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Is Nonstick Cookware Safe?

It’s difficult to avoid nonstick cookware these days, but it may not be the best choice for a healthy home. While these coatings allow considerable ease in cleaning and reduce the need for oil in cooking, they have potentially serious drawbacks. 


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Most are made from synthetically derived chemicals. When they leach into the food we eat, or into the air we breathe, they may cause serious health consequences, especially at high temperatures and with long-term use. However, Consumer Reports tested nonstick cookware and the results were somewhat reassuring (see sidebar).



Consumer Reports Tests Nonstick Cookware

"When we heated nonstick pans, we found very low levels of a potentially harmful chemical."


Consumer Reports Article 



Teflon®, one of the earliest and most well-known nonstick coatings, is a type of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) trademarked by DuPont. Early Teflon formulas, found in cookware sold in the 1960s and 1970s, proved to easily scratch and peel. Since then, manufacturers have developed other forms of more durable nonstick coatings. But, no matter what the formula, with time and normal wear and tear minute particles of these coatings flake off and can be present, uninvited, in food.


Using Nonstick Cookware Safely

While the EPA is asking for a phaseout of PFOA, and scientific studies cite potential health hazards of nonstick coatings, both DuPont and the EPA say that cooks have little to worry about if they use nonstick cookware properly.


  • Never leave nonstick pans unattended on an open flame or other heat source
  • While cooking, don’t let temperatures get hotter than 450 degrees
  • Don’t use metal utensils
  • Wash nonstick cookware by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges (do not use steel wool)
  • Don’t stack nonstick cookware on top of each other
  • Keep pet birds out of the kitchen


In addition, there’s the possibility that some synthetic coatings sublimate (change from a solid state to a gaseous state) at extremely high temperatures. Once in the air, these synthetic compounds are easily inhaled. Toxic emissions from no-stick pans have been linked to pet bird deaths, and are probably unhealthy for other pets or for humans, especially if someone has asthma or other breathing problems.



Another problem with nonstick cookware concerns perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical used to bond the nonstick coating to the pan. Just two to five minutes on the stovetop may be enough for PFOA to leach. Studies have shown the chemical to be present at low levels in the bloodstream of nine out of ten Americans, and in the blood of most newborns (though we do not understand the significance of this). Scientific studies link PFOA to birth defects and possibly to raised levels of cholesterol. Scientific advisors to the EPA have called it a likely carcinogen. In early 2006 the EPA asked eight American companies, including DuPont, to work towards the elimination of PFOA by 2015.



So what’s the best choice for cookware? Not unlined copper, a soft metal which can leach into food causing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. And not aluminum, a heavy metal which can be absorbed by food, then ingested. Research in the 1980s found a possible relationship between aluminum deposits found in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease, though that research has become controversial. The role (if any) of aluminum has yet to be fully understood. To be on the safe side consider other alternatives, such as cast iron, tin-lined copper, porcelain-on-steel, enameled-steel, stainless steel, ceramic, and thick glass cookware that can withstand high temperatures. Stainless-steel-lined aluminum cookware is acceptable because the stainless-steel layer forms an impenetrable protective barrier between the food and the aluminum.


(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)



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Is Nonstick Cookware Safe?:  Created on May 28th, 2007.  Last Modified on January 11th, 2010


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About Linda Mason Hunter

Linda Mason Hunter

Linda Hunter is a pioneer in the home ecology/green movement. Her first book, The Healthy Home: An Attic-To-Basement Guide(1989, Rodale Press) was the first book on home ecology written for the layperson. Linda was featured in The New York Times and on "Good Morning, America." She has since authored two more "green" books: Green Clean (Melcher, 2005) and Creating a Safe and Healthy Home (CPI 2005). Linda is a field editor for national magazines and a consultant. Linda Mason Hunter's Website is She also founded Healthy Home Designs.



Information provided by The Healthy House Institute is designed to support, not to replace the relationship between patient/physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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