Are nonstick pans safe? What to know.

Traditional nonstick pans can contain forever chemicals.
Traditional nonstick pans can contain forever chemicals. (Getty Images)

Whether you’re a seasoned cook or a newbie in the kitchen, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a nonstick pan. Your eggs scramble easily, vegetables cook evenly and — perhaps most important — you never have to worry about spending lots of time scrubbing the pan when you’re done with dinner. Yet while nonstick pans certainly have a useful function in your kitchen, they have also faced scrutiny over potential health risks, leaving some people wondering if they’re better off with cookware made of different materials. So should you be concerned about using a nonstick pan? Here’s what experts say, including whether you should replace your pans.

Nonstick pans have been a subject of concern because they contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in their coatings. PFOA is a type of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) compound, also known as “forever chemicals,” because they don’t break down.

PFOA was once commonly used in the production of nonstick coatings — most famously, Teflon, which was invented by the company DuPont and manufactured by its spin-off company Chemours. After concerns and pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the health risks associated with PFOAs in the early 2000s, DuPont began phasing PFOAs out of their products. This came after a 2001 class-action lawsuit that stated DuPont was well aware of the health risks associated with its chemical compound and failed to inform the public, including the communities whose health was negatively affected by the runoff from the company's manufacturing plant.

“The production of PFOA leads to long-term releases into the environment and widespread environmental contamination, including drinking water,” Tasha Stoiber, senior scientist at Environmental Working Group (EWG), tells Yahoo Life. “We know from numerous studies in both animals and humans that PFOA is linked to many health harms, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, increased cholesterol, pregnancy-related high blood pressure and thyroid disease.”

The issue, however, was that while PFOAs were removed, they were replaced with other types of PFAS, which Stoiber says “were found to have similar health harms and persistence in the environment.” PFAS, in general, have been linked to health concerns such as increased cholesterol levels, a higher risk of kidney and testicular cancer, decreased vaccine response in children and changes in liver enzymes.

“Some pans may be labeled as not containing PFOA, but may contain other PFAS,” she explains.

If you have a traditional nonstick pan made before 2015, it’s best to toss it, as there is a chance it contains PFOAs. However, even if you purchased your pan after 2015, it is possible it still contains PFAS. But does that mean you should toss out your nonstick pans? Experts are mixed here.

“The safest bet is to not purchase a pan that is marketed as nonstick, and choose cast iron or carbon steel,” says Stoiber. Choosing other types of cookware without PFAS — which can also include stainless-steel or ceramic nonstick pans, which don't use the chemicals to coat the pan since they're naturally nonstick — can reduce exposure to PFAS.

That said, A. Daniel Jones, professor of biochemistry at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life that there are “no studies documenting a significant risk to health arising from use of nonstick pans.” PFAS are also everywhere, he notes, explaining that exposure to them in everyday life comes from much more than just cookware. “Virtually everyone already has significant amounts of PFAS in our blood and tissues, with most of this coming from contaminated drinking water, contamination in certain foods and food packaging materials, dusts and an assortment of other consumer products,” he says.

If you are sticking with your traditional nonstick pan, you should be cautious about how you use it. A 2022 study found that a scratched nonstick pan can leave behind microplastics and nanoplastics, leading to the release of potentially harmful chemicals into your food. Just like with PFAS, people are exposed to microplastics daily and scientists aren’t yet definitively sure of the health hazards. Still, if you wish to avoid the possible risks associated with microplastics, toss your nonstick pan once it gets scratched or its surface seems to lose coating.

You also want to avoid high heat, such as putting your nonstick pan into a broiler. At high temperatures, the coating on a nonstick pan can break down and release the chemicals into the air. This is also the reason you don’t want to heat an empty pan, as it can heat up hotter and faster.

Ultimately, forever chemicals found in many traditional nonstick pans are also prevalent in the environment — and you're likely exposed to them daily. More research is needed to determine the health effects of PFAS and whether traditional nonstick pans are a particularly potent source of them. However, if you’re concerned and would rather play it safe, you can try alternative options to traditional nonstick pans.