If you’re shopping for non-stick cookware, you’ve likely come across brands using the term “PFOA-Free.”
But what is PFOA-free cookware, and why should you care?
In this article, I explain the importance and details of PFOA-free cookware.
- What PFOA-free cookware really means
- Why you should only use PFOA-free cookware
- How to know if cookware is PFOA-free
- The difference between PTFE and PFOA
- Different options for non-stick cookware
- And much more
So, if you’re ready to learn what the “PFOA-free” label on non-stick cookware means, keep reading.
Use the links below to navigate the article:
- What Is PFOA-Free Cookware?
- Dangers of PFOA
- Is PFOA Still Used to Make Non-Stick Cookware?
- How to Ensure Cookware Is PFOA-Free
- PTFE vs. PFOA
- Ceramic vs. PTFE-Coated Non-Stick Cookware
- The Best PFOA-Free Cookware
- Bottom Line
What Is PFOA-Free Cookware?
PFOA is the acronym for perfluorooctanoic acid. It’s a chemical (specifically, a perfluorochemical) used to make products with high resistance to heat, water, oil, and stains.
At one time, PFOA was prevalent in the manufacturing of non-stick cookware. More specifically, it was used to make the slick coating applied to the cooking surface of non-stick cookware.
Besides in the cookware industry, PFOA has also been used in stain-resistant carpet, water-repellent clothing, floor wax, and several other applications.
So, what is PFOA-free cookware?
PFOA-free cookware is simply cookware manufactured without the use of PFOA.
But why is PFOA-free cookware important? Why would you want to avoid PFOA?
The short answer is that PFOA can harm our bodies and the environment. Let’s explore the risks in more detail.
Dangers of PFOA
PFOA, also known as C8, can remain in the human body for long periods. According to the CDC, it can impact “growth and development, reproduction, and injure the liver.”
But, it can also impact the environment, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
For example, it can show up in drinking water in areas near manufacturing plants. If local water supplies are contaminated with PFOA, high levels can show up in blood tests.
PFOA, which belongs to a group of PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances), has been studied within lab settings with animals and by monitoring exposed humans.
According to the ACS, lab findings suggest exposure to this chemical presents a risk of tumor growth in the liver, pancreas, and other organs. Human studies show that exposure to PFOA may increase the risk of developing multiple kinds of cancer, such as kidney cancer.
More research is needed to provide more solid links between PFOA and specific illnesses or cancers, but the risk is enough to remove the chemical from the manufacturing process of non-stick cookware.
For more in-depth reading, check out these links:
- PFOA Fact Sheet (CDC.gov)
- PFOA, Teflon, and Related Chemicals (Cancer.org)
- Basic Information on PFAS (EPA.gov)
- PFAS Actions (EPA.gov)
Bottom line — PFOA is recognized as a substance with the potential to cause harm. It stays in the body and the environment for long periods and is believed to be a factor in certain illnesses.
Is PFOA Still Used to Make Non-Stick Cookware?
Now that you understand the dangers of PFOA, you’re probably wondering if it’s still used to make non-stick cookware. The short answer is no.
In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with eight companies in the PFAS industry to launch a stewardship program.
Participating companies included:
- BASF Corporation (Ciba)
- DuPont (maker of Teflon)
- Solvay Solexis
You probably recognize many of the companies on this list. DuPont is the maker of Teflon, a well-known chemical company that makes polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) — a synthetic polymer used in non-stick cookware.
According to the EPA, the program had two goals:
- Achieve a 95% reduction of PFOA emissions and in products, such as cookware, by 2010.
- Commit to eliminating PFOA in emissions and products by 2015.
As you can imagine, news of the program spread globally. As a result, many cookware brands got on the PFOA-free bandwagon.
Today, PFOA-free cookware is the standard. As long as you buy new cookware from a reputable brand, you’re getting PFOA-free cookware.
That said, there is the possibility that some unscrupulous brands out there do not adhere to these best practices. In the next section, I’ll give you tips on how to ensure your cookware is PFOA-free.
How to Ensure Cookware Is PFOA-Free
First, and I can’t stress this enough — do your own research and use caution when considering unknown or “overnight” cookware brands.
An overnight brand is one that pops up suddenly and offers no transparency about its history or manufacturing processes.
To reduce your risk, buy from reputable, trusted brands — especially those that source their non-stick coatings from companies that took part in the stewardship program — like DuPont and 3M.
Here are some ways to ensure your cookware is PFOA-free:
- Throw away old non-stick pans (older than 2013).
- Check to make sure your pan was manufactured after 2013.
- Never buy second-hand non-stick cookware.
- Only buy from established, trusted brands that fully disclose their materials and manufacturing process.
- Read product descriptions before purchasing; ensure “PFOA-free” is mentioned.
- Contact the manufacturer and ask them for data proving the lack of PFOA.
Since PFOA was an issue with non-stick cookware that utilized polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), you can also opt for ceramic cookware or try one of these top alternatives to non-stick cookware.
PTFE vs. PFOA
PTFE is an acronym that people often confuse with PFOA.
PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene. It’s a safe, non-toxic coating for non-stick pans.
Since polytetrafluoroethylene is a mouthful, people often refer to it as Teflon since that’s the most well-known brand of the substance. However, several other companies also make PTFE.
Before 2013, PFOA was used during the manufacturing process of PTFE. Thanks to technological innovations and the stewardship program, PTFE is now made without the use of PFOA.
Ceramic vs. PTFE-Coated Non-Stick Cookware
With all the concern about PFOA in years past, companies like GreenPan went to market with an alternative to PTFE-based non-stick coating, and they called it ceramic.
The claims of ceramic non-stick being a healthier choice was a huge marketing point back then, but with the elimination of PFOA, PTFE and ceramic have equal footing in regards to safety.
Yet, there’s an issue you have to be careful about with PTFE cookware: never overheat it.
Heating PTFE beyond 500°F can cause the coating to degrade. At 536°F, it begins releasing toxic fumes. According to the ACS, these fumes can cause flu-like symptoms.
A case study also showed that prolonged exposure to such fumes could cause polymer fume fever, but that is a rare event because you would have to breathe in fumes for several hours.
As long as you use PTFE-coated non-stick cookware as directed, it’s a safe choice. Plus, it lasts much longer than ceramic non-stick and offers superior food release.
Check out my in-depth comparison of ceramic vs. Teflon non-stick cookware to learn more.
The Best PFOA-Free Cookware
As I mentioned, all of today’s cookware is PFOA-free. The only way you’ll come across cookware that’s not PFOA-free is by using old non-stick cookware (any cookware made before 2013) or buying it from sketchy brands.
Here are my recommendations for high-quality, PFOA-free non-stick cookware:
Scanpan (view on Amazon): This Denmark-based company offers non-stick cookware made from 100% recycled aluminum. The brand uses patented PFOA-free coatings, STRATANIUM and STRATANIUM+, which feature interlocking layers to create an extremely durable surface. After reviewing dozens of options, I named Scanpan the best non-stick cookware brand. Check out my in-depth Scanpan review to learn more.
All-Clad (view on Amazon): When it comes to high-end cookware, All-Clad is one of the best. It’s a company with a long track record offering premium, fully-clad cookware that’s built to last. All-Clad has two hard-anodized, non-stick collections (HA1 and Essentials) and features non-stick pieces in most of its stainless cookware lines. While discount brands coat their cookware with one layer of non-stick material, All-Clad uses a triple-layer non-stick coating designed to last longer. Learn more about All-Clad in my in-depth review.
Made In (view on MadeInCookware.com): Although a newcomer to the cookware scene, this direct-to-consumer company has fast become a favorite among home cooks and professional chefs. Made In offers induction-compatible non-stick cookware with fully-clad stainless steel construction. The PFOA-free, multi-layer non-stick coating comes in black or dark blue. Check out my in-depth Made In cookware review to learn more.
Calphalon (view on Amazon): A trusted brand since 1963, Calphalon offers hard-anodized aluminum cookware with multi-layer non-stick coating. Its thick walls and durable construction make it some of the longest-lasting non-stick cookware on the market. Some Calphalon non-stick collections, such as Premier, are metal-utensil safe and stackable without risk of degrading the non-stick surface. Also, the Calphalon Williams-Sonoma Elite collection features a textured non-stick surface for improved searing and browning. All Calphalon cookware is PFOA-free. Learn more about Calphalon in this in-depth review.
Bottom Line: All Cookware Made After 2013 Is PFOA-Free
So, what is PFOA-free cookware?
It’s non-stick cookware made without PFOA — a substance used to manufacture non-stick coatings in the past but came under scrutiny for its risk to human health and negative impact on the environment in the early 2000s.
When the dangers of PFOA came to light, the EPA took action and spearheaded an effort to eliminate PFOA from cookware.
By 2013, all major companies stopped using PFOA in the manufacturing process of non-stick cookware.
As long as you buy from a reputable brand and the cookware was manufactured after 2013, you can rest assured knowing that your cookware is PFOA-free.
Besides this, most companies make a big deal about advertising PFOA-free cookware. So, make sure the cookware is labeled PFOA-free before you buy it. If it’s not clear or you’re not sure, contact the company and ask.
Bottom line — PFOA was a component of PTFE in the past until it was linked to health concerns. A massive effort went into removing it from all non-stick cookware. Today, all major brands manufacture PFOA-free cookware, so you have plenty of healthy and safe options.
- Ceramic vs. Teflon Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- The 5 Best Alternatives to Non-Stick Pans
- Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Can You Put a Frying Pan in the Oven? (Quick Guide)
- Hard-Anodized vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Ceramic Cookware Pros and Cons: 21 Things You Need to Know
- Is Calphalon Cookware Safe? (Quick Guide)