Are you confused about how safe the new types of non stick cookware are? The toxic dangers of the original Teflon cookware made with PFOA are well known.
But now, non stick cookware brands claim their products are PFOA or PTFE or
chemical free. But do these new types make non toxic, non stick a reality?
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a plastic that does not burn, is a component in many non stick coatings. Teflon, in use since the 1960s, contains PTFE. What’s changed since 2015 is that PTFE is no longer made made using PFOA.
PFOA is a type of perfluorinated compound or PFC (now called PFASs) that was used to make PTFE for decades. But It wasn’t long before reports of pet birds dying from the fumes emitted while cooking in non stick pots and pans revealed the toxic dangers of PFOA.
Now we know that the first generation of non stick pots and pans released chemicals into the air and your food that cause bladder and prostate cancer, hypothyroidism, and reproductive, developmental and immune system damage.
Although I’ve seen many claims that PFCs were only released if non stick cookware was overheated, I’ve read studies that found significant amounts of PFOA and FTOH (which breaks down into PFOA) were released under normal cooking temperatures.
Plus, once it enters your body, you release PFOA from your body very slowly, at a rate of 10% per year for men, 17% for women and 20% for children. During its unwelcome and very long stay in your body, it clings to proteins in the liver and blood.
The good news is PFOA has been largely phased out of American manufacturing operations. The bad news is, the claim that the second and third generation non stick pans are PFOA- and PTFE-free doesn’t mean non toxic.
There are two very good reasons why non toxic nonstick still doesn’t exist. While PFOA may be gone, it’s been replaced with similar chemicals with similar toxic outcomes. And, ceramic cookware, although PTFE free, is made with nanotechnology.
There are more than 3,000 replacement chemicals with similar chemical makeup to PFCs like PFOA. The specific replacements used to make things non stick are chosen because they are so similar to the banned PFCs. This makes a cost-effective way for manufacturers to replace banned chemicals.
Non stick pans that use PFC substitutes will say PFOA free but not PTFE free. That’s your clue that the non stick coating is Teflon-like but it was made by substituting PFOA with a similar chemical. T-Fal is an example of a very popular brand of cookware that is PFOA free but still uses PTFE.
It’s important to avoid these non stick pans because the studies conducted on replacements for PFOA and other PFCs indicate they may be even more dangerous to your health. For example, one study found these new PFCs are more easily absorbed into your brain.
Plus, there are other types of toxic chemicals that are used to make and are emitted from PTFE. An example is TFE (tetrafluoroethylene, CF2-CF2), a highly flammable, colorless gas that is used as the basic building block of PTFE. When PTFE is heated above 680°F TFE is released. And TFE is a possible human carcinogen.
So when you see cookware advertising ‘PFOA’ free, it means the PTFE was made without the use of the chemical PFOA in the manufacturing process. But instead was made with a chemically similar version that has similar effects on your body.
What about the non stick ceramic coated pots and pans that say PFOA and PTFE free? Are they safe to use?
Well, my research shows that ceramic non-stick coatings contain nanoparticles of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) particles, and/or Silica Dioxide (SiO2) embedded in a silicone polymer matrix.
For example, STONETEC’s (found on WaxonWare made pots and pans), PFOA, Lead, and Cadmium Free Natural Stone Ceramic Coating, is a water based nano ceramic coating.
It took some digging, but I also found that Thermolon, a non stick coating found on Green Pans and Zwilling J.A. Henckells pans is also based on nanotechnology.
Thermolon™ is advertised as “an inorganic (mineral based) coating comprised predominantly of the elements silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) combined – i.e. materials that originally come from sand.” There is no mention of nanotechnology.
But, a paper I read on Thermolon said it’s made with the sol-gel process. And according to my research sol-gel is a process where “solid nanoparticles dispersed in a liquid (a sol) agglomerate together to form a continuous three-dimensional network extending throughout the liquid (a gel).”
Many modern products contain nanos and many studies have reported that inhaling and ingesting titanium and silica nano particles are toxic to your cells, accumulate in your organs, cause inflammation and increase the production of free radicals.
And using ceramic lined non stick pots and pans will probably expose you to nano particles. Although research is lacking, a 2017 study found that significant (up to 861 µg l–1 (147 µg dm–2) amounts of titanim nanoparticles were released from ceramic nonstick pans into liquid that was slightly acidic and nanos were also released when the polymer matrix was degraded ( scratched). And you know how easy it is to scratch non stick cookware.
When I published the original version of this article I recommended 100% Ceramic Cookware by Xtrema as a non toxic cookware option. This was based on info provided by the company.
Their current description states “Xtrema products feature a revolutionary and technologically advanced ceramic non-scratch ceramic glaze on the inside and outside of every vessel. This ceramic-glaze consists of 100% natural ceramic materials and is completely environmentally safe. The glaze will never emit gaseous or toxic odors (at any temperature), it will not be damaged by the use of metal cooking utensils, and will never peel or flake off into the food. The ceramic glaze on the outside of the cookware also provides faster clean-up and helps keep Xtrema cookware looking brand new, year after year.”
But I found an old description from 2009 that said Xtrema products feature a revolutionary and technologically advanced ceramic non-stick Nano-Glaze on the inside and outside of every vessel. So, because of the known and unknown dangers of nanoparticle exposure, I can’t recommend Xtrema.
As with any newer products I was skeptical when I began researching the latest non stick options. But let’s face it, a healthy dose of skepticism would have been useful when non stick pans first arrived on the scene.
Still, I was hoping that when I updated this article I would be able to find that elusive non toxic, non stick combination in a brand of cookware. It didn’t happen.
That’s OK. Because I can’t think of one good reason to use non-stick cookware. You have to clean it a certain way, use certain utensils with it and it constantly needs replaced as the non-stick coating wears off.
So, here are some non toxic solutions to toxic, non stick pots and pans.
Cast iron cookware is a tried and true non toxic solution with a long history. It is very durable and can be used in the oven. On the downside, cast iron is a bit heavy and you do have to season the pans.
But once they are well-seasoned, food won’t stick so cleaning them is very easy. I have several cast iron pans, including an omelet pan that I couldn’t do without. Be aware that there is some concern about iron leaching from cast iron that isn’t well-seasoned.
Stainless steel cookware is a great alternative to non-stick. It browns food better, heats evenly and lasts a lifetime. I’ve had the same set of stainless steel, copper-bottomed pots and pans my entire adult life (and that’s a long time). You do have to use a little bit of oil and clean-up is not always a breeze. Try an oil spray bottle to coat your pan and simmer a little water in your pans after using them to loosen food stuck to the pans.
I don’t enjoy cleaning baked-on food off my bakeware. My
trick to making any bakeware non stick is to line it with unbleached parchment
Glass and ceramic stoneware (Corning) are good non toxic baking options. Pyrex is a versatile choice because you can bake, store and freeze in the same container. I’ve used Pyrex for years with no problems, but I have heard reports that it can explode after it is removed from the oven. This can be avoided by placing the hot Pyrex on a potholder. You can also use glass cookware made from borosilicate glass, which will not shatter.
I don’t like the plastic lids that come with Pyrex and
Corning though. I only use them for storing and never. I NEVER use them in the
Another option is clay cookware. Look for options that are 100% Pure Clay. They should also be unglazed and free of lead, cadmium and heavy metals.
One of the great things about clay cookware is it can be used on the stove, and in the oven and microwave and they make great serving dishes. Ancient Cookware and Miriams Earthen Cookware are good options.
I haven’t tried cooking with clay but I’ve done considerable research and have not found any red flags yet. Clay cookware isn't cheap, but if using it protects your health, the investment is worthwhile.
I don’t enjoy cleaning baked-on food off my bakeware. My trick to making any bakeware non stick is to line it with unbleached parchment paper.
However, silicone bakeware is another option. I believe silicone is safe as a food contact material. I did an extensive search and couldn’t find any research either proving or disproving its safety.
What I do know is that it is a chemically inactive rubber-like polymer with thermal stability that is considered low in toxicity for humans.
Also, unlike plastics made up of 100’s of chemicals that leach easily into food, silicone is made from silicon (a naturally occurring element), together with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. If you invest in silicone bakeware just make sure it is 100% silicone to avoid exposure to any additives.