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 and expand your understanding of what it entails. (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. Now I’d like to pass what I’ve learned on to you in an easy-to-digest blog post.
What I’ve Learned About Forever Chemicals in Mainstream Cookware
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 far more recent studies that found the highly toxic PFAS chemicals in even the best supposed “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 materials and doesn’t include added toxic chemicals. I prefer materials that have a long history of safe use, including:
- Uncoated cast iron
- Stainless steel
The bottom line is this: you can (and indeed we encourage you to) do your own research. You can read the rest of this blog post and learn about the nuances of different cookware materials and the importance of varying which cookware you use with which foods. But when it boils right down to it, choosing the safest pots and pans to cook with doesn’t have to be complicated!
Choose glass, uncoated cast iron, stainless steel, or 100% lead-free ceramic depending on what you are cooking, and you should be in fairly good shape!
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Are You Using the Safest Pots & Pans to Cook With?
When cooking, have you wondered if you're using healthy non toxic cookware— the safest cookware available?
Few people have. But I do! Especially when the health of my children and family are at stake. Oftentimes, the safest pans to cook with are relatively inexpensive too!
You can easily teach your kids the importance of using PFOA free cookware while teaching them 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. Plus, 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 alike 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 learning about. 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!
FAQs About Non Toxic Cookware
Toxic exposure from your pots and pans varies by which materials and chemicals are in your cookware. As we mentioned earlier, there’s really no such thing as completely nontoxic cookware. But there is such a thing as PFOA and PFAS free cookware. There’s such a thing as cookware that has little to no heavy metals. There are also plenty of cookware materials that are far safer than others.
Learning what is the safest cookware for your health can protect you from chronic exposure to toxic chemicals and, sometimes, heavy metals. So get your wooden spoons out and start banging your pots and pans in anticipatory drum roll—we’re about to dive deeper into how to choose clean cookware.
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 non toxic 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.
Is Ceramic a Non Toxic Cookware Material?
Be careful with ceramic pots and pans. Not all ceramic cookware is nontoxic ceramic cookware. When choosing ceramic cookware, you want to be sure that it is 100% ceramic, not ceramic coated, and that the ceramic does not contain toxic chemicals or heavy metals. You also want to be sure it has lead-free glaze. For this reason, many vintage ceramic items should be avoided.
Take care not to fall prey to greenwashing; the vast majority of ceramic pots and pans marketed as being nontoxic are actually metal pans (that can contain heavy metals) coated in ceramic that may or may not be safe. If and when this coating is scratched, any heavy metals can leach into your food.
True 100% ceramic cookware is generally regarded as a safe cookware material. But coated ceramic should be avoided because it may contain heavy metals like lead.
What is greenwashing and how do I avoid it?
Greenwashing. It happens all too easily nowadays. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically when brands market their products as “green” or sustainable while doing little to nothing to promote sustainability. Greenwashing can also happen when a company’s products aren’t as green as they advertise them to be.
When considering what the safest pots and pans are to cook with, we recommend looking at 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 on TV infomercials or social media for their sustainable or non-toxic nature may not be truly considered “clean cookware”.
To avoid greenwashing when it comes to pans, look carefully at how the pan was constructed and what it’s made of. Evaluate the verbiage used to describe the pans carefully.
Which material creates the best non toxic cookware, the safest pans to cook with?
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 an 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 are range from 8,000-12,000. No one really knows how many PFA S 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 PFA S s," according to Elsie S underland, associate professor of environmental science and engineering in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The U S EPA (March 2022) reports what we know so far, which is that certain PFA S 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 materials. 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 materials. As such, stainless steel cookware is often a great non toxic cookware option— among the safest cookware options!
Diversify YourNon Toxic Cookware
What you need to know about the safest cookware—that is, the safest non toxic pots and pans to cook—are made using the safest cookware materials.
The best cookware materials, in turn, leach the least amount of chemicals and heavy metals and are not coated with toxic chemicals like Forever Chemicals.
That said, since every material offers unique benefits and risks, it's best to diversify your cooking with cookware made of various relatively safe materials and cook with an understanding of how each material reacts to different foods and pHs.
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. 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-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.
- 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)
- 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. —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: Non Toxic 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.
What Does Sophia Think Are the Best Cookware Materials?
As of 2023 August 5, the best cookware material for my preferences still includes stainless steel and cast iron—two of the safest cookware materials 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 materials 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.
(Amazon paid link)
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 materials.
(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 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.
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 materials 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.
Choosing cookware by material is a great first step to avoid greenwashing and choose the safest options available. Just remember to be curious about, if, under certain circumstances, different 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. Use wood cooking tools to minimize scratching stainless steel, ceramic and other types of cookware surfaces.
Lastly, we’ll mention it again because it’s important: the healthiest pans to cook with are not 100% nontoxic. That said, 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.
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 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 monthly live Ruan Powwows 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.
- 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?
- The Pros and Cons of Ceramic
- Ceramic-Coated versus Teflon Cookware: Which one is healthier?
- Non Toxic Ceramic Cookware: How to Choose and Use It Safely
- 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 Non Toxic 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.
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