Healthy cooking starts with healthy cookware.
Now, obviously, the pans themselves are not healthy or unhealthy; we don’t chomp down on our cookware! But the materials they are made of can impact the food we cook in them. Most concerns about cookware materials revolve around chemicals and metals that could leach from the pans into our food and negatively affect our health. So, what cookware can you trust?
As a professionally trained chef, I’m going to share my opinions on the best non-toxic cookware on the market. Then we’ll walk through 9 of the most commonly used cookware materials, dig into research, and get the lowdown on how safe they are to cook with – so you can make an educated buying decision.
What Kind of Cookware is Really Non-Toxic?
Non-toxic cookware has become a hot topic recently, but what really is a non-toxic cookware material?
When we talk about non-toxic cookware, we are looking for products that don’t contain harmful “forever chemicals” and won’t leach toxic amounts of metals into your food. Many consumers want to completely avoid synthetic polymer coatings made of PTFE or Teflon. Metals sometimes found in cookware that could cause health issues include lead, cadmium, and potentially aluminum.
Out of all the options available, the safest cookware materials, according to most experts, are:
Even with these materials, you must be careful about where you purchase your cookware. Buying cookware from reputable brands is the best way to ensure that your cookware is truly non-toxic. Look for companies that seek ongoing rigorous third-party testing and aren’t afraid to publish their results. The test results from these companies are often available on their websites, so you can assess for yourself whether or not the cookware is safe.
My Top Picks for NonToxic Cookware: Ceramic and Stainless Steel
Of all the products I’ll be showing you today, my favorites are the Caraway Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Set and the Made In Cookware 10-pc Stainless Steel Set. These two sets together will have every pot or pan you need (with the exception of a wok, which I’ll include in the list below.) With the nonstick abilities of the Caraway pans and the toughness of the stainless steel set, you can do everything from gently cook a French omelet to hard sear a steak.
At the end of the day, there are pros and cons to all kinds of cookware. Every family is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for non-toxic cookware. In this guide, I’ve done my best to provide helpful, well-researched information that will help you make the right decision for yourself and your family.
Caraway Ceramic Nonstick 12-pc Cookware Set– The Best Non-Toxic Cookware Set
Pieces included: 10.5” frying pan, 3-qt saucepan with lid, 6.5-qt Dutch oven with lid, 4.5-qt saute pan with lid, 4 modular magnetic pan holders, canvas lid holder
This Caraway Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Set is my favorite nontoxic cookware. Not only is it beautiful, but it has an incredible ceramic nonstick coating that releases food like no other! This sol-gel coating is a sand-derived nonstick containing none of the harmful chemicals associated with Teflon.
The Caraway company does not reveal exactly what minerals are used in its pans’ sol-gel coating. However, it does voluntarily seek third-party testing for PFOA and heavy metals, and shares the results with consumers. This is a huge step toward the transparency in cookware that we should push for from all manufacturers.
This set is also oven-safe up to 550°F, which shows how truly nonreactive these pans are. Many unsafe pans will leach chemicals after prolonged periods in the oven, but with this set, you can cook with complete peace of mind, even in the oven.
Made In Cookware 10-pc Stainless Steel Set– The Best Non-Toxic Stainless Steel Cookware
Pieces included: 8” and 10” frying pans, 8-qt stock pot with lid, 2-qt saucepan with lid, 3-qt saucier with lid, 4-qt saucepan with lid
I don’t know about you, but when I invest in non-toxic cookware, I am only willing to pay a premium if it lasts. That’s why I will forever recommend this Italian-manufactured Made In Cookware 10-pc Stainless Steel Set. Each pan has a 5-layered design with an aluminum core clad in layers of food-grade 18/10 steel. This grade of steel is inherently nonreactive and incredibly durable.
All stainless steel will leach small amounts of chromium and nickel when cooking, but the FDA strictly controls these levels to stay within safe ingestible levels. However, if you have nickel allergies, you may want to avoid all stainless steel cookware except those made of 18/0 grade steel – since 18/0 contains no nickel.
GreenPan Chatham 10-pc Cookware Set– The Best Non-Toxic Ceramic Nonstick Cookware
Pieces included: 8” and 9” frying pans, 1-qt saucepan with lid, 2-qt saucepan with lid, 3-qt saute pan with lid, 5-qt stockpot with lid
If you want an extensive ceramic cookware set, I’d recommend the GreenPan Chatham Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Set. GreenPan, made by The Cookware Company, was one of the first brands to bring Teflon-free nonstick coatings to consumers, and their pans hold up better than many brands.
This set features the brand’s signature Thermolon ceramic nonstick coating. This is another sol-gel nonstick coating, like the Caraway set, free of “forever chemicals.” The base of these pans is hard anodized aluminum, which is fast heating but not ideal when exposed to your food. But, since the Thermolon coating is reinforced with diamonds, it is durable enough not to scratch and expose the aluminum. The brand says it’s metal utensil safe, but the reviews say otherwise, so I recommend only using silicone or wooden utensils on these pans to protect the nonstick coating.
Xtrema 11-inch Signature Skillet– The Best 100% Ceramic Cookware
#4 Chef’s Choice
4.3 out of 5.0 stars
I love pure ceramic for its fantastic heat retention and the fact that there is no metal core to worry about. But it’s always bugged me that I can’t transfer those qualities to a frying pan. Well, that all changed with the Xtrema 11-inch Signature Skillet, the only 100% ceramic frying pan on the market right now.
The skillet is made from one cast piece of ceramic with a smooth, impermeable glaze. This glass-like surface is naturally non-stick at the right temperature, so you don’t have to worry about nonstick coatings that can scratch or chip.
I respect Xtrema for taking their safety claims seriously. They have a whole ‘Product Testing’ section of their website explaining what California Prop 65 and FDA compliance entails, along with full published test results proving that they adhere to these standards.
Editor’s note: At The Skillful Cook, we acknowledge that some consumers have concerns regarding heavy metals found in Xtrema and other cookware brands using handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing devices. These devices use X-rays to determine the elemental composition of a sample. We appreciate the efforts of these independent researchers in pushing for quality and transparency standards. However, we choose to recommend products based on certified laboratory test results instead of at-home testing methods.
GreenLife Soft Grip Ceramic Non-Stick Cookware Set– The Best Non-Toxic Budget Cookware
Pieces included: 5” mini egg pan, 7” frying pan, 9.5” frying pan, 5-qt stock pot with lid, 1-qt saucepan with lid, 2-qt saucepan with lid, 2.5-qt saute pan with lid, 7” stainless steel strainer, 4 multi-use cooking utensils.
This GreenLife Soft Grip Cookware Set proves that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great, non-toxic cookware!
This set has a nontoxic ceramic nonstick surface comparable to the GreenPan option but for half the price. This means you can safely use this quick-heating aluminum pan without worrying about it coming into contact with your food.
If you treat these pans carefully, they should last you just as long as competitors like the GreenPan set. I suggest only using silicone utensils on this set to prevent damaging the nonstick and exposing the aluminum.
These pans are also more environmentally friendly to produce than Teflon nonstick pans. It is made from recycled aluminum and produces 60% fewer carbon emissions. But it is worth keeping in mind that ceramic nonstick only lasts 3-5 years, which is not great for the environment.
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet– The Best Non-Toxic Cast Iron Skillet
No matter where you venture on the internet looking for a cast iron skillet, you are sure to be recommended the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet, and here, we are no exception! It’s truly the best on the market for a very affordable price.
The cast iron skillet is cast in one piece from a 98% iron alloy, making the pan super durable. Instead of a potentially harmful nonstick coating, you can create a natural nonstick surface on this pan by seasoning it between uses. This seasoning will also reduce the level of iron leached into your food, so you won’t be at risk of iron overload.
This brand is affordable for both cast iron and enameled cast iron, but they are still named alongside Le Creuset and Staub as a high-quality, trustworthy brand. This is because their products go through third-party testing to ensure that all their products are safe to cook with.
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Set– The Best Non-Toxic Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
Pieces included: 4.5-qt Dutch oven, 5.5-qt Signature Roaster, 2.25qt braiser, 1.75-qt Signature saucepan, 10.25” Signature skillet, square skillet grill, 10” tempered glass lid
This Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Set lets you experience the superior heat retention and safety of enameled cast iron in every form you could possibly want! This set is pricey, but it has so much variety that you can cook any dish you desire.
I’ll go into more detail later in this article on why it’s important to choose high-quality enameled cast iron. But essentially, cheap knock-off enameled cast iron has a high chance of containing leachable toxic lead. This is why it’s so crucial to buy cookware from reputable third-party tested brands like Le Creuset, who are California Prop 65 compliant.
The smooth, impermeable surface of the porcelain enamel creates a non-stick surface when reheated and cooked at the right temperature. This eliminates the need for nonstick coatings that could make your cookware less safe.
Staub Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven– The Best Non-Toxic Dutch Oven
In my eyes, a Dutch oven is a piece of cookware you should buy once and use your whole life. The Staub Dutch Oven is the perfect pot for the job! This pot seamlessly transfers from the stovetop to the oven and onto the table for serving. A truly non-toxic Dutch oven must withstand hours of slow cooking without leaching any chemicals or metals, and Staub does that flawlessly.
Just like the Le Creuset, Staub is one of the top brands for enameled cast iron because it has been thoroughly third-party tested for lead and cadmium. This Dutch oven and all their other enameled cast iron comply with California Prop 65. It may come at a steep price point, but it’s worth it for a safe piece of cookware you’ll own forever.
De Buyer Carbon Steel Wok– The Best Non-Toxic Carbon Steel Wok
If you’re like me and you can’t go a week without whipping up a stir fry, then you need the De Buyer Carbon Steel Wok in your life! Its conical shape makes it easy to toss your ingredients and maneuver with the long handle.
This wok is made from Mineral B carbon steel, which is 99% iron and 1% carbon. This makes it more lightweight than cast iron but a better heat conductor than stainless steel, the best of both worlds! Like cast iron, carbon steel will leach some iron into your foods, but this is not dangerous for most people (I will explain in more detail later). It has no nonstick coating, so you’re guaranteed it won’t leach any chemicals into your food.
Viking Culinary Copper Clad Cookware Set– The Best Non-Toxic Copper Cookware
Pieces included: 8” and 11” 3-qt saucepan with lid, 5.25-qt saute pan with lid, 8-qt stock pot with lid, 2.25-qt saucepan with lid
If you want non-toxic cookware but have an expensive taste, then the stunning Viking Culinary 3-ply Copper Clad Cookware Set might suit you.
Copper has been prized for hundreds of years as a cookware material because of its incredible conductivity and precise heat control. Bare copper pans will leach copper into your food, but this set harnesses the conductive powers of copper with none of the reactivity. The hammered copper makes up the exterior cladding, while the inside is lined in 304 stainless steel.
As we discussed with the Made In set, stainless steel has a non-toxic, nonreactive surface, and in this case, it keeps your food safely away from the exposed copper.
Martha Stewart Stoneware Bakeware Set– The Best Non-Toxic Bakeware
Pieces included: 9”, 11”, 13” baking dishes
This Martha Stewart Stoneware Bakeware Set is a great, affordable option for non-toxic bakeware. This stoneware is made from pure nonporous clay and fired at high temperatures to create a smooth, glass-like surface that is nonreactive. Like the enameled cast iron, you need to buy stoneware from reputable brands like this, or you risk leachable lead being present in the glaze of your bakeware.
Since stoneware or 100% ceramic has no metallic base, this set is perfect for those with metal allergies. One downside of this material is the weight, which is why I think handles would make these dishes easier to use.
What is the Best Non-Toxic Cookware?
The products I’ve discussed are the cream of the crop, but, as I’ve said, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to non-toxic cookware. I want you to go into your buying experience with all the info to make the right decision for your needs. So, let’s dive into some more detail about these cookware materials.
Things to Consider When Looking for a Non-toxic Pan:
Which Materials Are Most Non-Toxic For Cookware?
Considering all this, the best non-toxic materials include stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, and, in some cases, enameled cast iron and copper.
Stainless Steel Cookware
All stainless steel cookware has to be made from food-grade stainless steel. 200, 300, and 400 series stainless steel are food safe grades. Most pots and pans are made from 300 and 400 grade, while drinking cups or mixing bowls can be from 200 series grades.
The highest quality grade among these is 304, which is divided into 18/10 and 18/8 stainless steel. These numbers mean the steel contains 18% chromium and 10 and 8% nickel, respectively.
The chromium in stainless steel creates a chromium oxide layer on the surface of the metal. This makes the surface super durable, warp-resistant, and nonreactive, even to acidic foods. Stainless steel will leach small amounts of chromium into your food, but the levels are deemed safe by the FDA. It can cause a reaction in those with a chromium allergy, but only with doses over 2500 micrograms.
Most stainless steel pans will also leach small amounts of nickel in your food. The FDA has determined that the average adult can safely consume 1000 micrograms of nickel daily.
According to the researchers in a 2013 study, nickel in stainless steel will leach an average of 69-162 micrograms per meal you cook in it. However, if you have a nickel allergy, it can cause a reaction with a dose as small as 67 micrograms.
For those with sensitivities, there is nickel-free stainless steel cookware available that is 18/0 grade. Due to the lack of nickel, these pans are, unfortunately, less corrosion-resistant than their counterparts.
Recommended Nickel Free Cookware for with Sensitivities: HOMICHEF 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Stainless steel by itself is a poor thermal conductor, which makes it ideal for pot handles because they won’t get too hot on the stove. But this also means that stainless steel pans have an aluminum or copper core that you don’t want coming into contact with your food.
Since stainless steel is so durable, it’s very unlikely that the steel layer would scratch down to the core; but if it does, I recommend disposing of the pan.
Lastly, stainless steel can easily discolor and may require highly acidic cleaners to appear clean again. These cleaners can cause skin and eye irritation, so I recommend trying gentler alternatives first.
Please read our article for a full exploration of the safety of stainless steel cookware.
Potential concerns about stainless steel:
100% Ceramic Cookware
Pure ceramics or stoneware is one of the safest cooking materials because it doesn’t have a metal core. It’s made from pure natural clay the whole way through, so you don’t have to worry about metals leaching into your food – unless, of course, the glaze or clay is contaminated with them.
This cookware is designed to be used in the oven and can withstand high temperatures for many hours without degrading or warping.
The primary health concerns for ceramic cookware come from the glazes. Traditionally, artisans would use lead in the glazes for ceramics to create a glass-like surface. Luckily, nowadays, reputable manufacturers have done away with this practice.
The best way to avoid the possibility of lead contamination is to only buy ceramics labeled as lead-safe from reputable brands.
It’s also worth noting that some clay naturally contains leads and other metals.
Modern ceramic cookware sold in the US is tested under California Prop 65 regulations to determine whether or not the product is lead-safe. The product’s compliance should be clearly indicated on the packaging. Any vintage or thrifted ceramic cookware must be tested for lead using a third-party lab or an at-home lead testing kit.
Apart from lead, the main safety issue for ceramics is its susceptibility to thermal shock when a hot dish is placed on a cold surface. You can avoid this by using trivets, and by not placing a cold dish from the fridge straight into a hot oven.
Check out our article for a full examination of 100% ceramic cookware.
Potential concerns about 100% ceramic:
Ceramic Coated Cookware
As the demand for non-toxic cookware has surged, so has the popularity of ceramic-nonstick coatings. These sand-derived silicone coatings adhere to metal substrates of pans with a process called a sol-gel. This produces a smooth, nonstick surface without using PTFE, which makes it a strong competitor for Teflon coated pans.
Many brands have their own patented formulation for this coating, such as the Thermolon coating from GreenPan. Some of these coatings are infused with titanium, diamonds, or granite to make the surface more durable – or maybe just more marketable.
Some brands will say their ceramic-coated products are metal-utensil safe, but I advise only using silicone or wooden utensils to extend the coating’s lifespan.
This ceramic coating is usually placed on aluminum pans. If you want your ceramic pan to last longer, opt for cast or hard anodized aluminum. Unfortunately, discarding your pan is safer if you see any flaking or scratches in the coating.
The one health concern around these pans is the potential for the coating to transfer titanium dioxide nanoparticles to your food. These nanoparticles create the bond between the nonstick coating and the metal. They can be released by scratching the coating or using an abrasive cleaner.
Unfortunately, since this technology is still new, the long-term health effects of these particles have not yet been thoroughly researched. For now, if your ceramic pan is scratched, evidence seems to indicate that it’s safest to replace it.
This brings up another point – are these “green” ceramic pans actually better for the planet? A point often used to market ceramic pans is that they take 30% less resources than your average nonstick pan to produce. But don’t be fooled by clever marketing tactics! While that fact may be true, it’s rarely substantiated by manufacturers. We do know that these pans generally only last 2-3 years – maybe up to 5 if you’re lucky – so you’ll have to replace them rather quickly.
There’s no good way to recycle these pans at present. So, really, buying a set of cast iron pans that last a lifetime would be a much “greener” choice.
If you want an in-depth look at this topic, check out our article here.
Potential concerns about ceramic-coated cookware:
Cast iron is a cookware material used for hundreds of years because it is durable and has incredible heat retention. These pans are cast in one piece, handle included, from an iron and carbon alloy. This makes them very durable and resistant to thermal shock.
Raw cast iron like this will leach iron into your food, especially when cooking acidic food like tomato sauce. Iron is an essential daily mineral for our bodies, so this leaching isn’t dangerous as long as you don’t reach iron overload. (This is more likely to affect people who eat red meat regularly or those who don’t menstruate.)
A PLOS One study found that cooking in cast iron cookware benefits anaemics. But those with hemochromatosis, a condition that causes people to absorb too much iron, should avoid cast iron altogether. I would suggest choosing an enameled cast iron option instead.
You can reduce the amount of iron leached by your cast iron skillets by keeping them well-seasoned. This will also build up a natural nonstick coating that is free of PFAs.
I consider cast iron to be one of the best eco-friendly cookware materials because of how long it lasts. Other pans may take less resources or energy to produce, but they’ll need to be replaced over the years. A good cast iron pan can be passed down through generations if it’s maintained properly.
Since it’s so simply constructed, most cast iron cookware is relatively affordable. I recommend this Lodge Cast Iron Skillet and this Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven, which are reasonably priced but will last you a lifetime.
Potential concerns about cast iron:
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron takes the excellent heat retention qualities and durability of cast iron and wraps it in an impermeable porcelain enamel shell. This creates a smooth, unreactive surface that prevents the pan from leaching iron. The surface is nonstick at the right temperature.
Just like ceramics, lead used to be used to glaze enameled cast iron. Modern enameled cast iron pieces have primarily done away with this practice. Enameled cast iron cookware sold in the US is tested for lead and cadmium under the California Prop 65 regulations and will be labeled ‘lead safe’ or ‘lead-free.’
The safety of enamel cast iron is highly dependent on buying high-quality items from third-party tested brands.
Cheap knock-off pans are likely not third-party tested and are more likely to contain dangerous leachable lead. I honestly don’t think it’s worth taking the risk of buying a cheaper option in this case. Like ceramics, any vintage or thrifted enameled cast iron should be tested for lead before you use it.
Chipped enamel is another health concern for this material. Biting down on a chunk of enamel is very unpleasant and can cause mouth and throat injuries. The long-term effects of ingesting enamel are unknown, so I suggest throwing away any damaged pots and pans. But if you are buying high-quality enameled cast iron, it shouldn’t chip or scratch.
I would always recommend avoiding buying cheap knock-off enamel cast iron as they are most likely not third-party tested. That said, this Crockpot Enameled Cast Iron Skillet is an excellent option on a budget. But if you want long-lasting quality, I recommend Le Creuset, especially the Le Creuset Signature Dutch Oven.
For a little more detail on safe enameled cast iron, check out our full article here.
Potential concerns about enameled cast iron:
Carbon steel cookware is cast in one piece from a carbon alloy like cast iron. In this case, it is 99% iron and 1% carbon. These pans will also leach iron, so make sure to assess your own iron levels when using these pans.
Carbon steel does not have a synthetic nonstick coating. Instead, carbon steel needs to be seasoned after each use to build up a natural nonstick surface. If the pan gets scratched, this seasoning will seal the damaged area over, leaving it as good as new! So you don’t have to worry about these pans leaching chemicals or any metals besides a bit of iron.
Carbon steel is prone to rust, so be sure to hand wash and dry thoroughly after each use. If you do this and maintain the seasoning, this is another pan you could pass down over the years.
Potential concerns about carbon steel:
Aluminum is ideally suited to cookware because it’s lightweight and conducts heat well – but its safety is very controversial. Many sources list many potential health hazards of cooking with uncoated aluminum, warning of its effects on bone health, kidney health, and neurological issues.
The CDC Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that,
“frequently cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots may expose a person to higher levels of aluminum…However…foods cooked in aluminum pots are generally considered to be safe.”
The main issue is there are very limited studies into the long-term effects of this material. This prompts many people to avoid it completely.
We do know that the body only absorbs a small percentage of the aluminum you consume. And even then, you probably take in more aluminum through food and prescription drugs every day than you do from your cookware.
One factor that has been studied is the reaction of acidic foods on aluminum pans. Eating food like tomato sauce cooked in an aluminum pan raises blood aluminum levels and oxidative stress markers, according to the 2012 study linked above.
Uncoated aluminum is rarely used for pots and pans anymore; it is much safer when used as bakeware than for high-heat acidic food cooking on the stovetop. The main thing you’ll want to watch out for is “camping” pans made of uncoated aluminum.
If your aluminum pans have nonstick coatings, they are unlikely to leach aluminum into your food as long as the coating remains intact. Personally, I prefer to use hard anodized aluminum cookware with a ceramic nonstick coating like the Caraway or GreenPan options above.
The safety of aluminum is a complex topic, so please refer to our article on potential health risks of aluminum cookware for more details.
Potential concerns about aluminum:
Copper is a classic cookware material made popular in France for its incredible responsiveness to changes in temperature. Unfortunately, copper is very reactive, especially to acidic foods, so it needs to be lined in another metal to be considered non-toxic.
According to the NIH, the average adult should limit their copper intake to 900 micrograms daily. Copper is already present in our water and in foods like shellfish and dark leafy greens, so ingesting additional copper from your cookware could be dangerous.
A little copper leaching will leave a metallic aftertaste in your food. But prolonged exposure can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and long-term stomach, kidney, and liver issues.
Modern copper cookware uses copper as a cladding or a core for the base of the pan with stainless steel as an inner lining. This allows you to harness the conductive powers of the metal without allowing it to contact your food.
I also recommend checking to see if you have any copper cups that could be another source of leaching copper. These are often unlined and react with beverages that are acidic.
Since copper is a luxury item, these pans don’t come cheap. This Lagostina Martellata Copper-clad Casserole is the most affordable option for the amount of copper you get. My top pick overall for copper cookware is the Viking Culinary 3-ply Copper Clad Cookware Set.
Check out our full guide to copper cookware with a product round-up.
Potential concerns about copper:
And now we come to the most controversial material of them all, PTFE non-stick coatings.
The first thing you should know about nonstick cookware is that there are two main types of coatings sold as “nonstick.” (We’re talking about true nonstick coatings here, not products like carbon steel or enameled cast iron that may use “nonstick” in their marketing.) All nonstick coated pans fall under the categories of ceramic or polymer (PTFE/Teflon) coatings.
It’s not popular to use the labels PTFE or Teflon in marketing material, so companies usually omit them and opt for terms like “PFOA-free nonstick coatings.” But be wise – if a coated fry pan is not labeled as ‘ceramic’ or ‘granite,’ you can presume the pan has a PTFE non-stick coating.
Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, is a nonreactive polymer used to create a powerful nonstick surface. It is better known by its brand name, Teflon.
There are a handful of reasons why PTFE is a controversial material. One is that, in the past, the carcinogen PFOA was used in the manufacturing of Teflon.
PFOA has been fully banned in the US since 2015 – so if you see a brand advertising that their nonstick material is PFOA-free, that doesn’t mean their cookware is any safer than any other brand, since they are ALL PFOA-free.
But just because it’s PFOA free, doesn’t mean it’s chemical free. The PFOA in many of the PTFE coatings has been replaced with other “forever” chemicals such as GenX.
The EPA published a draft toxicity report that indicates that GenX may be harmful to prenatal development, immune systems, liver, kidneys, and thyroid.
This sounds terrifying, but by using a Teflon-coated pan, will you actually be exposing yourself to GenX in a way that would be harmful? The answer to this question is less clear, actually.
As the video linked below points out, by the time Teflon has been made into a polymer, it won’t bind with anything – including your body. As much as you won’t want to hear this, Teflon is used everywhere in our surroundings, down to something as innocent as your stain-resistant clothing.
So, boycotting Teflon entirely is going to be a hard job. There are many health experts, including Dr Jared Meacham at Healthline, who say that PTFE nonstick coatings are totally safe to use when handled correctly.
When overheated, however, nonstick PTFE coatings can cause a condition called polymer fume fever, or Teflon flu. When a Teflon pan is left to heat empty, the coating starts to break down and creates fumes that, if breathed in, can cause chills, fever, headaches, and body aches.This sounds scary, but there are very few recorded instances of Teflon flu.
According to most research, the PTFE-based nonstick coating will only release harmful chemicals when an empty pan is left to reach over 500°F. If you pay attention when you’re cooking and never heat your pan empty, then there’s almost no chance that the fumes would reach a level that would give you acute symptoms.
If you have pet birds, however, I would avoid any PTFE-based cookware as even the slightest fumes can kill them.
I can’t talk about Teflon without talking about the environmental impact. While GenX and other chemicals may or may not hurt you once made into a PTFE coating, many manufacturers of these products have dumped large volumes of these chemicals into the environment – and THAT is a huge problem.
The production of nonstick coatings takes a lot of resources and produces an incredibly high quantity of carbon dioxide. And, at the end of the day, these pans don’t last very long. It’s a lot of energy to waste on a pan that’s going to end up in a landfill in a few years.
Even “very hard scratch resistant” nonstick coatings don’t last more than 3-5 years tops, even with the best of care. The coatings don’t expand and contract with heating in the same way that the metal substrate does, which causes micro tears in the coating over time.
Potential concerns about PTFE:
You have probably seen Gordon Ramsey try to sell you hybrid Hexclad pans on TV recently. They look great in the marketing, but are they actually safe?
HexClad is the leader in the hybrid pan market, but there are also options available from Onyx Cookware, Circulon, and Anolon. Hybrid pans are made of an assortment of cookware materials.
Hexclad pans are made of 3-ply stainless steel with an aluminum core. Small stainless steel ridges run across the surface of the pan in a hexagon pattern. The valleys between the ridges are filled, almost to the top, with PTFE nonstick. This is meant to make the pans nonstick but more durable and long-lasting, by protecting the PTFE from scratches.
These pans have the same health concerns as the PTFE nonstick pans, because off-brand “Teflon” forms the nonstick part of the hybrid design. As I said above, responsible cooking can make these pans relatively safe to cook with, but it’s a personal choice whether to use them or not.
Youtuber Chris Young has a wonderful unbiased review of these pans (embedded below.) In this video, he points out that this hybrid pan may be more durable than a traditional nonstick, but it doesn’t perform as well. This means that you can’t cook fat-free on these pans and expect them to perform well.
This Hexclad 10-pc Cookware Set is super durable with its signature hybrid nonstick, so if you are curious to try it and willing to be attentive when cooking, give it a whirl.
Potential concerns about hybrid cookware:
ScanPan Brand Cookware
Scanpan is another popular hybrid cookware brand that is often hailed as “totally nontoxic.” Their Scanpan Stratanium Nonstick Frying Pan Set is very durable and top-of-the-line quality, but there are some aspects of its marketing that are misleading.
This brand is marketed as ‘healthy,’ which gives the impression that the nonstick is PTFE-free. But after doing some digging, I found that it is actually given this label because it requires little to no oil or butter to use.
Just like Hexclad, Scanpan has a polymer coating just like Teflon. It’s crucial to look past these glitzy marketing terms so you can know what you’re buying.
What Cookware Is Best for the Environment?
The manufacturing of cookware can take a large toll on the environment. The smelting of metals like aluminum and stainless steel produces high levels of carbon dioxide that enter the atmosphere.
Manufacturing non-stick coatings causes harmful chemical runoff. For these reasons, cast iron, carbon steel, and pure ceramics are safer for the environment.
Besides the manufacturing risks, you have to take into consideration whether your pan is made to last and whether it’s recyclable at the end of its life. Many nonstick pans only last two years or so, no matter how well you treat them, and then they end up in a landfill.
Choosing to buy cookware from a reputable brand is already making a better environmental decision because the products are bound to last you longer.
In my eyes, the most environmentally friendly cookware is cast iron or carbon steel because it produces less CO2 in production, and It’s also made to last a lifetime. Cast iron produces 300 kg CO2 to produce 250 kg of material compared to steel, which produces 1.85 tonnes per ton of steel produced.
What are the Best Non-Toxic Cookware Brands?
These are some of my favorite non-toxic cookware brands:
Is Nonstick or Ceramic Cookware Healthier?
Overall, ceramic cookware is considered healthier than nonstick. It is completely PTFE, PFOA, and PFA free. However, recent concerns about titanium nanoparticles in ceramic coated cookware makes us lean towards recommending 100% ceramic pans over either coated option.
After reading through this guide, I’m sure you can see that non-toxic cookware is a complex topic with a lot of factors to take into consideration. Every household is different, so it’s key that you assess your family’s needs to pick the right cookware for you.
#1 Recommendation: Caraway Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Set
The Caraway Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Set and the Made In Cookware 10-pc Stainless Steel Set are my top two choices for high-quality, non-toxic cookware. I also recommend any of the individual pots from these sets if you’re not in the market for a whole set.
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