Why Don't We Use Tin Foil Anymore?

The "tin foil" you know and love is actually made from aluminum.

roll of reynolds wrap aluminum foil
Photo: Dotdash Meredith

Quick — what do you call the shiny, metallic sheets that you use for cooking, storage, and cleaning?

Most of us inaccurately refer to them as tin foil, even though tin foil hasn't been made or used since the 1940s. And although the terms "tin foil" and "aluminum foil" are use interchangeably, they define two very different products.

Read on to learn the history of tin foil, the differences between tin and aluminum foil, and why tin foil eventually disappeared.

What Was Tin Foil?

"Foil" is a term that applies to a thin sheet made from a malleable metal or alloy; for example, gold and silver foil are best known for their use in jewelry and other forms of art.

Tin foil dates all the back to the late 18th century and was used for far more than heating food — for instance, it was used as insulation and a protection wrapper for electronics, and dentists used tin foil for fillings.

What Happened to Tin Foil?

We don't use tin foil anymore for a simple reason — something better came along.

Aluminum foil was first used as food packaging in the early 1910s; specifically, it was used to wrap candies such as Toblerone bars and Life Savers. Aluminum foil outperformed tin foil in cost, efficiency, durability, and conductivity, becoming a popular substitute in the following decades. Wartime rations on tin rendered aluminum the standard for packaging, and after World War II aluminum foil completely superseded tin.

Tin Foil vs. Aluminum Foil

Until tin foil was completely phased out, thr primary difference with aluminum foil was its elemental makeup. That single distinction accounts for aluminum foil's greater efficiency and lower cost.

  • Material makeup: Tin foil was made with thin leaf tin and sometimes combined with lead. Aluminum foil is made from an alloy that is between 92 and 99 percent aluminum.
  • Cost: Aluminum foil is significantly cheaper to make than tin foil. As an added bonus, it's also more efficient and effective.
  • Conductivity: Aluminum foil has a higher heat and electric conductivity,
  • Durability: Aluminum foil is sturdy while tin foil is stiff, and tin foil is more likely to give foods a bitter, metallic taste.

Can You Put Tin Foil in the Air Fryer?

Yes, it's safe to use aluminum foil in the air fryer. Cooking with aluminum foil in the air fryer can streamline the process even more, and it helps make cleanup much easier.

Be sure to research both your air fryer model and the recipe you're making before using aluminum foil in your air fryer. Additionally, make sure it doesn't block airflow — otherwise, the air won't circulate and your food won't cook.

Can You Put Tin Foil in the Oven?

It's perfectly fine to put aluminum foil in the oven. As long as you don't put aluminum foil in the microwave, you shouldn't have to worry about anything catching fire.

However, cooking certain foods, such as baked potatoes or cookies, on or in aluminum foil will actually degrade their quality.


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