When Is a Nonstick Pan No Longer Safe to Use?

Should you cook with a scratched, rusted, or discolored pan?

stack of used nonstick pans
Photo: Photo: Yulia-B / Getty Images

There are a number of ways you can damage a nonstick pan, from spritzing it with cooking spray to scraping it with metal utensils to putting it in the dishwasher. But at what point do these nonstick pan mistakes become serious?

Is a nonstick pan safe to use when it's scratched? How long does a nonstick pan last?

Here's how to tell when it's time to replace this important pan.

What Makes a Pan Nonstick?

Nonstick cookware relies on a nonstick coating, often made from a chemical compound known as PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) or under the brand name Teflon. Some brands, like GreenPan, use a ceramic nonstick coating instead, though it loses its nonstick abilities faster than Teflon.

Are Nonstick Pans Safe?

Using another compound called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) to produce Teflon was common practice until 2006 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enlisted eight major companies to stop using PFOA by 2015 due to its link to health issues like cancer as well as environmental issues.

Today, you can find many PFOA-free pans on the market from best-rated brands like American Kitchen and Anonlon. PFOA-free Teflon isn't associated with any health risks, according to the American Cancer Society.

In addition to Teflon, other name brands of PTFE include Eterna, Autograph, Granitium, and Greblon, which are PFOA-free and non-toxic.

5 Signs You Should Replace Your Nonstick Pan

1. You bought it before 2015

In general, you want to replace nonstick pans after five years. But you need to be particularly careful with nonstick cookware produced before 2015, as it may contain PFOA. If your cookware dates back to 2015 and earlier, it's likely time to replace it even if it doesn't contain PFOAs.

2. Scratched or chipped coating

With old nonstick pans that contained PFOA, scratches and chips were a clear sign that your pan was no longer safe to use, as the coating could flake off and get in your food. You don't have to worry about scratches and chips with newer pans, however, as today's Teflon coating doesn't pose the same health risks as Teflon that contained PFOA. That said, damages to the pan's surface can indicate that it's losing its nonstick abilities and may need to be replaced soon.

3. Rust

When a nonstick pan loses its coating, the metal beneath it is exposed and can rust. Consuming small amounts of rust isn't dangerous, but it will affect the taste of your food. At this point, replace your pan.

4. Dark discoloration

Nonstick pans develop light or dark spots as food builds up. While it's still safe to use a nonstick skillet with discoloration, a darker color indicates that the coating is coming off. Again, it's best to toss your pan.

5. Food is sticking to it

Finally, you'll know it's time to retire your nonstick pan when it's no longer serving its purpose. Food sticking tells you that the coating has lost its nonstick abilities.


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