December 8th, 2014

Mom Detective: The Truth About Nonstick Pots and Pans

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The truth about nonstick pots and pans. Groovy Green Livin

As many of you know I’m the “Mom Detective” over at Moms Clean Air Force. This post was originally published over there. Enjoy!

We live in a culture where fast food has become the norm. You don’t have to look far to find a drive-through on most corners throughout the country. Cooking hacks and simple recipes boasting  prep times of under 15 minutes are in demand because we, as a culture, are looking for convenience and simplicity.

The same holds true for our cookware. Many kitchens are filled with nonstick pots and pans, which are loved for their ease and convenience when it comes to cooking and cleaning.

Nonstick finishes have come under fire in recent years due to the toxic fumes emitted when the cookware is exposed to high heat. Those nonstick advantages are taking a backseat and many health conscious families are now opting for a safer alternative.

The Science Behind Nonstick

Most nonstick pots and pans are metal pans (such as aluminum pans) coated with a chemicals from the Perfluorinated chemical or Perfluorochemicals (PFC) family. One of those chemicals is the synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is another chemical from the PFC family and is used in the process of making PTFE.

Teflon is a brand name (DuPont trademarked the process and the chemical in 1945) for a the man-made PTFE.

The Problem with Nonstick

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), toxic fumes from the Teflon chemical released from pots and pans at high temperatures may kill pet birds and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms. When nonstick pans are overheated the coating may begin to break down and toxic particles and gases can be released into the air that we breathe.

The Issue Then Becomes How Hot is too Hot? 

Knowing that nonstick surfaces can release toxic fumes when they’re heated at high heat isn’t enough. The question now becomes:

How do we know when our pots and pans are too hot?

I would venture to say that most of us have no idea how hot our pots and pans are when we’re cooking.

The Environmental Working Group commissioned tests conducted in 2003 showed that in just two to five minuteson a conventional stove top, dry cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases.

Nonstick Pots and Pans and Your Health

Studies in humans found that workers with exposure to PFOA have higher risks of bladder and kidney cancers.Another study showed that PFCs have been linked to infertility in women. Chemicals from the PFC family areassociated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease.

Safer Alternatives to Nonstick Pots and Pans

There’s good and bad news. Thankfully there are safer alternatives to nonstick cookware out there, but even the safer options can sometimes be problematic.

Cast Iron

Using the cookware that your grandparents probably used is a great alternative to Teflon. Cast iron is known for its durability and even heat distribution. The downside of cast iron – most cast iron cookware needs to be seasoned after each use and this makes it not as worry-free as other alternatives. It also can leach iron into your food. If iron in your diet is an issue cast iron might not be the best choice for you.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a mixture of several different metals, including nickel, chromium and molybdenum, all of which can trickle into foods. Leaching will happen only if your stainless steel cookware is dinged or scratched and the amount of leaching would be small. Cleaning your stainless steel cookware can be tricky. Soaking after use and before scrubbing is a must. HERE is a simple way to clean stainless steel.


Ceramic cookware is considered safe and easy to clean in the dishwasher as long as it has zero lead content. It’s important to check any pans with glaze for possible lead. According to the National Institutes of Health, “any ceramic cookware bought in another country or considered to be a craft, antique, or collectable may not meet FDA specifications, and should not be used to hold food. Test kits can detect high levels of lead in ceramic cookware, but may not detect lower levels that may also be dangerous.”


Glass cookware is an option if not exposed to extreme temperatures. Most glass is inert, nontoxic, and safe unless it has a coating. If there is some form of coating, it’s important to confirm that there’s no lead present.

Our current chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, is badly broken. It allows chemicals, like Teflon, onto the market without adequate safety testing. It’s time to change that.


See more HERE: How to Choose Healthy Pots and Pans

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photo credit: m kasahara via photopin cc

26 Responses to “Mom Detective: The Truth About Nonstick Pots and Pans”

  1. I was once bought a set of pots and pans for Christmas and when I went to go use them they melted!

  2. Such important info! I’ve recently thrown out a few non-stick pans because the coating was scratching or started to wear off.
    Tamara @ We3Travel recently posted..Last Minute Holiday Gifts for Traveling FamiliesMy Profile

  3. I had a few pans like that Tamara. No need to toss them all at once. Replace on an as needed basis- makes it less overwhelming!

  4. I love my mom cast iron pans. I want to ask for some for Christmas. I didn’t know all that about nonstick. Thanks for the heads up 🙂
    tanya recently posted..Innovative ideas to drive employee engagementMy Profile

  5. I used to be a short order cook and my favorite things to make were in the Cast Iron pans at the restaurant. I loved how everything tasted out of the cast iron.
    Drew Bennett recently posted..Things I Wish Existed When I was 10 Years Old – A Holiday Gift GuideMy Profile

  6. WOW so scary!! I didn’t realize non-stick was so bad!! I always just used it without thinking of it harming me or my family. I’ve wanted cermaic pots for awhile but they tend to be more expensive….hope to find one on sale this month. Thanks for this information, I’ll be kissing my non-stick pans goodbye sooner than later!

  7. I was on a mission and one year I got all “eco” non-stick pans, but I trusted them less and less and just ended up sticking to my cast iron pans and my stainless pans too. My husband is slower to convert and he still uses the nonstick. I think they will slowly disappear out of cabinet soon though.

  8. I don’t have any teflon but I did grow up using it. Glad to know there are safer alternatives – I like stainless and copper (lined w stainless) and ceramic. I try to use my cast iron pan as much as possible but it may not be properly seasoned because I am overly enthusiastic when cleaning it.

  9. I don’t have any teflon but I did grow up using it. Glad to know there are safer alternatives – I like stainless and copper (lined w stainless) and ceramic. I try to use my cast iron pan as much as possible but it may not be properly seasoned because I am overly enthusiastic when cleaning it.
    nancy b. recently posted..Gift guide for Teens from Shoebuy.comMy Profile

  10. Hi Lori,

    Great post! Thanks for sharing this information with us. I’m going to invest in some cast iron pans and take a look at my stainless steel ones to see if they need replacing.

    Definitely passing this along. 🙂
    Corina Ramos recently posted..Go Big or Go Home – 7 Men’s Watches That Look Fabulous on WomenMy Profile

  11. Holy moly that is a lot of information. I have heard of some of these health risks but nice to read the facts.

  12. […] continue reading this post → […]

  13. We got rid of our nonstick pans several years ago. My husband was hesitant but quickly learned to love the cast iron.
    Christy King recently posted..Holiday Priorities – Simplify by Focusing on What’s ImportantMy Profile

  14. Such great info on non sticks pans. I find the hardest thing is finding the right cookie sheet to use, and not have the cookies stick! I like the Silpats, but also question the safety of silicone.
    Emily recently posted..Hot Holiday Toy ListMy Profile

  15. Great information! I have definitely been a user of non-stick in the past but now only use stainless steel.

  16. There are so many other options out there. It’s a shame that the industry wants to continuously shove unsafe, toxic products our way.

  17. […] Mom Detective: The Truth About Nonstick Pots and Pans | Older December 12th, […]

  18. This is great information, but frustrating, nonetheless when we consider our lack of choices. I haven’t used non-stick pans in years because of the chemicals, but I did think stainless steel was ok. Now I might have to replace that!

    I would love to see you do a “mom detective” piece on microwave ovens. I have one and use it regularly, but I’m skeptical.
    Green Girl recently posted..Attention Deficit Disorder or Nature Deficit Disorder?My Profile

  19. Great idea. Thanks for your comment. I’m still using my stainless and have added a cast iron pan to the mix. Yes, it’s very frustrating and unfortunately it’s sometimes quite challenging to figure out whether or not a pan is safe!

  20. It really is Alesia. So frustrating that these unsafe and toxic products keep landing on the shelves in our stores.

  21. I’ve been using stainless steel cookie sheets for a few years Emily and really like them. If they’re oiled then most things won’t stick.

  22. Great post! I just tweeted it.

    I’m personally a big fan of cast iron pans, and I find the seasoning process though somewhat annoying, a fun project!

  23. Thanks Mike! I’m a fan of cast iron too, but they’re a bit heavy for my kids to lift when they’re cooking. I have a smaller cast iron pan that seems to work well. Seasoning really isn’t a big deal once it becomes a habit.

  24. […] homes are filled with nonstick pots and pans, which are loved for their ease and convenience when it comes to cooking and cleaning. Nonstick […]

  25. This was fun to read about. I didn’t realize all the benefits of cast iron cookware. I love to use the dutch oven and things like it for my grandmothers potato recipe. When I purchase new cookware, I will be sure to keep these things in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Wow, So much information. I’m enjoying reading this article. I’m prefer to use nonstick cookware sets that are PTFE and PFOA free. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.
    Diego@Kitchensitems recently posted..Best Non Stick Cookware Reviews 2016My Profile

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

Click HERE to contact Lori

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