If you let your non-stick pans get scratched and gummy, they can't do the job they were designed for: to make cooking smoother and easier in the kitchen. Here's what you can do to avoid damaging them every time you use them.

By Vanessa Greaves

I don't use non-stick pans to cook everything. For example, when I'm searing meat for a stew or caramelizing onions, I use stainless steel so I can deglaze those brown bits that stick to the pan and add all that flavor back to my cooking. No sticking means no tasty brown bits. But if I'm frying eggs, making a grilled cheese sandwich, or flipping flapjacks, it's non-stick every time. Here's how I keep my non-stick pans in tip top shape.

Five Easy Ways to Care for Non-Stick Pans

  1. Pad the Stack. If you store your non-stick pots and pans in a stack, place paper towels between them to keep the bottom of one from scratching the surface of the other.
  2. Use the Right Tools. Metal utensils will scratch most non-stick pans and ruin the surface. Choose wooden or silicone spoons and spatulas instead. You can even find silicone-coated whisks for making sauce and gravy right in the pan.
  3. Put Down the Non-Stick Spray. Over time, it builds up a sticky residue that's really hard to clean off. Sneak a peek at a misused non-stick pan and you'll see gummy patches on the surface that food will cling to like barnacles on a rock and make your non-stick not so slick.
  4. Turn Down the Heat. Non-stick surfaces aren't designed to take high heat. Yes, there are some non-stick pans that are rated broiler-safe. Follow manufacturer guidelines; but when in doubt, medium heat is best.
  5. Clean with Care. If you want the surface to last a lot longer, wash non-stick by hand with a sponge and plastic scrubber — never a metal scouring pad. And don't put non-stick pans in the dishwasher. If you can't clean a pan right away, fill it with soapy water to keep residue from drying on.

These very simple everyday moves will keep that non-stick at peak performance for a good long time.