that is 40 or 50 years old, even older, dating back to early days of pressure cookery. Every time I'm asked about these old monstrosities I want to scream  - "What are thinking!"

You know what I'm talking about - pressure cookers and canners where the manufacturer went out of business  at least 25 years ago so there aren't any gaskets available.  Do you think that's why the pot was for sale as such a "good" price?  

Please don't even tell me about all those 'homemade' gaskets people try to make for these old relics. If you don't worry about your own safety what about your family?

 Maybe you don't want to lay out $100 (or more) for a good, modern pressure cooker with all the new safety and venting systems,but think of the savings.

Folks, I have to tell you these antiques are dangerous, and if you've heard all the horror stories about exploding pressure cookers of post WWII manufacture these old monsters are where it all started.

If it's aluminum and you see that it is finely pitted, indicating the metal has degraded and it's shedding aluminum in your food, not to mention all the bacteria breeding in the pits. If it's cast iron ... use it as a doorstop.

If you absolutely must have that old dinosaur you found in your great aunt Fannies attic, or the $2 bargain from a flea market PLEASE don't think you can still use it. Display it as a curio, pot a fern in it, or use it for the dog's water bowl.

For more information about manufacturers, vendors or suppliers who carry replacement parts see:

Pressure Cooker Parts

"I just found this terrific old pressure cooker, it's in mint condition, and the price was right, so why can't I use it?"

That's typical of one of the most common questions I receive. For more information about vintage cookers read these articles and decide if you still want to take the risk:

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10 Point Safety Checklist

Test Drive Your Pressure Cooker

Choosing the Best New  Cooker

Used Pressure Cookers

History of the Pressure Cooker

Vintage Pressure Cookers

How  To Buy a Pressure Cooker

Parts and Service

Pressing Cooker Testing

Where to Shop with No tax or Shipping

You never know what might have happened to that used cooker, and it may be unsafe. You would hope that no one would put others at risk, but in today's world, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) should be the rule of the day.

If you are considering using, or purchasing a used, especially a vintage pressure cooker, you're assuming a risk in not knowing if there is any hidden damage to the pot or the lid. There are means of testing pressure vessels and these services may by available at your local State, County or University Extension Service Office. Also contact the manufacturer and ask if testing is available.  By prepared to pay for this, as well as the costs of shipping both ways, although this in itself may actually out weigh the costs of the pot itself.

If the cooker was made prior to 1960 is was probably manufactured using a process called die-casting. Molten metal, most likely aluminium, was poured into a mold to create the pot. This was the standard manufacturing process during and after WWII, and such pans are not of the same quality as those made today. Modern manufacturing makes pressure cookers from rolled and stamped metal sheet that form the pot from one single piece of metal.

Cast metal is brittle and it is subject to tiny, microscopic cracks  or thin spots which weaken the container. Pots and pans take a lot of abuse, they get banged around and they get dropped and may result in cracks in the metal. All these tiny fracture lines or hairline cracks are microscopic and they can only be picked up through industrial X-ray, they are not visible to the naked eye. While you might be able to use that old cooker safely for a while, eventually such a fault will cause a failure, sometimes with catastrophic results.

The only way to be sure if an old pressure cooker or canner is safe is to send it back to the factory for testing. The original manufacturer - although sometimes other manufacturers may be willing or have the special equipment to test other brands. Be prepared to pay a small fee, plus round trip shipping costs to have it tested for unseen faults. Be sure to call the manufacturer first, if they are no longer in service then Presto of Mirro may offer testing on some models.

Also check with your country or university extension office. Often they will provide this service, although it may only be offered at certain times by appointment as the testing equipment travels from place to place.