What Are The Safest Pans To Cook With & The Best Non Toxic Cookware?Apr 07, 2023
Updated by Sophia Ruan Gushée on April 7, 2023.
In September 2022, I led a 4-Day Home Detox, or Forever Chemicals Detox, to simplify "toxic free" living for you. (You can watch the replay at the D-Tox Academy.)
It was amazing to learn how much more scientists now understand about PFAS, or Forever Chemicals, and our many opportunities to avoid them. Reviewing the latest understanding of Forever Chemicals refreshed my perspective on what the safest pans to cook with are, and inspired me to replace my 15-year-old pots and pans to ensure that I'm using the safest cookware available.
Having identified the best non toxic cookware material over a decade ago, it was only in my preparation for the September 2022 Forever Chemicals Detox that I learned of recent studies that found the highly toxic PFAS chemicals in even the best non toxic cookware material! As always, nothing is perfect and the devil is in the details in finding healthy non toxic cookware.
Even after 15 years of researching our toxic exposure, I am still surprised at how complicated it is for me to find the safest cookware, the safest pans to cook with—even when I know what to look for! One conclusion that I continue to arrive at is that there is no such thing as nontoxic or toxic free living. Every option has a different set of benefits and risks, which I discuss below. So our goal should be mindful living.
In summary, the safest cookware available—the safest pans to cook with—is made of the safest cookware material and they also don't include added toxic chemicals. I prefer materials that have a long history of safe use: uncoated cast iron, stainless steel, and, more recently, glass. If you'd like to learn what is the safest cookware for your health, then please read on.
Click on the image above to see more Ruan Powwows
When cooking, have you wondered if you're using healthy non toxic cookware—the safest cookware available, the safest pans to cook with?
Few people have. But I do! It is important to use the best non toxic cookware to optimize your family's health. Oftentimes, the safest pans to cook with are relatively inexpensive too!
At the same time, parents can teach children an important life skill and habit: how to cook.
Cooking your favorite foods can be a fun and healthy activity when using healthy non toxic cookware—whether you are by yourself or with loved ones. Your entire family will benefit from using non toxic pots and pans because they will pose less toxic exposure and because using the safest non toxic cookware that's best for you will prompt important conversations that will turbo-boost your efforts for a practical nontoxic lifestyle that will reduce toxic exposure to you, your loved ones, and our ecosystems!
Cooking with children (or others) also offers a unique opportunity to nurture curiosity—to wonder about the ingredients we use and eat, how those ingredients can chemically react to each other and the materials we use, how different cooking approaches (like sauteing, boiling, steaming, or baking) affect foods' nutritional value, and which materials we cook with and how they may contaminate our diet.
Children and adults should be educated on the best non toxic cookware, the safest pans to cook with, for cooking healthy meals. It's important to get curious about what is the safest cookware for your health. We know...a bummer topic, but non toxic pots and pans are definitely worth knowing about and staying alert too. Having conversations with family and friends will make it much easier for them to choose the healthiest pans to cook with—for the rest of their lives!
Concerns with different types of cookware
Toxic exposure from your pots and pans varies by which materials and chemicals are in your cookware. However, learning what is the safest cookware for your health can protect you from chronic exposure to toxic chemicals and, sometimes, heavy metals.
What should you know to find the safest pans to cook with?
Some cookware can leach heavy metals and chemicals into the food cooked in them. Toxic exposure, especially on a regular basis, can contribute to health issues, like those influenced by endocrine, or hormone, disruption. Protecting your health is one reason why using quality nontoxic saucepans, pots, and pans is an important decision that we should all consider. Using the healthiest pans to cook with will also protect our ecosystems because some chemicals, like Forever Chemicals or nanoparticles, are so persistent and pervasive that they also threaten the health of our wildlife, food supply, and drinking water!
How do you mindfully select the safest cookware, the safest pans to cook with? The healthiest pans to cook with are made of the safest cookware material.
Which material creates the best non toxic cookware, the safest pans to cook with?
To understand the best cookware material, the examples below highlight health risks from different types of cookware. You'll see that there's no perfect solution. But knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each option below will help you identify what is the safest cookware for your health, budget, and preferences. As you gain experience with the safest cookware material, you'll develop intuitive understanding of the best cookware material for your preferences.
- Nonstick cookware is often made of perfluorinated chemicals (aka, PFCs, Forever Chemicals, PFAS) or other chemicals to create the nonstick effect. PFAS is a name that refers to a family of chemicals. Estimates of how many PFAS chemicals there is range from 8,000-12,000. No one really knows how many PFAS chemicals there are and how they influence our health, development, and reproduction. "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. The US EPA (March 2022) reports what we know so far, which is that certain PFAS exposure levels may lead to:
- 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 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, such as Alzheimer's Disease (but studies are conflicting) (ATSDR 2008).
- 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 material. As such, cast iron cookware is a great non toxic cookware option—among the safest cookware options!
- 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 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR 2004).
- 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 material. As such, stainless steel cookware is often a great non toxic cookware option—among the safest cookware options!
Best and safest non toxic cookware
The safest cookware—safest non toxic pots and pans to cook —are those that use the safest cookware material. The best cookware material leach the least amount of chemicals and heavy metals and are not coated with toxic chemicals like Forever Chemicals. Since every material offers unique benefits and risks, it's ideal to diversify your cooking with cookware made of various relatively safe materials.
Below are types of cookware that are often reported to be nontoxic. You'll notice that they are made of the safest cookware material: uncoated cast iron, stainless steel, and glass. I note below whether I use them in my home.
- Uncoated cast iron & carbon steel cookware. While iron can leach from cast iron into food, cast iron is generally accepted as safe. It’s certainly one of the most durable types of cookware, sometimes used by generations within a family. Be sure to season the cast iron pan according to manufacturer instructions to avoid a metallic taste. Consider using glass cookware for acidic foods, such as spaghetti sauce. Updated January 24, 2023: Cast iron remains a staple in my kitchen. 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. 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-coasted 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.
- 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. Updated January 24, 2023: This remains a staple in my kitchen because it's relatively light, durable, and convenient. When cooking acidic foods, I use my glass cookware. Also, avoid metal utensils that can scratch stainless steel and facilitate the leaching of nickel and chromium into your food.
- The amount of metal migration depends on stainless steel grade
- No nickel sensitivity: 304 stainless steel cookware (with nickel)
- Nickel sensitivity: 403 stainless steel cookware (without nickel)
- The amount of metal migration depends on stainless steel grade
- 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 been uncomfortable with the glass pots that I have researched. Glass is unable to handle extreme changes in temperature and can break. Most glassware cannot be used on stovetops; however, some are made for stove, oven, and freezer use. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to find out if their particular cookware can be used on the stove. Furthermore, formulas/recipes for glass vary so it's hard to know which are safe. There are reports of some glass pots now containing toxic chemicals. Updated January 24, 2023: After years of internal debate, I have purchased Visions uncoated glass cookware to use for cooking acidic foods. It can be found at the Ruan Living Amazon store.
- Lead-Free Ceramic. Are ceramic pans safe? Is ceramic cookware safe? As long as the paint or cookware coating is free of toxic exposure (like lead, cadmium, etc), 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: Nontoxic Ceramic Cookware: How to Choose and Use It Safely.
- Copper. 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?
- Other simple tips for choosing the best and safest cookware for your budget. Be aware that:
- “PFOA-Free” products may have other types of PFAS in the coatings
- 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.
Again, when choosing the best non toxic cookware, the safest pans to cook with, wonder it's made of the safest cookware material. And pay attention to its traits (like if it's nonstick or colored) to find the healthiest pans to cook with.
Also be curious about, if, under certain circumstances, materials react differently. For example, acidic foods can facilitate the leaching of chemicals from cast iron and stainless steel, and some cookware surfaces (including those that are nonstick, stainless steel, and cast iron) are easily scratched by metal cooking utensils, which may also facilitate the leaching of heavy metals or toxic chemicals. Instead, use wood cooking tools to minimize scratching stainless steel, ceramic and other types of cookware surfaces.
The healthiest pans to cook with are not 100% nontoxic but keeping the above in mind will help you find what is the safest cookware for your health, and the best cookware material for your preferences.
Which does Sophia think is the safest pans to cook with?
As of 2023 April 7, the best cookware material for my preferences still includes stainless steel and cast iron—two of the safest cookware material currently available. After preparing to lead my Forever Chemicals Detox Challenge in 2022 for Ruan Living's D-Tox Academy, I embraced glass as one of the safest cookware material for boiling water or cooking acidic foods. Glass is one of the safest for boiling water and cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes) in that it'll release no, or minimal, toxic compounds. However, glass can break more easily than cast iron and stainless steel so beware and follow manufacturer's directions.
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.)
Below is a newly purchased Breville stainless steel pot to boil water or make soups and stews. I like that the stainless steel is 439 and 304 (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 material.
(Amazon paid link)
Cast iron requires different care and maintenance, but I find it worthwhile given my practical nontoxic values (it's one of the safest cookware material—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.
(Amazon paid link)
In summary, 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. The safest cookware material are uncoated cast iron, stainless steel, and glass. Get to know them to find the best cookware material and, therefore, the best non toxic cookware— for your preferences.
Access Ruan Living's shopping list of household staples
My household staples are available on Amazon, including my pots and pans, food containers, cleaning supplies, and my most cherished kitchen appliances. To optimize the most practical version of a chemical free home that awaits you, click here to browse new items for you to purchase: Ruan Living on Amazon.
If you would like to learn more about what else I buy for my home—after much research and practical use—then you can learn from many tips and resources at Ruan Living's online D-Tox Academy. 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 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 monthly live Ruan Powwows.
Click here to learn more: D-Tox Academy.
- What is the safest stainless steel for cookware, food containers, and flatware?
- Is Copper Cookware Safe?
- Why Choose Glass Over Plastic?
- Best nontoxic glass food and beverage containers
- Non-Stick Pans: Why You Should Stop Using Them!
- Is ceramic cookware safe?
- Get the Lead Out (because we should be mindful of the possible presence of lead in some ceramic paints and/or glazes)
- ATSDR 2004. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (2004)
- ATSDR 2008. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (2008)
- Top Tips for a Healthy Nontoxic Kitchen
- 5 Tips to Detox Black Plastics From Your Diet
About The Author, Sophia Ruan Gushée
Sophia Ruan Gushée is a preeminent nontoxic lifestyle expert, author of the critically acclaimed books A to Z of D-Toxing and EMF Detox Workbook, creator of D-Tox Academy and 40-Day Home Detox, and host of the Practical Nontoxic Living podcast.
She has helped thousands of people eliminate harmful—often hidden—chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields from their homes and lifestyles. Based on more than 15 years of tracking the latest research, she believes that removing these toxins is the overlooked key to unlocking greater mindfulness, mental clarity, emotional harmony, and physical healing.
Sophia also works with companies and served on the prestigious Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and the exclusive Well+Good Council. She has appeared or been featured on the most popular health and wellness platforms including The Doctor Oz Show, Health magazine, Family Circle magazine, MindBodyGreen, and much more. You can learn more about Sophia by clicking here: Sophia Ruan Gushée.
Deconstruct To Reconstruct.
Deconstruct your habits, mindset, and assumptions to reconstruct your home, diet, self-care, and technology relationship for a practical nontoxic and healing lifestyle. We're bringing consciousness to unconscious choices.
Start by detoxing your cleaning.
Join our mailing list and enjoy our free download of our beautiful Nontoxic Cleaning Guide. It shares the safest cleaning approach for you and our ecosystems.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.