10 Ways You’re Ruining Your Nonstick Pan

A nonstick pan is a terrible thing to waste. Take care that you're not accidentally destroying your own cookware.

By Kitchenistic | Updated Nov 18, 2020 1:23 PM

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Nonstick pan care

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Cooking with nonstick pans allows you to use less oil to cook your food, and can make after-meal cleanup a little easier. However, you can only enjoy the benefits of nonstick cookware if you properly care for it. Improper use, storage, and cleaning can damage the nonstick coating, rendering these pans ineffective in their principal function. Unfortunately, many home cooks fail to recognize the fact that some practices can ruin a nonstick pan. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make that will damage nonstick cookware.

Using Metal Cooking Utensils

The nonstick coating on your pan is made of polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE compounds, often known as Teflon. This material is a polymer, which is not as hard as metal. Therefore to keep the nonstick coating intact, it is important to avoid using metal cooking utensils with these types of pans.

Unfortunately many home cooks scrape away the synthetic polymer of the pan’s surface with metal tongs, spatulas, ladles, spoons, and whisks in the process of cooking, or metal serving spoons, knives, and forks in the process of dishing up.

To prevent damage to your nonstick pans while cooking, switch to wooden or high-heat silicone cooking utensils. Avoid scraping the bottom of your nonstick pan when serving dinner by transferring food to a serving dish with a silicone spatula.

nonstick pan stacking storage

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Improper Storage

Many people find the chore of keeping the cookware cabinet looking well organized unpleasant, but even orderly home cooks might be making storage mistakes with their nonstick pans. When storing nonstick pots and pans, take care that the metal bottom of another pot or pan doesn’t come into contact with the nonstick surface of another. The reason for this has already been stated above: metal can scrape away the nonstick polymer coating and damage your cookware.

To protect your nonstick cookware, consider the following storage ideas. You can hang nonstick pans from a ceiling or wall-mounted pot rack, or ceiling hooks, complete with ample spacing in between to prevent them from clattering together. If you are pressed for space, then you can nest pots and pans inside each other in a cabinet, but only after you’ve placed a dish towel between each to prevent the metal bottom of one pan from touching the nonstick coating of another.

nonstick pan cleaning mistake

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Sudden Change in Pan Temperature

Some home cooks prefer to clean after cooking (or after eating) and others prefer to clean as they go. But if you prefer to clean your nonstick pan immediately after cooking, perhaps by rinsing a hot pan with cool or lukewarm water, know that your cleaning habits could be damaging your cookware.

Sudden changes in temperature can cause a pan to warp. If this occurs, the nonstick coating will buckle and peel. Warping can also affect the pan’s ability to distribute heat in an even manner, reducing cooking performance. So whenever it’s time to wash a nonstick pan, make sure it has cooled off.

Using Nonstick Cooking Spray

This next one may come as a surprise to many home cooks, but there is a good reason why you should never use cooking sprays on your nonstick pan. These cooking aids do not only contain oil; they also contain emulsifiers, anti-foaming agents, and propellants. These chemicals can accumulate on the surface of your nonstick pan. Over time, this residue will be very difficult to remove, potentially rendering your cookware useless.

If you have to use cooking sprays, use those that contain only oil. Alternatively, half a teaspoon of olive oil or any other fat should help in your cooking process. Calorie-watchers can also use oil misters.

acidic foods in nonstick pan

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Cooking Highly Acidic Foods

Thinking of cooking up a batch of marinara sauce in your nonstick pan? Better not. Highly acidic foods have the tendency to disrupt the chemical structure of the synthetic fluoropolymer coating of nonstick pans. This disruption causes damage that shortens the life of your nonstick pan.

One of the very first noticeable signs of damage is the formation of blisters, an indication that acids are already breaking the chemical bonds of the polymer. If you have to cook acidic foods, it is best to use another type of cookware.

Cooking on High Heat

Nonstick pans and pots are not like cast iron skillets that can handle extremely high heat. They’re really designed for use with medium stovetop heat—and never the oven or broiler. Extreme heat can lead to blistering of the finish and warping. All that damage leads to shorter usable life, uneven heat distribution, and reduced cooking performance. A smoking hot nonstick pan can release harmful substances into the air, because while nonstick pans are considered safe to use for cooking, that’s only true if temperatures don’t exceed 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

You’ll notice that chefs never use nonstick pans when searing meats or when cooking Chinese stir fry, two cooking methods that require high heat. Take a tip from the pros and use cast iron, copper, stainless steel, or other cookware options for cooking with high heat. With your nonstick pan, use a heat setting from low to medium unless the manufacturer indicates otherwise.

Adding oil to nonstick pan

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Adding Oil to a Hot Pan

The traditional way of sautéing or cooking with oil is to heat up the pan first before adding fat. This shortens the time that the oil is in contact with the hot surface of the pan, limiting its breakdown and preventing scorching. This approach may be fine for some types of cookware, but it is not ideal for nonstick pans, some of which can release fumes when heated without an oil or liquid inside.

Using Harsh Cleansers

If you’ve already stopped using metal cooking and serving utensils with your nonstick pans, that’s wonderful—but are you cleaning with metal? Scouring pads and steel wool cause damage to the delicate coating of nonstick pans and should never be used. Soft sponges and plastic scourers are better.

The same goes for very harsh chemicals. Stay away from heavy duty cleansers (like those containing bleach or abrasive properties) as these can also wear away the polymer coating on the pan. You can soak these pans in warm water to make it a lot easier to clean. Remember to let the pan cool completely before you immerse it in water.

Cleaning in the Dishwasher

The kind of detergent that you use in your dishwasher is not also the friendliest solution for your nonstick pan. Many of these cleaners contain harsh compounds that can hasten the wear of the nonstick coating. Over time, you will no longer be able to use the pan because its cooking surface is already badly damaged.

There are, however, manufacturers who make dishwasher-safe pots and pans. While this may be the case, manufacturers often recommend using a very specific cleaning solution to help maintain the integrity of the cookware. To simplify your cleaning routine and stay on the safe side, the best approach will still be to wash the cookware by hand.

nonstick pan food storage

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Turning the Nonstick Pan into a Storage Solution

Some home cooks do not transfer cooked meals to serving dishes and instead serve straight from the pan. As such, if there are leftovers, they may also put the pan straight into the refrigerator. The acids present in certain foods can affect the polymer bonds. There are also some food ingredients that can stick to the surface if left for a long time. These can be more difficult to remove, prompting you to use more vigorous cleaning methods.

Whenever cooking your meals in a nonstick pan, always make sure to transfer them into serving dishes. Any leftovers should also be transferred into food storage containers. This can help lengthen the lifespan of your nonstick cookware.

Nonstick cookware will not last forever. However, if you observe the proper way to care for these items, and avoid these 10 bad practices, it can help extend the life of your nonstick pan.

A version of this content was originally published at Kitchenistic.com.