You’ll find nonstick pans are either coated with Teflon or with ceramic. If you’re wondering whether one is better than the other, here’s what I’ve discovered with a bit of research and from using both Teflon and ceramic non-stick pans.
Is ceramic better than Teflon? Performance and price-wise, most users will agree, there’s little difference between these two nonstick cookware types. Where ceramic nonstick is better than Teflon is where it’s a PFAS-free option, making it is less worrisome for those who care about reducing the potential harm caused by PFAS substances.
What is Teflon?
Nonstick cookware started with Teflon, which goes back to 1938.
Teflon is a trademark. That’s why I have written it with a capital letter and you’ll sometimes see it with the trademark symbol TM, like here. Teflon is used in cookware, but it has many other applications, including in the automotive industry.
The makers of Teflon, Chemours (a spin-off of DuPont), described Teflon as a synthetic resin of polymerized tetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).1,2
This PFTE formula is sprayed over a metal base (often of aluminum) to provide a nonstick cooking surface for cookware suited to using less fat or oil.
Discovery Channel shows the making of PTFE pans in this short video…
What is ceramic nonstick coating on cookware?
The coating on ceramic nonstick cookware is made from sand (silica), which is mixed in a gel solution and applied to metal pan bases. The coated pans are then fired at very high heat to adhere the coating. See my article on how ceramic cookware is made.
A coating of the sol-gel sand formula gives the pans a glass-like finish. This smooth finish makes it ‘slippery’, as there are no microscopic pores to which food particles can stick.
How are they similar
Ceramic-coated and Teflon-coated cookware have these similarities:
- Matching price range
- Both for low-fat cooking
- Performance, fast and even heating (depending on brand)
- Lightweight, comfort in handling
- Non-reactive (doesn’t react to acidic foods)
- Nonstick surface will wear with use over time
- Both claim to be free of PFOA (Teflon since 2012)
Manufacturers tend to advise users to cook at low to medium heat for both types of nonstick cookware, except in designs where the nonstick properties have been enhanced with new technologies.
Both surfaces deteriorate. Ceramic coated surfaces can wear just as easily as Teflon ones.
Read my full guide here on how to get the most life out of your nonstick pans.
(If you’re wanting pans that will last you a lifetime, your better options are quality stainless steel cookware or cast iron cookware. Cast iron when properly seasoned will behave just as good as a nonstick pan but with much more durability.)
Aluminum is the common base material in these lightweight nonstick pans.
In both, it’s best to avoid metal utensils, although makers claim the latest designs resist harm from metal utensils. Instead I use a silicone utensil. Other suitable options include nylon, bamboo, or wooden utensils.
Both nonstick surfaces, when intact, mean cleaning is simple. A light handwash in warm water without abrasive cleaners or scourers or a wipe with a paper towel is all that is needed for cleaning both Teflon and ceramic nonstick cookware.
How are they different
Let’s look at these two types of cookware in how they differ.
The main difference between these types of cookware is the formula for the nonstick properties of the cooking surface.
Especially of modern notoriety are the “forever chemicals”, the polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
- A member of the PFAS family – Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was once used in making the slippery coating of the early nonstick pans of Teflon. Major chemical manufacturers phased out the use of PFOA in nonstick cookware sold in the USA from about 2013 onwards.
- Still part of Teflon, polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE), is a polymer form of PFAS.
There are 12,000 estimated compounds in the PFAS family.
Teflon contains PTFE, which is one. Research suggests that even “at normal cooking temperatures, PTFE-coated cookware releases various gases and chemicals that present mild to severe toxicity” (Sajid & Ilyas, 2017). The same paper (and other outlets) raises concerns about GenX and similar alternatives, which replace the PFOA in Teflon pans, but of which less is known.
Tip when using nonstick: Never heat an empty pan on a burner, use it in a hot oven, and stick to medium or low heat on the stovetop.
The ceramic technology includes brands such as GreenPan that advertise their ceramic nonstick as PFAS-free. The ceramic coating involves a gel solution that’s considered safe but the full extent of additives are not explained. Is there more we’re yet to know about this option?
Studies ¹ indicate that the PTFE coating starts to deteriorate at 482 °F (250 °C) with ‘Teflon gas’ emitted when the cookware is overheated.
DuPont admits that ‘Teflon gas’ is toxic. The toxic fumes are said to irritate eyes, nose, and throat and cause respiratory distress, with symptoms likely to last 24 hr.2,3
DuPont also warns: “birds have extremely sensitive respiratory systems, bird owners must take precautions to protect them” (www.chemours.com, accessed Sept 2019). 2
The particles scratched from Teflon pans, however, are not considered harmful.
As far as I can ascertain, there are no concerns with fumes or gas emitted from ceramic coated cookware.
One of the main questions people ask is: Does Teflon cause cancer?
The American Cancer Society: “Other than the possible risk of flu-like symptoms from breathing in fumes from an overheated Teflon-coated pan, there are no proven risks to humans from using cookware coated with Teflon (or other non-stick surfaces).”
The concern with Teflon and cancer related mainly to PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is a strong acid and considered carcinogenic to animals 4. This dangerous chemical is no longer used in Teflon cookware sold in the USA. DuPont claims that since January 1, 2012, PFOA has not been used in their nonstick coatings for cookware and consumer bakeware.
Who should get ceramic nonstick
If you have birds, you may want to steer away from Teflon and get ceramic if you’re looking for nonstick cookware. If you are wary of PTFE in general, then you should get ceramic nonstick pans in this category of cookware.
Who should get Teflon nonstick
Of course, if you maintain cooking at low to medium heat, Teflon may be the option for you.
Summing It Up
Concerns with nonstick revolve around the additives used in the surface coating.
Nonstick cookware surfaces have either a ceramic, Teflon, and more recently, plant-based coating. While we are aware of PFAS and somewhat about the additives in Teflon, it’s not fully clear what the additives in the ceramic and plant-based coatings involve.
My thoughts on ceramic coated cookware vs Teflon is that it’s best to throw out that old scratched nonstick pan and check out better replacement options.
See also my write up on 100% ceramic cookware, made from all natural material.
What is the Best Non Stick Pan without Teflon?
Why not check out my guide to the best ceramic non stick frying pans.
- Zapp JA, Limperos G, Brinker KC (26 April 1955). “Toxicity of pyrolysis products of ‘Teflon’ tetrafluoroethylene resin”. Proceedings of the American Industrial Hygiene Association Annual Meeting.
- Key Safety Questions About Teflon™ Nonstick Coatings. https://www.chemours.com/Teflon/en_US/products/safety/key_questions.html# Accessed Sept 2019
- Epidemic of Polymer Fever — Lewis CE, Kerby GR. An Epidemic of Polymer-Fume Fever. JAMA. 1965;191(5):375–378. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03080050021005; and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4544973/
- Lau C, Anitole K, Hodes C, Lai D, Pfahles-Hutchens A, Seed J (October 2007). “Perfluoroalkyl acids: a review of monitoring and toxicological findings”. Toxicol. Sci. 99(2): 366–94. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfm128
American Cancer Association on Teflon
Sajid, M., Ilyas, M. (2017) PTFE-coated non-stick cookware and toxicity concerns: a perspective. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 23436–23440 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-0095-y