Here's the info you need to prevent confusion (and fires!) in the kitchen.

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There are plenty of options when it comes to racks, mats, foils, and paper goods in the kitchen. Wax paper and parchment paper may look similar and are often confused for one another, but they serve different purposes. There are a few scenarios in which the two papers could be used interchangeably — for example when covering a counter to roll out pastry dough, like for cinnamon rolls, or to prevent sticking when layering holiday cookies in a container to bring to a relative's home. However, it's important to make sure not to mix the two up when baking.

Parchment Paper

Parchment paper is treated with silicone to make it nonstick, heatproof, and grease-resistant. It can typically withstand temperatures of up to 450°F, while wax paper is coated in wax and could easily start a fire in your oven when it melts or, at the very least, melt wax into those croissants that took you spent eleven hours laminating.

Parchment paper is hyper-versatile and can be used for everything from cooking fish en papillote (wrapped in a parchment paper package to steam) to lining a baking sheet for chocolate chip cookies. You can use parchment to line the bottoms of cake pans (these 8-inch parchment rounds make linig cake pans easier than ever — find them on Amazon here), as well as lay on a baking sheet to roast meats and vegetables.

Perforated parchment paper is also great for use in the air fryer to keep food from sticking to the basket, for easier clean up, and to protect the basket from heat and grease exposure. You can purchase store-bought perforated sheets or make your own by taking a whole punch to a piece of parchment you cut to size.

Tip: If you're having trouble keeping your parchment paper from rolling on the pan, try crinkling it into a ball first and then putting it flat on your baking sheet.

one roll of parchment paper and one roll of wax paper on a desk
Credit: Viktoriia Oleinichenko/Getty Images

Wax Paper

Wax paper is nonstick and moisture-resistant. It's often more affordable than parchment paper, so when appropriate it can be a good substitute for things like wrapping food for cold storage in the fridge or freezer. You can also use wax paper to line a pan when making fudge, or is perfect for laying out chocolate dipped strawberries and other fruits while the chocolate is still warm. One of the only times it is safe to put wax paper in the oven is when it is being used to line the bottoms of cake pans because the cake batter keeps direct heat off of the paper.

The Bottom Line

While these two nonstick papers may be excellent tools when it comes to food preparation and storage, each has its special place in the kitchen. Be sure to check the box before using and steer clear of any confusion (or fires!) when it comes to baking.