The Basic Rules for Using and Caring for Nonstick Pans

Extend the Life of Nonstick Coatings With a Little TLC

Nonstick coatings in bakeware, cookware, and appliances are not created equal and how long a nonstick coating lasts, depends mostly on you. While some manufacturers will encourage a certain use and care, others may recommend total avoidance, so these mixed guidelines can be very confusing. But you can extend the life of your nonstick pans and appliances, by following my basic nonstick care and use tips. 

I've also included information on the benefits, safety, and prices of nonstick cooking...MORE and baking pans, so you can understand more about this popular easy-to-clean and minimal greasing required cookware and bakeware.

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    young woman holding a pan with sautéed vegetables
    Kathrin Ziegler / Getty Images

    With a little care, you'll enjoy your nonstick pans for a longer period and this type of cookware and bakeware is generally very affordable, lightweight to handle, easy to wash and provides the easiest release of foods.

    With this type of coating, less oil is needed during cooking, so it's a good choice for the health conscience. It could be argued that nonstick pans are more user-friendly than some other types of cookware and bakeware. 

    In short, nonstick is a time-saver for the busy cook...MORE and baker, even given the amount of care they need, to keep the nonstick coating in good condition. There's also a nice variety of sizes and styles of nonstick bakeware and cookware on the market.

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    The price range of nonstick pans is quite wide because manufacturers use different processes and materials in their nonstick cookware and bakeware pans.

    Some manufacturing processes are quite different from the standard nonstick coatings, such as anodized pans, which generally are more durable than the traditional nonstick pans, but also more expensive to produce. Once thought to be the least expensive type of cookware, nonstick cooking pans can have high price tags comparable to other types of...MORE cookware.  

    In general, paying the highest price does not guarantee long life when it comes to nonstick pans, though hard anodized and ceramic-based coatings do tend to have more durable cooking surfaces. That said, the cheapest pan will not necessarily have the shortest life.

    With nonstick, it is the care you give it that will extend or shorten pan life. If you want your pans to last a long time, practice my basic care tips and enjoy this type of cookware and bakeware. 

    Expect that your nonstick pans will need to be replaced at some point - coatings do wear down over time. How long they last will depend on how much a pan is used, the coating quality and the care you give it.

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    There has been a concern in the past about the health risks and safety of nonstick pans, but manufacturers have been quick to revise their construction materials to adhere to safety guidelines when it comes to nonstick coatings. 

    That means that chemicals released when a nonstick pan is heated are within acceptable safety standards. Today's manufacturers will stress that their pans are safe to use and meet safety guidelines. 

    The safety concern was the leaching of harmful chemicals that could...MORE migrate to food contents when the pan was heated at higher temperatures. Used properly, nonstick pans should not pose a health threat. However, even minute chemicals could pose a risk to those who are more susceptible. Using these types of pans is a personal choice.

    Note that not all manufacturing processes use materials that are a concern. Some nonstick pans are hard-anodized. And ceramic-based nonstick coatings such as Thermolon, emit no such harmful chemicals and are deemed to be the greener choice.

    In the absence of full nonstick pan, specifications to ensure it meets safety guidelines, use them only on lower heat settings. Should your nonstick pan coating become damaged and start to peel, discontinue use of the pan to avoid pieces of the coating from being transferred to foods.

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    Handwash your nonstick pan with hot soapy water before using it for the first time, to remove any residues, oils, and dirt from manufacturing and shipping. Rinse well and dry completely. There is no need to 'prime' or 'cure' nonstick. It is ready to use after its initial washing.

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    Some manufacturers will say that you can use metal utensils in their pans.  Frankly, not all metal utensils are made the same. Some may have rough or sharp edges, which can damage your pans.

    Lean on the safe side and always use plastic (with no rough edges), wooden spoons or heat-resistant silicone utensils, spoons and spatulas in nonstick pans. You'll save the coating.

    Once a coating has a small scratch or nick, foods will stick and eventually the coating will start to peel. Using safe...MORE utensils will extend the life of your pan tremendously.

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    I've found that even though some pans will carry a label or are marketed to imply that no oil or grease is needed, it helps to keep foods from initially sticking if you use a tiny bit of oil, margarine or butter.  Avoid using cooking oil sprays because these usually have additives that can be too harsh for nonstick coatings. 

    That being said, there are some higher-end brands of nonstick, especially ceramic non-stick pans with enhanced coatings, that do well with no oil added. I have found...MORE that over time, even the best of pans seem to lose their nonstick nature because small food residue has affected or marred the coating.

    So what should you do with nonstick pans? Oil a little before using, to help the coating last longer and avoid using oil sprays.

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    Always use only low to moderate heat with nonstick pans or skillets.  Most coatings cannot take high heat, not even at the start of cooking. Certain ceramic-based nonstick cookware can take some amount of heat to sear meats, but prolonged periods of high heat should be avoided. As a general rule, if a little butter starts to burn, the temperature is too high.   

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    Nonstick pans are not food storage vessels. Take time to transfer foods properly to storage containers after cooking. Foods that are acidic can also damage the coating when left in the pan for extended periods. 

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    Allow nonstick cookware or bakeware pans to cool completely before immersing in water. Drastic changes in temperature can cause the pan to warp, which will affect cooking performance later and it can also damage the nonstick coating.

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    I know it's faster placing them in the dishwasher, but dishwashing detergents are too harsh for nonstick coatings. Take a few minutes to handwash your nonstick pans in hot soapy water, rinse well and dry completely before storing.

    Use a plastic scrub, sponge or dishcloth to wash the pans. Never use scrubbers that have built-in harsh cleansers or detergents. Nonstick pans generally wash quickly and easily, requiring little scrubbing. Make certain to remove all food residue, which could bake in...MORE the pan later and damage the coating.

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    When nesting nonstick frypans, include a paper napkin between them to avoid the bottom of one pan scratching the coating of the other.  You can do the same with nonstick bakeware, griddles, and other cookware. Alternatively, find a cookware and bakeware storage option that minimizes contact with the nonstick coating.

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