Warping most commonly occurs with baking sheets and frying pans, but it can happen with any type of cookware. A wobbly, warped pan is annoying, unsafe and won’t heat evenly since the bottom doesn’t sit flat on a cooktop or oven rack.
The best way to keep your cookware from warping is to understand why it happens.
So, why do pans warp?
When a pan is heated or cooled rapidly, some parts expand or contract faster than others. This uneven expansion and contraction results in warping. Warping can occur from rinsing a hot pan in cold water, overheating, or a mismatch between the pan and the burner’s size.
Here’s the science behind it…
The Kinetic Theory of Matter states that all matter (including pans) is made up of atoms that are constantly in motion. When a pan is heated, its atoms vibrate more quickly, which increases the amount of space between them and forces the pan to expand. Conversely, when a pan cools down, the movement of its atoms slows down, they require less space, and the pan contracts.
Now you know why pans warp, but what you can do to prevent it from happening?
The best way to prevent pans from warping is to avoid exposure to rapid changes in temperature. Rinsing hot pans in cold water is the leading cause of warping, but there are several other causes.
In the following sections of this article, I dive deep into the seven most common causes of warped pans and explain what you can do to prevent it from happening. I also reveal which type of pans and materials are the most and the least likely to warp.
If your pans are already warped, no problem. Towards the end, I explain, step-by-step, the simple methods you can use to repair pans that are already warped.
Use the links below to navigate.
- Why Pans Warp: Key Takeaways
- Cause #1: Rinsing Hot Pans With Cold Water
- Cause #2: Overheating
- Cause #3: Pan Is Too Big for the Burner
- Cause #4: Pan Is Too Thin
- Cause #5: Aluminum Pans Warps More Easily Than Steel Pans
- Cause #6: Single-Ply Cookware Is More Likely to Warp Than Multi-Ply Cookware
- Cause #7: Food Is Unevenly Distributed
- How to Fix a Warped Baking Sheet and Pan
Why Pans Warp: Key Takeaways
If you only have a minute, here are the key takeaways from this article.
Thermal Shock: Rinsing hot pans with cold water is the leading cause of warping. Doing this causes thermal shock – an abrupt temperature change that forces materials to contract unevenly and warp. Thermal shock can be avoided by allowing the pan to cool for 10-15 minutes before washing.
Overheating: Cooking at excessively high temperatures also leads to warping. Preheat the pan to medium heat and avoid placing cold ingredients in a piping hot pan.
Mismatched Pan and Burner Sizes: Pans can warp if they are much larger than the burner. When only a small section of the pan touches the heat source, the pan can expand unevenly. Use large pans on large burners and small pans on small burners. As a rule of thumb, the pan’s diameter shouldn’t be more than one inch longer than the diameter of the burner.
Thin Pans: Pans with thin walls are more likely to warp because they do not absorb the expansion and contraction like thicker pans. Pans that are at least 2.5 mm thick are less likely to warp.
Aluminum vs. Steel Pans: Pans made with softer materials like aluminum and copper are more prone to warping than hard, durable stainless steel pans.
Single-Ply vs. Multi-Ply Cookware: Single-ply cookware is more susceptible to warping than multi-ply cookware due to its thinner walls and uneven heat conduction. Avoid stainless steel pans with an impact-bonded base or “disc bottom.” The walls of those pans are thin and more likely to warp.
Food Is Unevenly Distributed: When using baking sheets in the oven, spread the food evenly across the pan’s surface. Avoid leaving large bare spots, as these areas will heat faster than portions covered with food. This uneven heating can cause warping.
Fixing Warped Pans: To fix a warped pan, heat it slightly on a stove to make it more malleable. Once warm, lay the pan flat on a towel on a hard, durable surface like concrete blocks. Cover the pan with another towel, and place a wooden block on top. Finally, use a hammer or mallet to hit the wooden block, evenly distributing the force to reshape the pan. Adjust the hitting points on the block to smooth out the entire surface of the pan.
Why Pans Warp: The 6 Most Common Causes
As I explained upfront, the molecular structure of pans is altered when they become exposed to rapid changes in temperature (energy), which causes uneven expansion and contraction.
But, if you buy good quality pans and use them properly, you’ll never have to worry about warping.
Below is an overview of the six most common causes of warped pans. Once you understand these causes, you’ll easily be able to avoid the mistakes that can ruin cookware.
Rinsing pans with cold water while they’re still piping hot is the most common cause of warping.
Although it’s tempting to cool down and clean your pans immediately after cooking, do NOT rinse or soak them in cold water while they’re still hot. Doing so will result in Thermal Shock, which is when an object is exposed to a rapid change in temperature, causing it to expand or contract unevenly. When the stress, or shock, is stronger than the material, it causes cracking, deformation, and warping.
An everyday example of Thermal Shock is when you put an ice cube in a warm glass of water. Almost immediately, the ice cube makes a popping sound and cracks. Cracking occurs because the outside layer of the ice cube warms up and expands much faster than its core.
The same thing happens with cookware.
When cold water comes into sudden contact with one side of a hot pan, the atoms of the pan rapidly and unevenly contract, which causes warping. When a pan cools down more gradually, it’s less likely to warp because its atoms contract evenly across the entire pan.
Warping due to Thermal Shock occurs so often that almost all cookware manufacturers explicitly warn customers not to expose a hot pan to cold water.
Calphalon, one of the top U.S. cookware companies, has this warning in their use and care instructions: Allow pans to cool completely before washing. Never immerse a hot pan in cold water, as this will cause irreparable warping.
Cuisinart, another well-known cookware maker, provides similar advice in their use and care guide: Before you place the pan in water, allow it to cool. Placing a hot pan in cooler water can warp the pan.
Cookware companies are not only warning customers about Thermal Shock, but they’re also making it clear in their warranties that you’re not covered if your pans warp from Thermal Shock.
All-Clad’s warranty states: This warranty does not cover damage arising from thermal shocks, drops, improper use, failure to follow the use and care instructions, or unauthorized modification or repair.
So, how can you avoid Thermal Shock and prevent your pans from warping?
Instead of rinsing your hot pan with cold water, let the pan cool down for 10 to 15 minutes, then wash it with warm water.
When deglazing a pan, turn the temperature of the stove to medium or lower, use room-temperature deglazing liquid (wine, broth, water), and only pour a small amount in the pan at a time.
Cooking with extremely high temperatures is the number two most common cause of warped pans, and the science behind it is the same as Cause #1 (Thermal Shock).
When an overheated pan comes into contact with a piece of cold meat, water, or deglazing liquids, it’s much more likely to warp than a pan heated on medium because the difference in temperature between the pan and the cold items is more significant.
Even if a piping hot pan is left to cool down on its own, sometimes the difference in temperature between the pan and the cool air can be enough to cause warping.
Additionally, an overheated pan doesn’t need to come into contact with something cold to become warped. It can warp by merely heating up too fast.
A room temperature pan put on a burner set to high or an oven preheated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit or greater can expand too quickly in some areas while remaining unchanged in others. When this happens, the stress of the temperature change (Thermal Shock) causes the pan to expand unevenly and warp.
Good quality cookware is crafted to conduct and retain heat efficiently. If you give the pan time to preheat, medium to high heat is almost always hot enough, especially if you’re cooking with well-constructed pans.
For meals that require browning or searing on high heat, bring the meat to room temperature before placing it on the pan to minimize the difference in temperature between the pan and the meat.
Although less common, another cause of warping is a mismatch between the size of the pan and the burner.
When you place a large pan on a small burner, only a small section in the center of the pan touches the heat source. If the heat is too high, the part of the pan exposed to the heat source will expand and contract before the rest of the pan is affected.
When one small section expands or contracts while the sides/edges stay the same, the expanding or contracting section can’t expand outward or inward, it can only expand up or down. This uneven expansion leads to the bottom of the pan either warping downward or upward.
A simple solution is to only use large pans on large burners and small pans on small burners. If, for some reason, none of your burners are big enough for your pan, use extra caution and heat the pan slowly, so the entire piece heats up more evenly.
Pans with thin walls are much more likely to warp than thick pans, for a couple of reasons.
First, when exposed to rapid temperature changes, thick pans do a better job absorbing the expansion and contraction within its walls. On the other hand, thin pans have less material, so their shape is more likely to change when they expand.
Secondly, thick pans conduct heat more evenly than thin pans, and, as we know, uneven heating and cooling causes warping.
According to LifeHacker.com, pans are constantly losing heat into the air, and thinner pans lose heat faster than thick pans. This means that thin pans often have hot and cold spots and are less likely to maintain the same temperature throughout. The result, warping.
This problem relates to all types of cookware but is even more common with thin baking sheets. Have you ever opened up your oven to check on your meal and the pan looks like this:
Most home cooks have a few cheap and thin baking sheets for everyday baking and roasting. Warping is almost unavoidable with thin baking sheets. When the pan is warped and doesn’t sit flat on the oven rack, the food doesn’t cook completely even. This isn’t usually a huge issue, but it becomes more problematic when baking cookies or other delicate foods.
The solution: buy high-quality pans like these from Nordic Ware (link to Amazon) or search online for thick pans from any other brand.
You’re probably wondering, what is the threshold for a pan to be considered thick or thin?
If you’re concerned about warping, always buy skillets that are at least 2.5 mm thick. Anything less is too thin and susceptible to warping. The thickness is not always published online, so you may have to contact the manufacturer before you buy.
Look for baking sheets that are 18 gauge or less; the lower the gauge, the thicker the pan. An 18-gauge baking sheet is approximately 1.2 mm thick, while a heavy duty commercial-quality 12-gauge baking sheet is around 2.6 mm.
Another way of determining the relative thickness of a pan is to compare the weight between several options with the same dimensions. Most of the time, a thick pan will be significantly heavier than a thin one.
In general, almost all pans made by high-quality brands like All-Clad (All-Clad on Amazon and All-Clad.com) and Calphalon (Calphalon on Amazon) are 2.5 mm thick or greater. It’s the cheap, no-name brands that you find in the department store that are most likely to warp.
Pans made with softer materials like aluminum and copper are much more likely to warp than pans made with stainless steel, which is extremely hard and durable.
Since the molecular structure of softer materials like aluminum and copper is not as tight as hard materials, they become more affected by rapid changes in temperature. In other words, they expand and contract more easily.
Also, aluminum and copper conduct heat much faster but don’t retain it as well as steel. In other words, aluminum and copper pans heat up and cool down very quickly. A quick response is helpful when you’re cooking meals that require precise temperature control, but it’s a recipe for warping if you’re not careful about avoiding Thermal Shock.
To dig deeper into the idea that aluminum pans warp more easily than stainless steel pans, I analyzed over 10,000 customer reviews on Amazon, Macys.com, and BedBathandBeyond.com for both aluminum and stainless steel frying pans.
To keep the analysis as fair as possible, I looked at cookware from the same brand, T-fal. T-fal has been in the cookware business for decades and makes cookware out of several different types of materials, including steel, aluminum, and hard-anodized aluminum.
As I analyzed each customer review, I made a note of every customer that complained about their cookware warping to understand which materials had a higher percentage of complaints.
Although I didn’t conduct a perfectly clean scientific experiment, this anecdotal data supports the hypothesis that aluminum cookware is more likely to warp than stainless steel.
So what does this mean for you? Should you avoid aluminum cookware and only buy stainless steel? Absolutely not.
All aluminum cookware isn’t destined to warp, and stainless steel cookware isn’t completely immune to warping. All this means is that you need to be extra careful to avoid rapid temperature changes with aluminum cookware.
Since almost all non-stick cookware is made from aluminum, there’s practically no way to avoid it. If you’re in the market for a new non-stick pan, I highly recommend choosing cookware made from hard-anodized aluminum.
Aluminum becomes hard-anodized through an electrolytic process in which raw aluminum is treated to thicken and harden its natural exterior, which makes it super durable and warp-resistant.
To compare regular aluminum cookware and hard-anodized aluminum cookware, I did the same analysis with T-fal hard-anodized aluminum cookware. I found that out of 3,250 reviews, only .86% of customers complained about warping. A nice improvement over regular aluminum, but a slightly higher percentage of complaints compared to stainless steel.
If you’re looking for new non-stick cookware, All-Clad and Calphalon both make high-quality hard-anodized aluminum sets that are incredibly durable and warp-resistant. You can check out those sets on Amazon (link to All-Clad, link to Calphalon), or you can learn more about these two brands in our recent head-to-head comparison of All-Clad vs. Calphalon.
Certain stainless steel cookware collections are constructed with multiple layers of metals bonded together. Cookware construction this way is considered multi-ply. Cookware that’s constructed with only one material is single-ply.
Multi-ply cookware has the best of both worlds—a core layer of a conductive material such as aluminum or copper that spreads heat evenly throughout the entire cookware, and an ultra-hard stainless steel exterior that retains heat for long periods. This combination of even heat conduction and long-lasting heat retention is what makes this type of cookware extremely resistant to warping.
Single-ply aluminum and stainless steel cookware is more likely to warp, but the reasons differ by the material.
Single-ply aluminum cookware is more likely to warp because it doesn’t have a hard warp-resistant exterior. Also, aluminum heats ups fast but doesn’t hold its temperature for long periods, so there’s often an uneven distribution of heat, which causes uneven expansion and contraction.
Although steel won’t warp easily, a single-ply stainless steel pan is more likely to warp than a multi-ply stainless steel pan. Steel doesn’t conduct heat as evenly as aluminum, so when you put a single-ply stainless steel pan without an aluminum core on the stove, the heat doesn’t spread evenly throughout the pan. When high heat is concentrated for long periods in one area of the pan (likely the center), it can lead to uneven expansion, uneven contraction, and warping.
Cause #7: Food Is Unevenly Distributed
An often-overlooked factor that leads to warped baking sheets is the uneven distribution of food. When placing food on a baking sheet, it’s crucial to spread it out evenly across the pan’s entire surface. This practice ensures uniform heating and cooking.
Parts of the baking sheet that are bare (without food) tend to heat up and expand faster than the areas covered with food. And that uneven heating can lead to warping.
For example, if you place all the cookie dough on one side of the sheet, that side will have more mass and absorb more heat, staying cooler than the empty side. The temperature difference creates tension in the metal, which can eventually lead to warping.
Now you know how to prevent pans from warping, but how do you fix a pan that’s already warped?
Before you do anything, contact the manufacturer. Most cookware warranties don’t cover warping since it’s almost always a result of misuse. But if you plead your case, there’s a chance they’ll send you a new pan.
If that doesn’t work, you can fix your pan using these two methods.
The best way to fix a warped baking sheet is to simply bend the pan back into shape. Lay the pan on a flat surface so you can see exactly how it’s warped.
Then, hold the pan under your arm and use your hands to put pressure on the corners and in the middle until it bends back into shape.
Check to ensure it’s flat, and repeat this process until it’s not wobbling much. It’s difficult to get it perfectly flat, but you should be able to get it close.
You need to take a different approach with thicker fry pans or saute pans.
First, find a hard surface where you can lay the body of the pan flat without the handle getting in the way. Do not use a kitchen countertop, wood staircase, or any other surface that can be damaged easily. I’m using two cinder blocks on my basement floor.
Place a towel down to pad the surface and prevent any additional damage to the pan. Have another towel ready to place on top of the pan.
Next, heat the pan on the stove on low for a few minutes to make it more malleable.
Once the pan is warm, place it on the towel so it’s completely flat. If the cooking surface is warping toward the ceiling, place the pan on the towel the same way you’d place it on the stove. This pan is warped downward like a bowl, so I’m placing it on the towel face down.
Place the other towel over the upwards-facing side of the pan to protect it. Then, place a wooden block on top of the towel.
Hit the wooden block with a hammer or mallet until the pan bends back into shape. Don’t hit the towel or pan directly with a hammer. Doing that can cause more damage and leave dimples in the pan.
The wooden block spreads the force of the hammer across the pan so that it flattens the entire surface without damaging it. You may need to hit different parts of the block to smooth everything out.
Here’s the before:
And here’s the after:
When it comes to warped pans, the most important thing to remember is that warping occurs when the cookware is exposed to rapid changes in temperature.
Additionally, thin, single-ply pans made with soft metals like aluminum and copper are more likely to warp than thick, multi-ply pans made with hard metals like steel and hard-anodized aluminum.
If you can afford it, brands like Calphalon and All-Clad offer some of the most warp-resistant cookware you can buy. Both are available on Amazon and, to save you some time, I’ve linked to their most popular non-stick and stainless steel collections below.
It’s possible to fix a pan that is already warped; however, a pan that warps once is more likely to warp again in the future. This is because the metal is weakened when its molecular structure is compromised, and it will never be as strong as it was before becoming warped.
A warped pan isn’t the end of the world. If the Towel or Wood Block methods don’t do the trick, keep in mind the six common causes of warped pans to avoid it from ever happening again.
Why Did Your Pans Warp?
Which of the six causes is the reason your pans are warped? Do you often rinse your pans under cold water while they are still hot? Do you cook on high heat regularly? Are your pans too big for your burners? Have you had good or bad luck with certain cookware brands?
In the comment below, let us know your experience with warped pans and what you did to fix it or prevent it in the future.
If you found this article helpful, you should also check out:
- Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Pans: What’s the Difference?
- Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- How to Make Any Type of Pan Non-Stick (Step-by-Step)
- How Long Do Stainless Steel Pans Last? (When to Replace Your Pan)
- Average Cast Iron Skillet Weight (With 17 Examples)
- What Size Sauté Pan Should You Buy? (Quick Guide)
- Carbon Steel Cookware Pros and Cons: 17 Things to Know
- Ceramic vs. Teflon Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- All-Clad vs. Calphalon: Non-Stick and Stainless Cookware Compared
- All-Clad HA1 vs. B1: Which All-Clad Non-Stick Collection Is Better?
- Is All-Clad Cookware Worth The High Price? An In-Depth Review
- All-Clad vs. Cuisinart: Is All-Clad Is Worth the High Price?
- T-fal vs. Calphalon: In-Depth Cookware Comparison
- All-Clad D5 vs. Copper Core: How Do They Compare?
- Is Farberware a Good Cookware Brand? An In-Depth Review