Is It Time to Toss Your Non-Stick Pans? An Expert Reveals Some Telltale Signs

updated Nov 1, 2019
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No cookware collection would be complete without a couple of non-stick pots and pans, but how do we know when it’s time to get rid of one?

We called on Mary M. Rodgers, Director of Marketing Communications at Cuisinart, to help us breakdown the life cycle of non-stick pots and pans—and more importantly, when to bid one adieu.

What makes a pan non-stick?

“When a coating is applied to the metal surface that fills in the naturally rough texture of the metal body, it’s considered a non-stick pot or pan,” Rodgers says. “This coating in turn allows food to be released from the surface with little effort. Similarly, repeatedly seasoning a cast iron pan fills small surface voids and creates a smooth low friction surface.” 

Credit: Leela Cyd

What causes non-stick pots and pans to scratch or deteriorate over time? 

“Traditional non-stick coatings are very thin—typically around one thousandth of an inch.” Rodgers explains. “Scratching the coating disrupts the smooth continuous surface and gives food a spot to stick on to.”

“Some nonstick coatings allow for use of metal utensils and others do not depending on the strength and properties of the coating applied to the surface,” she adds. “Often you will also see indications that knives should not be used to cut food while in the pan as it may also damage the coating. Non-stick pots and pans can also deteriorate if they are exposed to higher temperatures than the manufacturer recommends, and that includes both stove top and oven temperatures.”

Credit: Esteban Cortez

How can you prevent the breakdown of your non-stick pots and pans? 

“Always read the manufacturer’s instructions for use and care and follow them in order to prevent scratching and deterioration,” Rodgers says. “Additionally, take care in cleaning and storing your cookware. Consider hanging instead of stacking—or if you prefer to stack, insert a thin piece of foam between the pans so they don’t touch.”

“We do not recommend the use of canned cooking sprays as they can cause build up on the cooking surface and then impede the browning and cooking of food,” she adds.

And how do you know when your non-stick pot or pan is at the end of its life? 

If your pot or pan shows signs of discoloration, chips, and/or scratches on the surface of the coating, then Rodgers says it’s time to throw it out—especially if it’s losing its non-stickiness. “Sometimes when highly deteriorated, your nonstick pots and pans may lose their nonstick properties,” she explains, “and food may begin to stick slightly.”