Galaxy Z Flip 4 Preorder Quest 2: Still the Best Student Internet Discounts Best 55-Inch TV Galaxy Z Fold 4 Preorder Nintendo Switch OLED Review Foldable iPhone? 41% Off 43-Inch Amazon Fire TV
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you
Accept
Why You Can Trust CNET
We handpick the products and services we write about. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Your Teflon Cookware Could Be Toxic. Here's How to Tell

If your pan was produced before a certain year, it's probably best to chuck it. Here's how to tell and everything else you need to know about Teflon.

noonstick-cookware
Maryna Terletska/Getty

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Teflon is one cookware surface with a good deal of fuzziness around it. Many folks I talk to want to know if nonstick and Teflon-coated cookware is safe to use. The answer is mostly yes, these days, but it's not quite that simple. 

CNET Home Tips logo

Nonstick coating is a popular choice, especially for frying pans and skillets. But there are also Teflon-coated pots, bakeware, air fryer baskets and plenty more. The big draw is, of course, that food won't stick to it the way it does to other metal materials so it's easy to flip a pancake or extract an egg. It also makes cleanup a snap.

One downside is that nonstick cookware doesn't impart a ton of direct surface heat hot, so you won't be able to sear meat well and get that coveted crispy crust or seal in flavor. It's also sensitive, and the nonstick coating will chip off and wear out over time. But the biggest worry people have when it comes to Teflon and nonstick cookware is whether or not it's safe to use or potentially toxic. 

Here's what you should know about Teflon, and how to tell if your nonstick pan is good to go or needs to be replaced.

Read moreA Guide to Nonstick Cookware

What is Teflon, and is it safe to cook with?

Teflon is a brand name for a synthetic chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene that's used in many household products from wire coatings to fabric protectors and kitchen cookware, too. The knock on Teflon is that it's unsafe if consumed or absorbed into the body and can increase the chances of cancer and other diseases. While studies have shown some connections (more on that below), Teflon still exists and is used to make cookware, but the safety concerns around Teflon are mostly a thing of the past. 

And I stress mostly. Here's why…

While the brand Teflon may be associated with a risk of cancer, it's actually a chemical formerly used in the making of Teflon called PFOA that's to blame. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is a manufactured perfluorochemical developed in the 1930s and used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. 

j1400664-nonstick-outdoor-grill-basket-alt1.png

Thanks to a federal ban, all Teflon and nonstick cookware made after 2013 should be free of harmful PFOA. Europe enacted the same ban in 2008.

Home and Cook

What are the negative effects of PFOA?

In some studies, PFOA has been linked to cancer, immune deficiency and a host of other medical problems. It has also been shown to affect growth and development, and injure the liver in laboratory animals.

As recently as 2017, chemical giant Dupont settled a lawsuit for more than $670 million for its role in contaminating drinking water with PFOA (also referred to as C-8) in the mid-Ohio Valley. A previous class-action suit from 2004 in the same area led to a study that found PFOA was linked to cancer and compromised immune function, even in small doses. 

Teflon cookware made before 2013 may be toxic

All that was enough for most manufacturers to halt the production of nonstick coatings using PFOA around 2002. But Teflon using PFOA wasn't officially banned in the United States until 2014. Europe banned it in 2008. That means if you own Teflon nonstick cookware from 2013 or earlier, there's a chance it contains PFOA. Nine years is typically longer than the average lifespan of a nonstick pan, but if you're not sure, it's probably best to replace any Teflon-coated pots or pans. 

Look for PFOA-free cookware

Because of the ban, all nonstick cookware made in the US should be PFOA-free, but you'd be wise to make sure. Be extra cautious about buying cheap or off-brand cookware, especially if it's not produced in a country with an active PFOA ban. PFOA is still produced elsewhere, largely in China, and used to make consumer products. 

The good news is PFOA-free nonstick cookware is cheap, so there's no reason to risk it with anything that might contain the chemical. You can nab a 10-inch skillet from a trusted cookware brand like Tramontina for around $20. All-Clad makes a two-piece nonstick cookware set for $50. Definitely worth it for peace of mind. 

Read moreBest Nonstick Frying Pans, Tested and Reviewed

always-pan.png

The Always Pan is a nonstick ceramic alternative to Teflon cookware.

Our Place

The best natural nonstick cookware alternatives

If you're ready to ditch Teflon and chemical-based nonstick pots and pans altogether, there are plenty of more natural nonstick alternatives. 

The most nonstick of the bunch is ceramic cookware, which has seen a boom in popularity since concerns about Teflon first surfaced. A few popular ceramic cookware options include The Always Pan (read my full review here), Caraway and Greenpan.

Cast iron is another cookware material that develops a natural nonstick coating over time, especially if you season it well and care for it properly. It won't likely ever become as nonstick as Teflon, but cast iron has loads of other culinary benefits that are worthy of a few extra seconds scrubbing in the sink after use. Lodge is a tried-and-true cast-iron cookware producer: You can scoop up a 10-inch skillet for as little as $24.

food-breakfast-eggs-1278

Cast iron develops a nonstick patina over time and is a natural alternative to Teflon. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Carbon steel is yet another option and functions similarly to cast-iron cookware, although it's not quite as heavy, slightly more sensitive to corrosion and typically more expensive. Carbon steel hasn't really popped off here in the US but is a favorite of professional chefs, as well as yours truly. Cookware startup Made In produces an excellent blue carbon steel skillet for around $80, but there are cheaper options out there.

More helpful kitchen tips