April 20

Our Statement About Teflon and PTFE Cookware

By trk

Last Updated: April 20, 2021

First Published: April 20, 2021

environment, pollution, PTFE, teflon

We began this website to help people find the best possible kitchen products at the best prices. To that end, we've helped hundreds of thousands of people buy kitchen products that they love.

One of those products is nonstick cookware. In our research on this topic, we have come to drastically change our opinions about Teflon and PTFE cookware. 

Most of our articles say that Teflon and PTFE cookware "is safe when used correctly." Teflon/PTFE itself is inert and safe for humans (and other living creatures) at temperatures below about 390F. 

The bigger danger, we say, is the PFOA that was used to apply the Teflon to the pan--but PFOA has been outlawed so is no longer used. And even if it were still used in manufacturing, it is all but used up in the process leaving little to none in the cookware itself. You are more likely to get PFOA in your drinking water than from your nonstick cookware.

This is all technically true, but the reality is that there's quite a bit more to the story--and buyers need to understand the facts about Teflon and PTFE cookware. 

About Teflon and PTFE Cookware

Teflon is Dupont's (now Chemours) brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). It is the original PTFE and many people use the popular brand name to refer to any PTFE. Thus "Teflon" and "PTFE" are often used interchangeably, which is why we use both terms here.

Today, there are hundreds of brand names for PTFE: Autograph, Eterna, Granitium, Greblon (which also makes ceramic nonstick), and Quantanium are some of the best known. ScanPan has a proprietary PTFE blend called Stratanium. 

Some of these PTFE brands contain additives like granite, titanium, and diamond dust to strengthen the coating, but the base is PTFE.

The point here is that Teflon and PTFE, under any brand name, are the same chemical.

Nonstick cookware is either Teflon/PTFE or nonstick ceramic: there is no such thing as nonstick "titanium cookware" or "nonstick granite cookware," etc. These are marketing tactics that divert attention from the PTFE base.

To further confuse things, some PTFE cookware even has the word "ceramic" in the name. 

If you are buying nonstick cookware, your options are PTFE or nonstick ceramic. And sometimes it can be very hard to tell which one you're buying. 

For a list of brands, plus ways to determine if a product contains PTFE, see our article Nonstick Cookware Brands: PTFE or Ceramic? A Comprehensive Guide.

The list is not complete by any means, but we include a few hundred brands and are adding more all the time.

The Truth About Safe Usage of Teflon and PTFE Cookware

First of all, it's hard to always use this cookware "correctly." The most important things to do, safety wise, are to never use high heat and to never scratch the cookware.

High heat breaks the Teflon or PTFE down into dangerous PFAS chemicals. "PFAS" is the family of "forever chemicals" that PFOA belongs to (more on this in a minute). So at high heat, Teflon breaks down into these environmentally hazardous, carcinogenic toxins.

Teflon and PTFE begin to deteriorate around 390F, depending on brand. At temps above 500F, it gives off fumes that give humans flu-like symptoms and are lethal to birds. If the fumes contain dangerous PFAS chemicals (which is unknown, but possible), it's likely they have dangerous longer-term effects, as well.

It is surprisingly easy for a pan, especially an empty pan, to reach dangerous temps. An empty pan even at medium heat can go above 500F in about 5 minutes (depending on the range). So you must always be extremely vigilant with your Teflon/PTFE cookware for it to remain safe. 

Also, heat damage seems to be cumulative, so over time even at proper usage temperatures, Teflon will age. We're not sure if this is safe or not, but we urge you not to risk it: if your Teflon or PTFE cookware shows signs of age like dulling and discoloration, you should err on the side of safety and stop using it.

Scratches are bad because they can release any PFOA-type chemical that may be lingering from the manufacturing process. So if your PTFE cookware is scratched, it is not safe for use.

If you are set on having Teflon or PTFE nonstick cookware, you should be sure that everyone in your household understands safety and use instructions and understands the consequences of deviating from them. If you can't trust everyone in your household to use the cookware correctly, you should not buy Teflon or PTFE cookware.

The Truth About PFOA, GenX, and PFAS Chemicals

It's also true that PFOA is no longer used in the manufacturing of Teflon and PTFE cookware; it was outlawed in the US in 2015. However, something must be used to help the slippery Teflon/PTFE adhere to pans; it's an essential part of the process.

Most manufacturers have replaced PFOA with another PFAS chemical, most commonly, one called GenX.

Being in the PFAS family, GenX has proven to be almost as bad, if not just as bad, for humans and for the environment as PFOA. Its best attribute is that it isn't as regulated as PFOA (yet), so makers can freely dump waste water full of it into rivers and streams without repercussions. (And they do: levels of GenX are already being found in waters downstream from manufacturing plants, including in the Ohio river.)

Some makers say they don't use any PFAS chemicals at all (Ozeri for example). This sounds great, but if they don't say what they use instead, the statement means very little, because they have to use something.

No PFAS is probably better, but it's impossible to say for sure without knowing what they're using instead. And remember that the Teflon and PTFE breaks down into PFAS chemicals with use--so the greater level of safety from "PFAS-free" cookware is probably small--and possibly nonexistent. 

Environmental Issues of Teflon and PTFE Cookware

Even if you are willing to take on the health risks of using Teflon and PTFE cookware, you need to understand how this industry affects the environment and human beings, which are many, complicated, and tragic.

The substances used in making Teflon and PTFE cookware--in general, called perfluorinated compounds--are extremely bad for the environment and for living creatures. The list of health problems they're associated with is long, and includes some types of cancer.

These compounds were "grandfathered in" when the EPA was created in the early 1970s, which means they were not regulated. DuPont, the inventor of Teflon, was free to dump the waste products from their industry into local water systems. This went on for more than 50 years, as PFOA was not "discovered" as a hazard until the late 1990s. It took at least another decade for the dumping of PFOA to stop and for PFOA to be outlawed in the US.

(There is evidence that DuPont was aware of the health issues of their products and did nothing to protect the environment, or their workers, from them.)

Today, most cookware companies are using the PFAS chemical GenX in place of PFOA, which is also not as regulated as it should be. The companies are now dumping GenX into the water. This happens in the US, and probably to an even greater extent in China, where many of the large Teflon and PTFE-making plants now are.

It's difficult to find information on the Chinese plants, but we do know that there are few to no environmental regulations in China--so the polluting of their waters is almost certainly a huge issue. 

The manufacturing chain is long and complicated, so the dumping and exposure to humans begins at the stage of manufacturing Teflon, other PTFE brands, and the PFAS chemicals used to apply them to cookware. Hundreds of thousands of metric tons of these chemicals are produced every year, most of them for the cookware industry. The dumping and exposure starts here, but is just the beginning.

The raw materials--PFAS and PTFE--are then shipped to plants where the materials are applied to raw cookware materials, typically aluminum and clad stainless steel. Though we are unsure of the exact processes involved, there is evidence that residual PFAS are also dumped from these facilities.

The Teflon-coated aluminum and steel is then shipped to its final destination, where it is formed into the final products: cookware. These facilities also produce hazardous waste; in the US, we only know that the toxins include lead and cadmium; PFAS chemicals are not regulated at these final production plants, so it's unknown whether these plants are also dumping them into the environment. 

In the US, the states involved in Teflon cookware manufacturing include West Virginia, North Carolina, and Connecticut. There are other industries--and therefore other states--that use PFAS chemicals, as well. This includes clothing, footwear, food packaging, stain repellents, fire retardants, and more. We haven't done any research on these other industries, but they almost certainly are also dumping these toxins. Remember, many of these chemicals are unregulated, even in the US.

The DuPont-owned Chemours company is currently involved in at least two lawsuits for contaminating local water supplies with these PFAS chemicals. 

The problem is probably even worse in China, but information is hard to come by. Some of the largest cookware plants in the world are now in China, so we know the problem persists. These plants produce products for popular American brands typically found on Amazon, at Wal-Mart, and at other well-known retailers. Just about any cookware brand you name is likely to sell nonstick PTFE cookware made in China, including All-Clad, Cuisinart, Calphalon, Anolon, and many, many more.

Makers are finally starting to filter the toxic chemicals out of their waste water. This is good, but it is the exception rather than the rule, so the pollution continues. More than 99% of Americans have PFAS chemicals in their bodies. Every water source on the planet now contains traces of PFAS forever chemicals. And it is only going to get worse until the manufacturers clean up their act--literally.

If you buy Teflon or other PTFE cookware, you are supporting this poisoning of the planet--especially now, when the vast majority of nonstick cookware is made in China.

Final Thoughts 

Despite these serious issues, nonstick cookware remains popular. The marketing tells us that Teflon and PTFE cookware is "safe when used correctly," the line that, regrettably, we've been passing onto our readers for years now. 

Teflon and PTFE cookware is probably be safe when used correctly, but the entire industry has poisoned the planet and killed untold numbers of people and animals. Until the dumping of poisonous PFAS chemicals, and possibly other unregulated toxins (there are probably more of them), are filtered out of the waste water from this industry, we can not in good conscience recommend Teflon and PTFE cookware. In fact, our recommendation is the opposite: 

Please do not buy Teflon and PTFE cookware.

This includes even "environmentally conscious" companies like ScanPan: they may use recycled aluminum, but as long as their cookware contains PTFE (which it does), they are part of this global cycle of pollution.

We know people are probably going to continue to buy Teflon and PTFE cookware. To that end, we are leaving our reviews of Teflon and PTFE cookware intact--but we are adding a link to this page, and we are always going to offer other options to buyers. 

Those options include:

  • Ceramic nonstick cookware 
  • Well-seasoned cast iron (almost nonstick)
  • Well-seasoned carbon steel (almost nonstick)
  • Enameled cookware (not nonstick but semi-nonstick)
  • Clad stainless steel (not nonstick but easy to clean up when used properly).

Thank you for reading.

Sources:

cen.acs.org

earthjustice.org

ecocenter.org

national law review

wikipedia

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