Stainless steel pots cooking on the stove pictured next to an assortment of vegetables including radishes, onions, and asparagus.

What are the safest pans to cook with & the best non toxic cookware?

diet kitchen Jun 03, 2024

Updated on June 3, 2024 by Sophia Ruan Gushée. Created Aug 16, 2018.

There are more brands of "non toxic" cookware than ever. But as media outlets inform the public about the latest scientific understanding of Forever Chemicals, which were often used in nonstick pots and pans, consumers are increasingly wondering how nontoxic their new "non toxic" pots and pans really are. From my clients, speaking engagements, interviewers, friends, and family, I'm often asked, Which nontoxic pots and pans do you use? What do you think of Caraway cookware, Always cookware, or Le Creuset cookware?

After writing A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide To Reducing Our Toxic Exposures over eight years, interviewing scientists and physicians for the Practical Nontoxic Living podcast since publishing A to Z of D-Toxing, and re-evaluating the safest pans and non toxic cookware for my family every few years since then, I'm more certain than ever which non toxic pots and pans are the best for my family.

In this article, I'll share how I think about cookware so that you can save time deciding what's best for you. I'll cover:

  • Toxic chemicals, including Forever Chemicals, and heavy metals in most cookware
  • Nontoxic cookware—which materials to look for and how to use them safely
  • What is greenwashing and how to avoid it
  • What I use for my family

Are you using the safest pots & pans to cook with?

When cooking, have you wondered if you're using healthy non toxic cookware?

Few people have. But I do! Especially because choosing the safest non toxic cookware could reduce the body burden and health risks of my children and family.

What's been a pleasant surprise as I review the latest research is that the safest pans to cook with are relatively inexpensive. From my experiences of entertaining family and guests in my kitchen, I know that your non toxic pots and pans can prompt helpful conversations with family and guests about the safest cookware available and other ways that toxic chemicals and heavy metals show up in household items. 

Non toxic cookware prompts lessons on healthy eating

Let's zone in kids as an example. As you teach your kids the importance of using "PTFE-free" instead of "PFOA-free" cookware (read more about this below), for example, you can also teach them, or together learn, an important life skill and habit: how to cook.

Cooking your favorite foods can be a fun and healthy activity while using the safest pots and pans. Your entire family or roommates will benefit from you using non toxic pots and pans because this will reduce toxic exposure to you, your loved ones, and our ecosystems while prompting invaluable—and fascinating—conversations. This offers a unique opportunity to nurture curiosity and wonder about:

  • the ingredients we use to cook and eat
  • how those ingredients can chemically react to each other and the cookware materials that we use
  • how different cooking approaches (like sauteing, boiling, steaming, or baking) affect foods' nutritional value
  • which cookware materials we cook with and how they may contaminate our diet (Further below, I share an important consideration when cooking tomatoes!)

Children and adults should be educated on the safest pans to cook with for healthy meals. We know...a bummer topic, but the safest cookware are definitely worth learning about and having conversations with family and friends about the healthiest pans to cook with will help them for the rest of their lives! 

Awareness of your unnecessary toxic exposure and greenwashing (more on PFOA-free further below) are as valuable as healthy eating, sleeping well, exercising regularly, and getting healthy doses of natural sunshine early in the day.

Why you should use the safest pans to cook with

Some cookware can leach heavy metals and chemicals into the food that they cook. For example, conventional nonstick cookware are often coated with Forever Chemicals, and lead has been detected in some ceramic cookware.

Toxic exposure, especially on a regular basis, can contribute to health issues, like those influenced by endocrine, or hormone, disruption. Endocrine disruption, which some Forever Chemicals are linked to, can contributes to a variety of health risks including metabolic disease, precocious puberty, adverse reproductive health outcomes, and more. Heavy metals, like lead, are neurotoxic.

Protecting your health is one reason why using quality non toxic saucepans, pots, and pans is an important decision that you should consider. Cooking with the healthiest pans will also protect our ecosystems because some chemicals, like Forever Chemicals or nanoparticles, are so persistent and pervasive that they will pollute our wildlife, food supply, drinking water, and global population for generations.

How do you mindfully select the safest cookware? The healthiest pans to cook with are made of the safest cookware material

An overview of different types of cookware material

Cookware is created from a variety of materials like stainless steel, copper, cast iron, glass, and ceramic. And it can be coated with a variety of chemicals and heavy metals for color, weight, and nonstick qualities.

It's worth learning about the materials that create cookware and their health risks. As you learn more, you'll appreciate that there's no single material, pot, pan, or brand that's 100% safe and non toxic. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the different types of cookware, however, will help you identify the safest cookware for your health, budget, and preferences.

Below are the most common materials in cookware and their benefits and risks. 

Nonstick cookware

Nonstick cookware has often been made of perfluorinated chemicals (aka, PFCs, Forever Chemicals, or PFAS) or other chemicals to create the nonstick effect. Forever Chemicals and PFAS are popular terms that refer to the family of Forever Chemicals.

Estimates of how many PFAS chemicals there are range from 8,000-15,000. But how many PFAS chemicals there are and how they influence our health, development, and reproduction are not fully understood. The data so far, however, proves that they are harmful. The only unknowns are how extensive is their harm, what is the comprehensive list of potential health outcomes, and what are the mechanisms of their effects. "Scientists are just beginning to understand the effects of the more than 4,000 different types of PFASs," according to Elsie Sunderland, associate professor of environmental science and engineering in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Examples of health effects understood so far, as reported by the US EPA (June 7, 2023) include:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity

Aluminum cookware

Aluminum cookware can react to certain foods—particularly acidic foods (like tomatoes or citruses)—and give a metallic taste. Small amounts of aluminum through oral ingestion is considered fine. However, higher levels may increase the health risks as is discussed further in the January 2022 article "Aluminum Poisoning with Emphasis on Its Mechanism and Treatment of Intoxication" in the Emergency Medicine International journal.

Cast iron cookware

Cast iron cookware can leach iron into the food. While we need iron in our diets, too much iron can be a health concern. Acidic foods cooked in cast iron can also facilitate more leaching of iron. Regardless, cast iron is among the safest cookware materials. As such, cast iron cookware is a great non toxic cookware option—among the safest cookware options!

Copper iron cookware

Copper cookware can leach copper into exposed food. Similar to iron, too much copper in our diets is unhealthy. Higher doses of copper can lead to nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Stainless steel cookware

Stainless steel cookware can leach nickel and chromium into food—particularly when cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes). Regardless, certain grades of stainless steel are among the safest cookware materials. As such, stainless steel cookware is often a great non toxic cookware option—among the safest cookware options!

Ceramic cookware

Some ceramic cookware may be safe but don't assume that all ceramic cookware is nontoxic ceramic cookware. When choosing ceramic pots and pans, make sure that the ceramic does not contain toxic chemicals or heavy metals.

What is greenwashing and how do I avoid it?

Greenwashing is so prevalent that it's impossible for most of us to avoid. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically when brands market their products as “green” or sustainable while not actually being eco-friendly. Products marketed as "non toxic" may also actually be toxic. 

When considering the safest pots and pans are to cook with, understand the cookware material first. That’s not only because certain materials react with various foods in different ways, but also because some of the pots and pans you may have seen advertised widely for their sustainable or non-toxic nature may not be truly considered “clean cookware.”

To avoid greenwashing of cookware, examine what it’s made of and learn how to use it safely. For example, metal utensils scratch surfaces and can increase the leaching of toxic substances from some nonstick pots and pans. In these cases, wooden utensils are best. 

Forever Chemicals in mainstream cookware

While the safest non toxic cookware that I want for my family today is the same as the set that I identified over a decade ago, my September 2022 Forever Chemicals Detox Challenge led me to review recent studies that found Forever Chemicals in even “non toxic” cookware. 

After 16+ years of researching our toxic exposures, I continue to be surprised at how complicated it is to find safe cookware. Sixteen years ago, I assumed that all stainless steel and all glass food containers are safe. Years later, I'd learn that not all stainless steel is the same, and not all glass is the same. Some contain toxic chemicals, like Forever Chemicals, bisphenol-A, or a BPA substitute.

Since new "non toxic" pots and pans enter the market and new scientific studies are completed every year or so, I still continue to re-evaluate the safest pots and pans to cook with as I continue to fine-tune my understanding of:

  • materials used in manufacturing cookware
  • their natural wear and tear
  • how chemical combinations with food can influence toxic substances in our food
  • greenwashing
  • manufacturing changes

The lesson I repeatedly learn from my endless research is that nothing is perfect and the devil is in the details when identifying safe products including healthy non toxic cookware. Every option has a different set of benefits and risks. There is no such thing as nontoxic or toxic free living so our goal should be choosing cookware that are least likely to contaminate your food.

For example, one new "non toxic" pan that I'm often asked about is the Our Place Always Pan. In 2022, Consumer Reports tested for 96 PFAS in the Our Place Always Pan and the Red Copper Pan, which have ceramic coatings and are marketed as free of PTFE and PFOA, and the Swiss Diamond pan, which has a PTFE coating and is said to be PFOA-free.

  • The Swiss Diamond pan "had measurable amounts of PFOA and several other PFAS." 
  • None of the 96 PFAS were found in either of the two ceramic-coated pans, the Always Pan and the Red Copper, both of which carry a PTFE-free claim. The researched acknowledged that "It’s theoretically possible that other PFAS could be present given that there are thousands out there, but they weren’t any of the 96 in our test panel."

While most of the Consumer Reports scientists were "not surprised to see [that] we didn’t detect PFAS in those pans because such chemicals aren’t needed to make nonstick ceramic cookware," my research has shown that heavy metals, like lead, has been detected in some ceramic coated cookware because heavy metals were involved in creating the cookware color.   

Keep reading to learn important considerations about different cookware materials, benefits and risks from each, the safest cookware, the importance of diversifying the pots and pans that you use, and other tips that can reduce your toxic exposure from your kitchen cookware. 


Click on the image above to see more Ruan Detox Workshops

What creates the best non toxic cookware, the safest pans to cook with?

Below are types of cookware that are often reported to be nontoxic. You'll notice that they are made of the safest cookware materials: uncoated cast iron, stainless steel, and glass. In the next section, I share which non toxic cookware that I use them in my home.

Uncoated cast iron

While cast iron cookware can leach iron into food, cast iron is generally accepted as safe for pots and pans. It’s certainly one of the most durable types of cookware, sometimes used by generations within a family.

Cast iron cookware tips

  • Be sure to season the cast iron pan according to manufacturer instructions to avoid a metallic taste.
  • Avoid cooking acidic foods in cast iron.
  • Do not boil water in cast iron.
  • Do not let water sit in cast iron for too long because water can contribute to rusting.
  • Avoid using cast iron that has rust on it.
  • Consider using glass cookware for acidic foods, such as spaghetti sauce.

Carbon steel

I have not yet had the need to buy carbon steel cookware, but carbon steel might be the best non toxic cookware material for a wok if you want something lighter than a cast iron wok, which you can find at Ruan Living on Amazon

Enamel-coated cast iron.

Made of cast iron with a glass coating, the cookware heats like iron cookware but doesn’t leach iron into food. Glass is one of the materials widely accepted as being healthy. Some enamel-coated cast iron may be non toxic but it's hard to know which ones are safe.

Uncoated stainless steel

Stainless steel is made with varying amounts of nickel and chromium. Uncoated stainless steel can still release low levels of nickel and chromium so beware if you have a nickel sensitivity. Cookware with 18/8 or 18/10 stamped on the bottom is the least likely to leach into food. If you're cooking acidic food in stainless steel, remove the food after cooking and store it in a non-metal storage container. Stainless steel is a durable material and can be recycled. To learn more about the different "grades," types, or series of stainless steel, click here: What is the safest stainless steel for cookware, food containers, and flatware?

Uncoated glass

Historically considered one of the most nontoxic safe materials for food contact, glass bakeware is widely available and inexpensive. As for cookware, I have traditionally been uncomfortable with the glass pots that I have researched.

Glass is usually unable to handle extreme changes in temperature and can break. Most glassware cannot be used on stovetops. However, there ARE safe and nontoxic glass pots and pans made for stove, oven, and freezer use. 

Formulas/recipes for glass vary so it's hard to know which are safe. There are reports of some glass pots now containing toxic chemical so read the manufacturer’s instructions to use their glass cookware safely.

I was nervous about using glass cookware because glass can shatter. However, after learning more about Forever Chemicals in cookware in preparing to lead my Forever Chemicals Detox Challenge for Ruan Living's D-Tox Academy, I embraced glass as a necessary material among my set of non toxic cookware.

Glass is one of the best materials for cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. 

Lead-Free Ceramic

Are ceramic pans safe? Is ceramic cookware safe?

As long as the paint or cookware coating is free of toxic chemicals and/or heavy metals (like lead or cadmium), ceramic can be another healthy option for cookware. Similar to glass, ceramic will break if exposed to extreme temperature changes so be sure to bring it to room temperature before cooking in ceramic. Be sure to read manufacturer guidelines to know if their cookware is for stovetop or oven cooking methods.

Updated January 24, 2023: After realizing how complicated it is to ensure that ceramic and glazes are safe, I avoid these. But if you would like to read more about this option, click: Non Toxic Ceramic Cookware: How to Choose and Use It Safely.

Ceramic cookware tips

  • Make sure that your ceramic cookware has lead-free glaze or coating. For this reason, many vintage ceramic items should be avoided.
  • Beware of greenwashing: The vast majority of ceramic pots and pans marketed as nontoxic are actually metal pans (that can contain heavy metals) coated in ceramic that may contain toxic chemicals and/or heavy metals. If and when this coating is scratched, toxic substances may leach into your food.
  • True 100% ceramic cookware is generally regarded as a safe cookware material.
  • Coated ceramic should be avoided or well-researched because it may contain heavy metals like lead.


Copper pans lined with stainless steel offer several benefits: copper’s quick-heating properties, and stainless steel's lesser likelihood of leaching chemicals (if you choose 18-8 or 18-10 grade stainless steel). The lighter weight of copper can be easier for some people to handle.

According to ATSDR (2004), "Copper is essential for good health. However, exposure to higher doses can be harmful." Updated January 24, 2023: I still don't own any copper cookware. To read more about this, check out: Is Copper Cookware Safe?

Greenwashing tips

While greenwashing is tricky, reading product claims for the below can signal toxicity risk. Be aware that:

  1. "Nonstick" indicates a greater chance of Forever Chemicals in the cookware coating.
  2. “PFOA-Free” products may have other types of PFAS in the coating.
  3. "PTFE-free" products may also have other PFAS chemicals in the coating.
  4. Look on product labels for California Prop 65, which is a requirement by the state of California that products sold in CA must have label if the product is found to have above certain levels of chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

Woman scrapes broccoli into a glass pot filled with other veggies using a knife.

The safest, non toxic cookware in my home

Now that you understand the key materials to look for in finding the safest, non toxic cookware for your home, you're probably wondering, So which non toxic pots and pans do you use? Keep reading to find out.

Cast iron cookware

Cast iron cookware is my favorite because it can go from stovetop to oven to table top.


(Amazon affiliate link in image above)

Cast iron requires different care and maintenance, but I find it worthwhile given my practical nontoxic values (it's one of the safest cookware materials—it's the best cookware material for my preferences ). It is heavy so please consider that. For over a decade, I have been using the combo set below by Lodge. I love the flexible use of the lid that doubles as a shallow skillet or griddle. I also love that I can sear chicken on the stovetop, then put it in the oven, then serve everything in the cast iron. It works nicely as a serving platter too.

Stainless steel cookware

Since you shouldn't boil water in cast iron, stainless steel cookware is what I use for boiling water and making popcorn. 

(Amazon affiliate link in image above)

Stainless steel cookware remains a staple in my kitchen because it's relatively light, durable, and convenient. When cooking acidic foods, I use my glass cookware. I also avoid using metal utensils that can scratch stainless steel and facilitate the leaching of nickel and chromium into food.

Keep in mind that the amount of metal migration depends on stainless steel grade. If you have a nick sensitivity, 403 stainless steel may be worthwhile for you.

  • No nickel sensitivity: 304 stainless steel cookware (with nickel)
  • Nickel sensitivity: 403 stainless steel cookware (without nickel)

Below is a Breville stainless steel pot that I enjoy for boiling water and making soups, stews, and popcorn. 


(Amazon affiliate link in image above)

I like that the Breville stainless steel pot is made of 439 and 304 stainless steel. Each is lower in nickel than the popular 18/10 or 340 stainless steel. It feels like a quality product, and is made of one of the best cookware materials.

(Amazon affiliate link in image above)

Glass cookware

While you need to follow manufacturer's instructions to prevent glass cookware from breaking, glass cookware is best for cooking acidic foods like when you cook tomato sauce. I spent a lot of time trying to ensure that my purchase below does not contain Forever Chemicals. While it seemed free of Forever Chemicals at the time of my research, my instinct is that they may be present or they may have been added after my research or will be added in the future. Regardless, it may still be our best option for cooking acidic foods.

(Amazon affiliate link)

Ceramic coated cast iron

This is what I used to use when I'm cooking acidic foods, like tomato sauce. Updated January 24, 2023: While there may be safe enamel-coated cast iron, it's really hard to know which ones are safe. Even among the same product style of enamel-coated cast iron from a given brand, the toxicity (like lead) can vary by the color of the cast iron product. I will not buy more enamel-coated cast iron but I have not been ready to discard the expensive ones that I have. I try to minimize their use, avoid scratching the inner surface (avoid using metal utensils and use wooden utensils instead), and try to not worry too much during the few times that I use them, which is when I'm diversifying risks from my other pots and pans.

I still own enamel-covered cast iron pots and pans that I purchased years ago (I like the colors that they add to our kitchen). But I use them sparingly, thoughtfully, and won't replace them when they are finally discarded. They might be one of the safest pans to cook with when cooking tomatoes and other acidic foods. (The only way to know is to have that scenario tested.)

View more at the Ruan Living Amazon store.

FAQs about non toxic cookware

Why are too many pots and pans toxic—including products marketed as "non toxic" cookware?

Understanding popular materials and chemicals that are used in pots and pans can help you manage your toxicity because nothing is 100% non toxic. Toxicity comes from chemicals and/or heavy metals that are used to create useful traits like nonstick qualities or to create specific colors. Through normal wear and tear including of the safest non toxic pots and pans, these toxic substances may be more likely to contaminate your food. With the tips below, however, you can reduce the likelihood of toxic exposure from your cookware.

While there’s really no such thing as completely nontoxic cookware, there are safer options like cookware that's free of PFOA, PFAS (PFOA and PFAS are two types of Forever Chemicals), and no or minimal heavy metals. 

Identifying the safest cookware for your home can protect you from chronic exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy metals. So get your wooden spoons out and start banging your pots and pans in anticipatory drum roll as we dive deeper into how to choose relatively "clean" cookware.

Diversify your non toxic cookware

The safest non toxic pots and pans are often made of nontoxic stainless steel, cast iron, glass, and sometimes ceramic. These are the best cookware materials that leach the least amount of chemicals and heavy metals including after wear and tear. However, they are not 100% non toxic

Since every material offers unique benefits and risks, it's best to diversify your cooking with cookware that's made of various relatively safe materials and cook with an understanding of how each material reacts to different foods and pHs.

Risks from metal utensils

Most cookware surfaces (including those that are nonstick, stainless steel, and cast iron) are easily scratched by metal cooking utensils. Scratched surfaces of pots and pans make leaching of heavy metals or toxic chemicals easier. Instead, wood cooking utensils can minimize scratching stainless steel, ceramic and other types of cookware surfaces.


As of 2024 May 4, the best non toxic cookware—the healthiest pans to cook with, the safest pans to cook with are made of the best non toxic cookware materials that we know of today:

  • uncoated stainless steel
  • uncoated cast iron
  • uncoated glass

The safest, non toxic cookware are made of these three materials. While these are three of the most non toxic cookware materials available, they can still contaminate your food if you don't use them mindfully. Following the tips above will help you reduce toxicity from even the safest, non toxic pots and pans.

When shopping for the safest, non toxic cookware, consider the greenwashing tips above. Look for the California Prop 65 warning on cookware product labels, and remember that PFOA-free, PTFE-free, and "nonstick" to often include Forever Chemicals.

Ruan Living Amazon

To save time finding other well-researched and mom-used products, visit Ruan Living Amazon, where I share my household staples, including more pots and pans, food containers, cleaning supplies, and my most cherished kitchen appliances. Optimize the most practical version of your chemical free home by visiting Ruan Living Amazon.

Enjoy support with Ruan Living Offerings 

If you'd like to watch the invaluable Forever Chemicals Detox workshops that I wrote about above, then click here: Forever Chemicals Detox Crash Course. You can purchase it along or access it through the Ruan Living's online D-Tox Academy, where I share many more practical nontoxic strategies and products that I've researched for toxicity and that have worked well in my family life and home. Its online detox library will help you save time in avoiding chemicals, heavy metals, and EMFs from what you buy, own, and do. You can just adopt my research. But I highly encourage members to do their own work because scientists are discovering new things all the time.

Do you have more questions? Members of the D-Tox Academy can get their questions answered through a variety of opportunities including our Ruan Detox Workshops. We also have Ruan Living Shopping Guides to save you time in finding well-researched products that our family enjoys.

Click here to learn more: D-Tox Academy.

Additional Resources

  1. Is Copper Cookware Safe?
  2. Why Choose Glass Over Plastic?
  3. Best nontoxic glass food and beverage containers
  4. The Pros and Cons of Ceramic
  5. Get the Lead Out
  6. Top Tips for a Healthy Non Toxic Kitchen
  7. 5 Tips to Detox Black Plastics From Your Diet 

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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