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Despite Recalls, Air Fryers Are Safe if You Follow These Basic Safety Rules

Recalls have highlighted the danger of fires, but air fryers are plenty safe with proper usage and maintenance.

David Watsky Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's spent more than a decade covering all things edible, including meal kit services, food subscriptions, kitchen tools and cooking tips. Before, during and after earning his BA from Northeastern, he toiled in nearly every aspect of the food business, including as a line cook in Rhode Island where he once made a steak sandwich for Lamar Odom. Right now he's likely somewhere stress-testing a blender or tinkering with a toaster. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
Expertise Kitchen tools | Appliances | Food science | Subscriptions | Meal kits
David Watsky
6 min read
two air fryers on table

A bit of care and maintenance can mostly eliminate the risks of cooking with an air fryer.

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Product recalls of popular air fryer brands -- such as Insignia in March 2024 -- have put a spotlight on the safety of the devices themselves, particularly the risks of fire or burns. 

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Don't worry. Despite the failings of a few specific brands, air fryers are safe to use in general, assuming you have a properly functioning machine and follow some basic safety steps.

Read more: Making a Whole Chicken in the Air Fryer Is the Best Cooking Hack I've Found all Year

Faulty air fryers and misuse, however, can cause a fire risk or burn hazards. Cleaning your air fryer regularly and using it according to the instructions will prevent most cases of air fryer fire, error or malfunction. For more, learn how to make bacon or the perfect cheeseburger in an air fryer.

Are air fryers dangerous?

The potential risk of an air fryer should not overshadow the mighty countertop oven's many benefits. In fact, air fryers are generally safer than other cooking methods, including natural gas stoves, which have flammable gas flow and an open flame. Two alarming studies also show that gas stoves can leak toxic gas when not in use and may contribute to childhood asthma.

When used properly, air fryers cut down on fat and calories compared to deep-frying or pan-frying and are an excellent conduit for eating more healthily. They can also save money on your energy bill if you use one instead of the wall oven, which takes more energy to heat and longer to cook food once heated. 

Increased air fryer recalls since 2021

list of air fryers that have been recalled
Consumer Product Safety Commission/SaferProducts.gov

But that doesn't mean air fryers pose no risk. Faulty wiring or user error can cause air fryers to overheat, burn the food inside or melt the machine itself, leading to several reported cases of kitchen fires and burns. To date, there have been no deaths reported.

One of the reasons could be an influx of cheap air fryers, some as cheap as $20 or $30. A few of those cheaper brands have caused problems leading to consumer recalls. While you certainly don't have to spend more than $100 on an air fryer -- and probably shouldn't -- going too cheap could mean trouble. 

If you're thinking of buying one, check out CNET's complete guide to air fryers, including how they work and what to consider when choosing a model. In this post, I'll explain the potential dangers of using an air fryer and how to mitigate the risk of an air fryer-related fire in your kitchen. 

1. Clean your air fryer basket after every use

air fryer basket and tray

Wash the entire air fryer basket with soap and water after every use. Avoid the dishwasher, which can corrode the nonstick surface over time.

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Air fryers are great for cooking chicken wings, mozzarella sticks (OK, not all air fryer food is healthy) and other crave-able snacks. If you don't add any cooking oil or spray, you might notice a pool of oil or film left in the basket when you lift out the eats. That oil -- and any other food bits -- should be thoroughly cleaned after every use. Residual oil and small burnt bits of food will increase the chance of a fire inside the basket.

The good news is that most air fryer baskets are nonstick so all it takes is a few vigorous scrubs with a warm soapy sponge to get them ready for the next session. Some air fryer baskets are advertised as dishwasher-safe, but I suggest washing them by hand. The pummeling your basket will take inside the dishwasher can erode the nonstick coating over time. 

2. Clean the coils above the basket once a month

air fryer upside down with coils exposed

Clean the coils above your air fryer cooking basket for a safer kitchen and better-tasting food.  

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A less obvious but equally important part of taking care of an air fryer to clean is the coils and the area surrounding them inside the hull of the fryer and above the basket. During cooking, oil, sauce and even bits of food can spatter up and onto those coils. You likely won't notice this buildup unless you tilt the air fryer back or turn it upside down completely.

When cleaning the inside of an air fryer, it's best to avoid the use of soap, since residual soap could taint food the next time you cook. And saturating it with too much water could potentially damage the functionality of the coils. Instead, use a damp scrubby or the rough side of your sponge. If you do it often enough, it shouldn't be difficult to get those coils clean. 

Aside from lowering the risk of fire, cleaning this section will keep your air frying humming along and cooking with optimal power. 

3. Give the air fryer its own outlet while in use and unplug it after

A power outlet in a wall

The safest outlet is an empty one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Air fryers draw a large current and have the potential to cause an electrical fire. It's always best to unplug them when not in use. Some air fryers are rather quiet, so this also ensures the air fryer isn't still running or won't be accidentally turned on by a passing cat or the curious hand of a toddler. (Plus, this can save you some money over time, as appliances can still draw power even when they're turned off.) 

Kitchen appliances, including toasters, air fryers and microwaves, should also be plugged directly into an outlet rather than into an extension cord or outlet extender since they add more resistance to the flow of electricity. You should also avoid running your air fryer through an outlet with other appliances plugged in, especially those in use, as it can put stress on the circuits.

In truth, any electrical appliance can cause a fire if there's a faulty electrical outlet or bad wiring. Call an electrician if you hear a crackling or see sparks. Speaking of damaged electrical outlets, try to position your air fryer so the hot air blowing out the back is not hitting an electrical outlet in your kitchen. Over time, this can cause problems. 

4. Don't crowd the air fryer basket while cooking

chicken in air fryer basket

If you're struggling to get the basket in because food is piled so high, it might be time for a larger air fryer. 

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One thing you don't want is food touching the hot coils during use or loads of grease and sauce splattering up toward the hot coils. To avoid this, don't overcrowd the cooking basket or pile food so high that you have to jostle or squish it to get the basket in. If you find yourself jamming food in to cook the amount you need for you or the family, it might be time to spring for a larger air fryer.

5. Don't leave the air fryer unattended 

Bacon in an air fryer

Do make bacon in the air fryer, but don't walk too far away while it's cooking.

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Air fryers get hot and they get hot fast. As with any oven, you won't want to walk too far away from it while it's in use and monitor for smoke or unusual smells like burning food or plastic. And always adhere to the cooking instructions. 

Many ovens only suggest cooking on higher temps for 20 minutes or less at a time. Read your air fryer instructions carefully before diving in.

Do air fryer baskets contain harmful chemicals or PFOA?

nonstick skillets

Air fryer baskets are coated with the same chemicals as nonstick cookware. If you're trying to avoid nonstick altogether, you have plenty of options. 

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Most air fryer baskets are coated with a chemical nonstick surface. Depending on how old you are, you've probably heard about Teflon and may be wondering if it's safe. A chemical called PFOA used in the original Teflon was linked to cancer and banned in 2014. 

New and purportedly safer materials such as GenX are now used for nonstick-coated cookware and air fryer baskets. There is still some skepticism and an ongoing debate about the safety of nonstick, but to date, no major studies have linked modern cookware use to negative health outcomes in those who use nonstick or Teflon cookware. Although GenX, when consumed in higher quantities and when found in drinking water, has been deemed toxic by the EPA.

If you're trying to avoid nonstick altogether, there are options for air fryers with nonstick baskets, such as this model. Most air-frying toaster ovens come with wire racks instead of baskets and present another good alternative to nonstick. 

For more on air fryers, read our beginner's guide to air fryers and find out if an air fryer is cheaper to run than a big oven.