Foil vs. parchment vs. wax paper vs. freezer paper: Here's when to use them

These go-to cooking staples have very different uses. Make sure you're using the right one with this guide.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
4 min read
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You probably know that foil is silver-colored and freezer paper, parchment paper and waxed paper are, well, paper, but does your knowledge about them end there?

These four kitchen staples have a variety of uses that can make cooking much simpler. But use the wrong one at the wrong time and things can turn disastrous. Here's the difference and tips on how you should use them.

Parchment vs. wax paper

Waxed paper (or wax paper) and parchment paper are both coated papers. The difference is in their coatings. Parchment paper -- which is available bleached and unbleached -- is coated with silicone, while wax paper is coated in, you guessed it, wax. Soybean or paraffin wax, to be precise.

Their coatings give them different uses. Parchment paper's silicone coating makes it heat-resistant and nonstick. Line baking pans with this paper wonder and food won't stick to the pan. This trick can't be duplicated with wax paper because the wax will melt, which makes it useless as a nonstick barrier and ruins whatever you're cooking.


Use wax paper to line dishes that aren't going in the oven.


Wax paper's best use is lining countertops and tables before rolling out pie crusts or kneading bread, to prevent a mess. Wax paper can also be used to wrap food for cold storage or even line a pan for making something like fudge. Putting a piece of wax paper in between items you're freezing will also prevent them from sticking together.

So, to sum it up, parchment paper is for hot applications and wax paper is for cold.

Wax paper vs. freezer paper

Because they are very similar, freezer paper and wax paper are both used to wrap and freeze foods. The big difference is that freezer paper is only coated on one side with plastic, while wax paper is coated on both sides with wax. Because of the plastic coating, freezer paper is typically much more durable than wax and protects better in the freezer. 

For example, meat wrapped in wax paper will only stay freezer burn free for a few months. Meat wrapped in freezer paper, on the other hand, can last for up to a year. This is because freezer paper is more resistant to moisture.

You can use wax paper if you're planning on cooking the food soon, but use freezer paper for long-term freezer storage.

Foil vs. parchment paper

Foil is basically very thin aluminum. Many people use it to line cooking dishes for easier cleanup, which is a great trick, but foil has no nonstick properties, unlike parchment paper. You may end up with a little piece of foil stuck to the bottom of your roasted potatoes or cookies.

Also, research by the International Journal of Electrochemical Science found that small amounts of aluminum may leach into food during the cooking process. Like with wax paper, if there is heat your best bet is parchment paper.

Some people line their ovens with foil to prevent messes. This is a big no-no, too. It can damage your oven in several different ways. It can also prevent proper air circulation, which can alter how your food cooks.

Foil still has its uses, though. Use it to:

  • Wrap sandwiches
  • Wrap meat for short-term freezing
  • Cover bowls to hold in heat
  • Make disposable funnels
  • Prevent messes around the stove

That's just the beginning. Here are 10 more uses for foil.

Foil vs. wax paper

OK, so foil and wax paper have a lot of similar uses, but which one is better? A good rule of thumb is if you don't want it to stick, use wax paper and if you want to insulate, use foil.

Aluminum foil can also be reused or recycled, unlike wax paper. So if saving the planet is on your mind and you can't decide between foil and wax paper, choose foil. Before slipping it in the recycling bin just make sure to rinse it off.

Freezer paper vs. foil

Both freezer paper and heavy-duty foil are used to wrap meat and other items for the freezer, but which is best? Well, it's close to a tie. 

Both are moisture resistant and help prevent freezer burn. The biggest difference, like with wax paper, is that aluminum foil can be cleaned and reused. It also doesn't need freezer tape to secure it in place since it holds its shape.

Aluminum foil can leave a metallic flavor on the meat, though. If you choose foil, you may want to wrap your meat in plastic wrap and then foil before you freeze it.

For guidelines on wrapping meat for the freezer, read Individually wrap portions of meat to prevent freezer burn.

Editors' note: This article was originally published on Nov. 10, 2016, and has been updated.

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