If you’re in the market for new cookware, you might be wondering: what’s the difference between Teflon- and ceramic-coated non-stick pans?
Here’s the short answer:
Both are non-stick, but Teflon-coated non-stick pans release food more effectively and last significantly longer. Ceramic pan manufacturers claim their materials are safer, but Teflon pans made since 2013 are PFOA-free and pose virtually no health risk.
In this comparison of ceramic vs. Teflon non-stick pans, I dive deeper into the similarities and differences.
You’ll learn exactly how they stack up in terms of:
- And much more.
By the end, you’ll have all the facts necessary to decide which type of cooking surface is better for you, ceramic or Teflon.
(use the links below to navigate)
- Ceramic vs. Teflon: Quick Summary
- How Does Non-Stick Cookware Work?
- What’s the Difference Between Teflon and PTFE?
- Is Ceramic Cookware Really Ceramic?
- Is Teflon Cookware Safe?
- Is Ceramic Cookware Safe?
- Ease of Use
- Care and Maintenance
- Bottom Line: Should You Buy Ceramic or Teflon Non-Stick Cookware?
If you only have a minute and you’re looking to get a quick comparison of Ceramic vs. Teflon non-stick cookware, here are the basics you need to know.
What Is Teflon Cookware? Teflon is the branded name for the substance Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). People often use the term Teflon and PTFE interchangeably. It’s a man-made compound that was invented in the 1930s by the chemical company Chemours and was first used as a non-stick cooking surface in the 1960s. Besides cookware, it has many commercial applications due to its durability, non-stick, and non-reactive properties.
What Is Ceramic Cookware? Ceramic cookware is not made entirely of ceramic. It typically is made of a steel or aluminum base coated with a ceramic non-stick surface. The ceramic coating comes in many mineral-based blends and does not contain carbon or PFOA, and many people believe it to be safer than Teflon.
Performance: While both ceramic and Teflon cooking surfaces are non-stick, Teflon does a better job preventing food from sticking. There are no scientific tests that prove Teflon performs better, but, if you compare reviews of Teflon coated pans to reviews of ceramic coated pans, you’ll notice a higher percentage of reviewers complaining that food sticks to the ceramic versions.
Is Teflon Cookware Safe? Before 2013, a chemical suspected of contributing to certain cancers, PFOA, was used in the processing of Teflon. But since then, all Teflon cookware is PFOA-free. There are still concerns about Teflon releasing harmful fumes when heated above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but the effects are not severe, and the American Cancer Society has stated that “there are no known risks to humans from using Teflon-coated cookware.”
Is Ceramic Cookware Safe? Ceramic non-stick cookware is completely safe as long as it’s made in the U.S., and you buy it from a reputable retailer. Don’t purchase ceramics from flea markets or street vendors and never cook with ceramics that are damaged or not designed for food preparation. Harmful materials like lead or cadmium have been found in ceramics made by hand and by unregulated overseas manufacturing.
Ease of Use and Maintenance: Ceramic and Teflon non-stick cookware are both very easy to use, and there’s no seasoning or special preparation required. Both are generally not safe in the oven or dishwasher. Metal utensils, baking soda, and abrasive sponges can damage both ceramic and Teflon cooking surfaces.
Durability: There’s no significant difference in the durability of ceramic and Teflon pans. Their lifespan is between 3 and 5 years, depending on usage. With both, the cooking surface will get scratched, wear down, and lose its effectiveness over time.
Price: Ceramic cookware tends to be more expensive than Teflon, but the difference depends on the product, brand, and retailer. To easily compare prices of similar ceramic and Teflon cookware products, check out this price comparison chart.
Bottom Line: Ceramic and Teflon non-stick cookware is virtually the same in terms of ease of use, maintenance, and durability, so your decision should come down to performance, price, and safety. Teflon beats ceramic in performance and price, and although some people still perceive ceramic to be safer than Teflon, that’s no longer true–both are completely safe.
For those reasons, I recommend going with Teflon cookware.
Although dozens of brands make Teflon coated non-stick cookware, the two brands I recommend are All-Clad and Calphalon. They’re both highly regarded for their superior performance, durability, and design. Both are available on Amazon at the links below.
Before I get into how ceramic and Teflon coated pans compare, it’s important to understand how non-stick coating works.
Regular metal cookware, such as stainless steel, has microscopic pores on its surface that contract when heated. When those pores contract, they grab onto the food you’re cooking, causing it to stick.
That’s why, when using regular stainless steel cookware, you need to grease the pan with oil or butter to fill those pores and avoid sticking.
With non-stick cookware, the ceramic or Teflon coating does the job of the oil or butter and fills the pores permanently—or at least until the coating wears down.
Both coatings are durable and non-reactive, making it virtually impossible for food to stick.
Are you confused about the difference between Teflon and PTFE? Before we go any further, let’s clear the air.
PTFE, which is short for Polytetrafluoroethylene, is the chemical name, and Teflon is the branded name trademarked by the chemical company that invented the substance in the 1930s.
In other words, Teflon and PTFE are the same thing.
Nowadays, some cookware brands use Teflon PTFE, but some source their materials from other PTFE providers or make their own.
Since Teflon was the first and still is the most well-known brand of the substance, most consumers still refer to any PTFE non-stick coating as Teflon.
What is PTFE exactly?
PTFE is a synthetic polymer made up of carbon and fluoride. In other words, it’s a man-made compound that has unique properties (high melting point, water-resistant, resistant to chemical damage, strong, nothing will stick to it) that give it a wide range of commercial applications.
Besides coating non-stick pans, PTFE is used in nail polish, wiper blades, ski bindings, and as the lining of pipes that carry chemicals or extremely hot substances.
In terms of cookware, the PTFE coating is applied to the cooking surface after the steel or aluminum base is already formed.
Here’s a quick behind-the-scenes look at how non-stick pans are made.
One important thing to understand about ceramic non-stick cookware is it’s generally not ceramic.
The cookware sets you can pick up at the local big-box stores have a ceramic coating on their cooking surfaces.
In other words, the entire pot or pan is not made out of ceramic; it’s merely encased in a ceramic non-stick coating. The base material is typically steel, aluminum, or cast iron.
The fact that the base is not ceramic is a good thing because ceramic is not a great conductor of heat, and it’s incredibly heavy.
However, there are full ceramic cooking apparatuses on the market. The composition of these are natural clay and a hardening glaze, but these aren’t commonplace in most American kitchens.
Ceramic coated pans are made the same way as Teflon pans. First, the core material forms the base of the pan, and then the ceramic coating is applied towards the end.
Non-stick ceramic coatings come in several proprietary blends, such as the common Thermolon. These glazes can vary, but they are inorganic; no carbon is used in the processing, and they generally are mineral-based. Thermolon uses a sand-like mixture of silicone and oxygen to create the non-stick surface.
Ceramic coatings do not contain PTFE or PFOA, and because they take one layer of coating rather than up to 3 with Teflon pans, they produce up to 50% less carbon dioxide in processing.
This is part of the reason ceramic cookware is considered more environmentally friendly in addition to the more “natural” ingredients used in processing.
One of the biggest concerns for most people when considering Teflon is whether or not it is safe.
There are a lot of reports of it off-gassing dangerous chemicals into the air or your food when heated too high and health concerns surrounding PFOA.
All of which have frightened consumers into looking into alternative options, such as ceramic.
Let’s address the merits of these concerns now.
PFOA is a chemical used in processing PTFE, the main ingredient of Teflon, and this chemical deserves all of its public alarm in recent years.
The American Cancer Society has been testing it for several years as a potential causal factor in two different types of cancer; kidney and testicular.
Environmental claims are being made about the potential contamination of groundwater and environmental harm at the hands of PFOA.
And while all of these concerns regarding PFOA are valid, all manufacturers have stopped utilizing this chemical processing aide in response to the health and environmental claims in 2013.
If you are concerned about PFOA’s potential effects and you have cookware that was made before 2013, it may be a good idea to replace them if you haven’t done so already. But if you are purchasing Teflon coated cookware today, PFOA shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.
The other concern about Teflon was the off-gassing potential at high-heats. Unfortunately, this one is also true.
Robert L. Woke, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh was quoted as saying:
“[Teflon pans are safe] as long as they’re not overheated. When they are, the coating may begin to break down (at the molecular level, so you wouldn’t necessarily see it), and toxic particles and gases, some of them carcinogenic, can be released.”
500 degrees Fahrenheit is the generally accepted maximum temperature of which a Teflon pan should ever be heated. Below that threshold, the pans are completely safe.
Chemours, the maker of Teflon, firmly denies the claim that their cookware has any safety risk based on data from the past 40 years. Here’s what they say on their website in the FAQs section on the topic:
Orion Industries, one of the leading applicators of Teflon, claims, “With a track record of over 70 years of safe use, nonstick, PFOA free, PTFE coatings are still one of the safest products ever put into the market.”
So, is Teflon cookware safe?
The American Cancer Society clearly states on their website, “there are no known risks to humans from using Teflon-coated cookware.”
Whether you believe this statement or not is up to you.
Ceramic cookware is not without its own safety considerations. But they are admittedly much less fear-inducing than concerns related to Teflon.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested ceramic coated cookware, such as crockpots, and found certain products to contain lead and cadmium; both substances can be hazardous if they leach into your food and you ingest them.
Lead is scary, dangerous stuff, but there’s no need to panic.
All U.S. manufacturers are using lead-free ceramic coating for their non-stick pans.
So if you are buying a ceramic coated pan from the store, you are perfectly safe.
According to the FDA, the only time you would need to worry is if you’re cooking with the following:
- A full ceramic dish.
- A ceramic antique.
- A decorative item.
- Hand-made ceramics.
- Ceramics that are chipped, damaged, or worn down.
- Brightly colored ceramics.
- Purchased from a flea market or street vendor.
In those cases, you will want to ensure the dish was made for food preparation, and that is was crafted in the U.S. where there are strict regulations about what is food safe and what isn’t.
Another consideration is chipping. Ceramic vessels can chip, and when it happens, the chipped pieces can get into your food and be ingested.
The chips will also leave layers of the cookware that weren’t meant to have direct contact with food exposed.
Proper care is essential to prevent chipping from occurring; if chipping has begun, you will need to stop using the cookware for food preparations immediately.
Bottom line—while safety should always be the number one consideration, there’s not much to be concerned about with Teflon or ceramic. With the strict regulations in place today, as long as you follow the proper usage instructions and don’t exceed the heat limits, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
One of the most important factors to consider when deciding between ceramic and Teflon coated cookware is how it performs in the kitchen.
So, which non-stick coating does a better job at releasing food?
After all, you’re not buying this type of cookware to achieve the perfect sear on your steak (stainless steel and cast iron cookware are much better for that).
You’re buying it so that you can flip and slide eggs and pancakes with ease.
Unfortunately, there’s no scientific data proving which type of non-stick coating is less sticky.
In my experience, Teflon is significantly better in this category. I’ve cooked with both for years and, all things being equal, I found that food tends to stick more often to ceramic coated cookware than it does to Teflon.
While my experience is one thing, let’s take a look at a larger sample of data from other real customers.
To give each coating type a fair shot, I looked at the Calphalon Classic collection, which comes in a ceramic version and a Teflon version.
After analyzing hundreds of reviews of both collections on Amazon, I found that only about 3% of customers who bought the Teflon coated version complain about food sticking while about 20% of customers who bought the Ceramic version complain about sticking.
I took a look at another popular cookware brand, Cuisinart, that offers both ceramic and Teflon coated pots and pans.
Different brand, but same story.
Only 1% of customers who bought Cuisinart pans with Teflon coating complain about food sticking while about 6% of customers who bought their ceramic offering complain.
Both ceramic and Teflon do the job, but if you want to minimize the chances of food sticking, Teflon is the way to go.
Although I give Teflon the edge in terms of non-stick performance, both types of non-stick pans are perfect for beginner cooks because of their ease of use.
There is no prep work or special instructions to take into consideration as you encounter with cast-iron pans. Both types of cookware are ready to use out of the box and are easy to master.
The main benefit of both Teflon and ceramic is that you don’t need to add additional oils or fat to prevent food from sticking. Their non-stick coating does the heavy lifting making both cooking and clean-up a breeze.
Both types of cookware are generally NOT oven or dishwasher safe except for a few brands, including All-Clad (check out our recent review of All-Clad’s non-stick cookware). They should both be used to low to medium heat cooking to prevent damage.
When comparing the ease-of-use, ceramic and Teflon coated pans are virtually the same.
Care and maintenance is another area in which the similarities between ceramic and Teflon coated pans outweigh their differences.
To avoid scratching the cooking surface and rendering the non-stick coating ineffective, most manufacturers recommend that you avoid using metal utensils when cooking with non-stick cookware.
Makers of ceramic pans generally recommend using only wooden utensils while Teflon specifies non-metal.
Other things that can damage the non-stick coating are cooking spray, abrasive cleaners and sponges, baking soda, and bleach.
The beauty of cookware with a ceramic or Teflon coating is that the food doesn’t stick, so warm water and regular dish soap will do the trick 99% of the time.
As I mentioned, high-heat must be avoided with both types of pans.
When cleaning either type, steer clear of abrupt temperature changes and let your pans cool completely before cleaning.
Not only can high temperatures shock and damage ceramic and Teflon non-stick coatings, but it can also cause the pans to warp, as I covered in detail in my recent post: Why Do Pans Warp? 6 Common Causes (and How to Unwarp).
Both types of pans are non-reactive and are safe for acidic food preparation. So go ahead and simmer that tomato sauce without worrying about it seeping into your skillet as it can with cast iron.
To further illustrate the point that there’s no difference in the way you need to care for and maintain ceramic and Teflon coated cookware, let’s take a look at the instructions that Calpahpon, one of the biggest cookware makers in the United States, provides for each type.
For Calphalon’s Teflon coated cookware, these are their care instructions:
For Calphalon’s Ceramic coated cookware, these are their care instructions:
As you can see, their care instructions for Ceramic and Teflon coated cookware is completely the same.
If you’re looking for cookware that will last a lifetime, you should pick up a set of stainless steel cookware from a brand like All-Clad or Calphalon (learn about the differences between these brands).
The lifespan of non-stick cookware, whether it has a ceramic or Teflon cooking surface, is much more limited.
Over time, the non-stick coating will wear down, get scratched (even if you’re careful), and become less effective.
In general, ceramic and Teflon coated non-stick pans will last 1 to 5 years, but the exact lifespan depends on how often you use them and how well you take care of them.
Some premium cookware collections, like All-Clad HA1 (see on Amazon), feature up to 3 layers of Teflon coating on their cooking surfaces. In these cases, Teflon cookware will last longer than ceramic.
But, with most cookware that only features one layer of Teflon or ceramic coating, its durability is virtually the same.
Fortunately, the price of non-stick cookware reflects the reality that it won’t last forever.
While you could spend thousands on a set of premium stainless steel cookware, non-stick cookware is significantly less expensive.
When comparing the prices of ceramic vs. Teflon coated non-stick cookware, Teflon pans, due to their wide availability and ease of creation, are typically less expensive than ceramic pans of similar quality.
However, the exact price difference varies by brand, product, and retailer.
To get a better comparison of the current prices of ceramic vs. Teflon non-stick cookware, check out the chart below.
Below are some examples of both ceramic-coated and Teflon-coated cookware.
- GreenPan Paris 8 Inch Ceramic Non-Stick Fry Pan (check price on Amazon)
- Caraway 10.5-Inch Ceramic Fry Pan (check price on CarewayHome.com)
- Ozeri Professional Series Earth Ceramic 8-Inch Fry Pan (check price on Amazon)
- OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Open Frypan 8 Inch (check price on Amazon)
- Cuisinart 12-Inch Non-Stick Skillet (check price on Amazon)
- Rachael Ray 12.5-Inch Non-Stick Frying Pan (check price on Amazon)
So, how do you decide between ceramic or Teflon non-stick cookware?
Since the usage, care and maintenance, and durability are virtually the same, it all comes down to performance, price, and safety.
Nobody wants to waste their time scrubbing bits and pieces of food off their pans—it’s why you buy non-stick cookware in the first place. Based on my experience and the feedback from actual customers on Amazon, food sticks to ceramic more often than Teflon. So, in terms of pure performance, I give Teflon pans the edge.
Regarding price, Teflon pans are less expensive than ceramic pans of similar quality. However, if you’re all-in on ceramic, you can easily find low-cost options. For example, this set from the brand GreenLife gets excellent reviews on Amazon and is very affordable.
Although safety concerns surrounding Teflon were completely valid in the past, cookware manufactured since 2013 contains no harmful chemicals (PTOA) and is entirely safe, as long as you don’t overheat it.
If you’re still on the fence and need a nudge in one direction, my recommendation is to buy Teflon coated non-stick cookware.
It gets the job done, it’s widely available and inexpensive, and, as long as you buy a new set from a trusted retailer, you shouldn’t have any safety concerns.
The two best brands for Teflon cookware are Calphalon and All-Clad. Both brands have been in the business for decades and are well-known for their high-quality and superior performance. You can learn how All-Clad and Calphalon compare in terms of performance, durability, and price in this in-depth comparison that we recently published.
All-Clad and Calphalon are both available on Amazon at the links below:
Whether you go with ceramic or Teflon cookware, be sure to purchase a quality brand from a reputable retailer and read the care instructions thoroughly before using it to maximize its longevity.
And don’t forget to try new recipes and enjoy cooking!
If you found this article helpful, you should also check out:
- The 5 Best Alternatives to Non-Stick Pans
- What Is PFOA-Free Cookware? The Facts You Should Know
- Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Pans: What’s the Difference?
- Hard-Anodized vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Caraway Cookware: An In-Depth Review (With Pictures)
- All-Clad HA1 vs. B1: Which All-Clad Non-Stick Collection Is Better?
- All-Clad vs. Cuisinart: Is All-Clad Is Worth the High Price?
- T-fal vs. Calphalon: In-Depth Cookware Comparison
- Is All-Clad Cookware Worth The High Price? An In-Depth Review
- Best Space-Saving & Stackable Cookware (Top 5 Compared)
- Ceramic Cookware Pros and Cons: 21 Things You Need to Know