Have you ever considered if the cookware you’re using is non-toxic? If not, you may unintentionally sabotage your efforts to eat healthily. Sure, cooking at home is one of the best ways to eat well. You know what goes into each dish and can control the fat, sugar, and salt content of your dishes. But it’s also critical to think about what you’re cooking your food in.
After testing out many set over the last decade, this is my favorite safe cookware set for the “entry level” price . 16 piece set for around $100… you can’t beat that.
If you are willing to spend a bit more, this is my favorite “premium” set. At around $300 for 20 pieces.
Unfortunately, certain materials used to manufacture pots and pans are less than ideal. You may be unwittingly harming your food, your body, and the environment when you use them. In this case, you may want to buy new non-toxic cookware.
But what should you look for? You’re not alone if you have no idea–buying new cookware is less than straightforward. Deceptive marketing and confusing labels are par for the course, so how do you know what to purchase? Which materials are truly non-toxic, and just what is the safest cookware?
Navigating the world of non-toxic cookware can be overwhelming. To help you make the right decision, we’ve put together this handy guide. We’ll cover everything you need to know, such as:
- Materials to avoid
- The safest cookware materials and their pros and cons
- What cookware to discard
- Other factors to keep in mind
Keep reading to learn more.
What Materials to Avoid When Shopping for Cookware
So you’re looking for non-toxic pots and pans–excellent! The first thing to keep in mind is that knowing what to avoid is just as critical as knowing what to look for. Here are some of the primary offenders in dangerous cookware material.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (or PTFE) is a chemical coating. DuPont discovered it in 1938 and began using it to create nonstick, noncorrosive, and nonreactive surfaces. For this reason, you probably know PTFE by DuPont’s brand name, Teflon.
Whatever you call it, PTFE became common in cookware. Brands have used it for years to create pots and pans with a nonstick coating, yet concerns about its safety have come to light.
Studies revealed that at routine cooking temperatures (400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit), PTFE leaches chemicals that are potentially unsafe for humans and pets. Stable PTFE breaks down and releases polymer fumes. Over time, exposure to the fumes can cause certain symptoms and lead to a condition known as polymer fume fever. Its symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Chest pain
Additionally, some studies have shown a link between nonstick-coated cookware and health issues, like lung damage and thyroid disease. But the issues with PTFE don’t stop with our bodies. The FDA refers to PTFE as a “Forever Chemical” that gets into the water supply and has negative effects on the environment.
Another chemical to know about is PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), used for their oil-resistant, non-stick properties. PFAS show up all over the place: think fast food wrappers, food processing equipment, and takeout containers. But you’re most likely to find them in–yes, you guessed it–nonstick cookware.
Manufacturers mix various toxic chemicals to create PTFE coating, and PFAS is one of them. We’ve used these chemicals for decades, and they’re another “Forever Chemical” accumulating in our oceans, soil, and drinking water. Professionals linked exposure to things like:
- Reproductive issues
- High cholesterol
- Thyroid issues
- Low birth weights
- Immune suppression
While the FDA keeps a close eye on these chemicals and says that normal use of nonstick cookware is reasonably safe, it’s best to avoid this material altogether. You should also avoid other common nonstick manufacturing materials, such as PFOS, PTFE, PFOA, and Gen X.
What Is the Safest Cookware Material?
Although it can be scary to think about these chemicals, there is a silver lining. Many brands have shifted their focus to creating long-lasting, non-toxic cookware, so we have more safe options to choose from.
And now that you know what to avoid in cookware let’s talk about which materials to focus on. In no particular order, here are the safest cookware materials and their pros and cons.
Ceramic Coated Cookware
Ceramic cookware has become an incredibly popular safe cooking choice. It comes in two kinds:
- Ceramic coated (which we’ll talk about in this section)
- Pure ceramic (see below)
Ceramic-coated pots and pans are usually metal pieces covered with a thin layer of ceramic. You get a smooth surface quite similar to that of Teflon but without any toxic chemicals. Instead, the coating is sand-based and PFAS-free. You don’t have to worry about off-gassing at high temperatures or chemicals leaching into your food.
Not all ceramic-coated cookware is of the highest quality, so make sure to only purchase from reputable brands. Otherwise, you may find yourself needing to buy a new pan just a few months later. You should also look for reinforced ceramic, which is longer-lasting.
Another thing to remember is that the ceramic coating doesn’t last forever. If you want to prolong its lifespan, be careful about the utensils you use while cooking. Wood and silicone are the best. You should also stick to low and medium heat to get the longest use out of your ceramic-coated pieces.
- Easy to clean
- Depending on the dish, this material requires little or no cooking oil
- Non-reactive and rust proof
- Not dishwasher or oven safe
- Not completely non-stick
- The coating may eventually come off
As their name implies, pure ceramic pans are made one hundred percent from ceramic. They get a lot of praise for being one of the best non-toxic options, and for a good reason.
For one, you won’t find any chemical coating on pure ceramic pieces. Instead, they come from kiln-baked clay and have a smooth, glass-like surface. You know, the one you expect from Teflon–just no toxins to worry about.
But what people love about pure ceramic is how versatile it is. You can use it on pretty much any stovetop (except induction stovetops). It also moves seamlessly from the oven, broiler, and microwave. You can even use it on a grill if you have one. And if you love your metal utensils, we’ve got good news. You can keep using them with pure ceramic cookware.
However, as is the case with ceramic-coated cookware, not all pure ceramic cookware is created equal. It’s critical to research the brand and make sure they’re transparent about their manufacturing practices before purchasing.
- Dishwasher and freezer safe
- Safest for extremely high temperatures
- Fragile–will break if you drop it and doesn’t tolerate being placed on cool surfaces when hot
- Not completely non-stick, so it requires the use of some cooking oils
Be careful of imported hand made ceramics with glaze finish. These sometimes can leach lead into food.
Anything purchase through stores and regulated outlets should be ok.
Stainless steel is a kitchen staple. Home chefs love these pots and pans because you can do anything with them: from searing meats to making dishes in the oven and more, stainless steel is a true workhorse.
On its own, stainless steel conducts heat poorly. To combat this issue, manufacturers add a metal alloy containing nickel and chromium. Sometimes they use other metals, too. This mix of stainless steel and other metals creates a versatile and durable pot or pan. It’s safe on all stovetops at high temperatures, and many options allow for oven and broiler use.
And when we say durable, stainless steel will last a lifetime–and you don’t have to worry about any special treatment. You may notice the cookware lose its shine over time or show some wear, but that doesn’t affect performance. One downside is that stainless steel doesn’t have any non-stick properties. You’ll have to use large amounts of oils or fats to prevent sticking.
Another thing to keep in mind is that leaching can be a concern if you’re cooking acidic foods in stainless steel. High-quality pans shouldn’t have this problem, but lower-quality ones are a different story. If you opt for stainless steel, purchase cookware with 18/8 or 18/10 stamped on the bottom. These numbers mean the pan is less likely to leach.
- Dishwasher safe
- Not good for anyone looking to cut back on fats and oils
- Low-quality pans may still pose health risks
Cast iron cookware has long been a kitchen favorite. These pieces consist of a single piece of metal. They’re also usually pre-seasoned to fill in the cookware’s porous surface. This process is what gives cast iron its famous nonstick qualities.
Cast iron is also famous for its quality. It’s practically indestructible and lasts for decades, making it a common family hand-me-down. Cast iron also provides unmatched heat distribution, so it’s perfect if you frequently cook at high temperatures. When seasoned properly, it’s naturally nonstick.
Another reason home chefs love it is that it can go from the stovetop to the oven, reducing the number of items you need for cooking. It also requires no dish soap for cleaning.
However, there is a learning curve with cast iron. The most critical thing is to figure out how to care for it properly to prevent rust. These pieces are also notoriously heavy, so they’re not ideal for older people or those with mobility issues.
- Lasts for years
- Non-stick seasoning layer
- Moves from stovetop to oven
- Excellent heat retention
- Slow heating and cooling
- Not dishwasher safe
- Rusts easily if you let it air dry
Carbon steel shares many of the same characteristics as cast iron. This material makes for durable cookware that retains heat exceptionally well. You can also find them at affordable price points. And, of course, it’s an entirely non-toxic material that is safe for everyday use.
But what tips the scale in favor of carbon steel for many is its weight. Lots of folks steer away from cast iron because its weight makes cleaning and using it a pain. But carbon steel has a thinner profile, so it weighs about half as much as cast iron.
Its thinner profile helps it heat fast, another pain point for cast iron cookware. You may also find that the surface of a carbon steel pan is smoother (though not always). So you can expect a less-sticky experience than you’d get with cast iron. And thanks to its smooth surface, food is in better contact with the pan and gets crispier.
The downsides are almost the same, except for the heaviness. Don’t think about putting your pots and pans in the dishwasher, and be careful with acidic foods.
- It weighs less than cast iron
- It has a smooth, less sticky surface
- Faster heating
- Not dishwasher-safe
- Will rust if you let air dry
- Reactive to acidic foods
If you use your oven frequently, don’t overlook glass in your search for non-toxic cookware.
Though its use is limited to bakeware, glass makes an excellent, safe addition to your repertoire. It’s completely non-toxic–just be sure to choose a lead-free glass from reputable brands.
Glass is also highly versatile. Aside from handling high oven temperatures well, you can use it in many different ways. Smaller pieces often get sold with lids, which you can use to store food in both the fridge and freezer. And unlike plastic Tupperware, you can stick glass in the microwave without worry.
But what about glass cookware? While it’s beautiful, it’s less practical. Glass cookware doesn’t tolerate temperature changes well, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
- Widely available and inexpensive
- Oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe
- Non-reactive surface safe for storing acidic dishes, with no worries about staining
- Easy to break when dropped or if subjected to extreme temperature changes
- It can’t be used on the stovetop
Copper is the least popular material among home chefs, as it’s right for a smaller subset of home chefs. However, it’s worth mentioning for several reasons.
First, copper cookware is stunning and can liven up any kitchen. But it has more than just good looks. Copper’s heat conduction is unparalleled. If we compare it to stainless steel, copper conducts heat twenty times better!
But keep in mind that copper on its own is toxic. The FDA recommends against using unlined copper for food preparation, which is why copper pans are usually lined with tin or stainless steel. Thanks to this lining, you don’t have to worry about toxins leaching into your food. The caveat? You need to be very careful with temperatures.
Copper’s melting point is about 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so you should take care when using the pan on high heat. Scrubbing during cleaning is a no-no, as you could expose the copper and accidentally make it harmful. Another downside is that copper is quite expensive. A set could run you into the thousands, so they’re not for everyone.
- Fantastic heat conduction
- Naturally non-stick surface
- High price point
- It can be harmful if used incorrectly
- Requires know-how to use properly
Cookware to Discard
If you’re shopping for new cookware, chances are you’re concerned about what you already have. It’s a no-brainer that you’ll need to get rid of pieces that contain the off-limits materials mentioned above.
However, don’t feel like you have to do away with everything at once. You’ll need a replacement (or several), and cookware is expensive. Perhaps you need to budget for these upgrades, and you should also do plenty of research before committing to something new.
Instead, take stock of what you have in your kitchen and replace the most problematic items first. Here are the items you should prioritize.
Take a look at your pans. Are any of them chipped or scratched? If so, it’s time to retire them.
Nicks and scratches compromise the surface coating, so you’re potentially putting your food in contact with toxins every time you cook. Depending on what kind of cookware you have, you could be exposing yourself to various kinds of toxins!
For example, do you have a stainless steel pain with scratches? These scratches may expose you to chromium and nickel, which could lead to dermatitis. People with nickel sensitivity should be especially careful.
Maybe you have a pan with Teflon coating. In this case, nicks and scratches expose the toxic materials inside. This problem becomes even worse if you use any metal utensils on it.
If you have second-hand cookware of dubious origins, it’s probably time to let go of these items. One issue is that it’s difficult to know what the pan is made from, especially older nonstick versions. These pans almost certainly contain Teflon, which we know is a material to avoid in your cookware.
Another issue with hand-me-downs is that they’re more likely to be damaged. Some damage is easy to see, like badly burned stainless steel items, but other issues are more subtle. If you have any doubts, it’s best to invest in cookware that you know is safe.
Certain Nonstick Pans
We’ve touched a bit on nonstick pans, but they deserve further discussion. You might be feeling resistant to the idea of getting rid of them. Perhaps you’re thinking, “My nonstick pans are relatively new,” or “I trust this brand.”
However, it’s worth scrutinizing them more closely, especially if they don’t have a PTFE- and PFOA-free label. Brand transparency is critical; merely saying that the item is nonstick is not enough. Reputable companies concerned about toxic materials provide information about what their cookware consists of.
If you can’t find this information, it’s a good sign it’s time to move on.
Other Things to Consider
To wrap this article up, here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing cookware.
What temperatures do you plan to cook at? This factor is easy to forget, but the temperature is critical. Most cookware (even nontoxic pieces) are only safe up to a certain temp. Staying within the correct range is critical. Otherwise, you risk damaging your food and your cookware.
Before you make any purchases, think about what you need from your pots and pans. Ask yourself specifically what things you plan to cook and how you plan to cook them. Will you need something that can switch between the stovetop and oven? Do you tend to cook on an open flame? Your answers to these questions will dictate what kind of cookware you buy.
Another factor that’s easy to forget is that some metals react when they come in contact with certain foods (we’re looking at you, aluminum!). This phenomenon is called reactivity, and even more-experienced home chefs need a reminder from time to time.
Reactivity causes the food you’re cooking to absorb the metal and take on a different taste or color. It most commonly occurs with acidic foods, and tomato is one of the primary culprits.
To avoid surprises, ensure you understand the product’s reactivity before purchasing. Consider what you like cooking as well. For example, if you love slow-cooking tomato-based dishes, you may want to rethink purchasing a stainless steel pot.
Lastly, price is another critical factor to consider. While not everyone can spend hundreds of dollars on pots and pans, it’s best to buy the best quality you can afford. In general, you get what you pay for when it comes to cookware. Spending a bit more will get you a product that will last a lifetime, with no worries about toxic chemicals.
Of course, a high price tag doesn’t automatically qualify a product as safe. It also doesn’t mean that the cookware in question is right for you. You work hard for your money, so be sure you’re spending it wisely.
What Is the Safest Cookware? Final Thoughts
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. As you’ve seen, consumers can choose from several different non-toxic cookware options. Our top recommendations would be cast iron and ceramic pots and pans. But what’s right for you depends on many factors.
Remember, think about what you plan to cook, what you need your cookware to do, and how much you want to spend. Hopefully, you found this guide helpful as you update your cookware arsenal. Happy cooking!
Common questions about the safest cookware to use at home.
What is the safest cookware for your health?
- Ceramic Cookware is inexpensive, versatile and safe.
- Stainless Steel Cookware is light, durable and convenient. Don’t store food in these pans and avoid acidic cooking.
- Cast Iron is great for most foods, but avoid cooking acidic foods.
- Glass cookware is historically considered one of the safest and non-toxic materials.
- Copper cookware is expensive and a chefs favorite because of it’s great heating properties.
What cookware is toxic? What cookware to avoid?
- Teflon/PTFE – Studies revealed that at routine cooking temperatures (400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit), PTFE leaches chemicals that are potentially unsafe for humans and pets.
- PFAS – We’ve used these chemicals for decades, and they’re another “Forever Chemical” accumulating in our oceans, soil, and drinking water.
- Old, Damaged and Scratched Cookware – it’s best to not cook in anything that has seen it’s best days or has deep scratches on it. While the most of the surface might be okay, the scratches may reveal materials that are not meant to interact with your food.