Important Reasons to Ditch the Teflon

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Important reasons to ditch teflon and non stick cookware
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Many of us own pots, pans, and bakeware that is covered in a non-stick coating. These products are not only inexpensive, but come with the promise of making our lives just a little bit easier. But have you ever wondered about the safety and health ramifications of these pans?

What Makes It Non-Stick?

Most non-stick cookware is aluminum coated with a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE was developed by DuPont 1938, then patented and trademarked in 1945 as Teflon. (2, 7)

Teflon provides a non-stick surface because it is an extremely non-polar chemical, meaning that it repels other substances. Thus, it provides a frictionless surface and it also doesn’t react with other chemicals making it very stable. (4, 7)

Teflon is added to many products to make them resistant to water and stains. These include carpets, fabrics, clothing, and paint as well as cookware. (7)

Other brands that use PTFE include Silverstone, Stationmaster, and Gore-Tex. Teflon, and the chemicals used in its production have grown into an industry which profits $2 billion a year. (1, 6)

PTFE is a fluorotelomer, or a perflurorochemical (PFCs), and they received this name because they contain fluoride atoms. PFC’s have been shown to be carcinogenic, disrupt hormone balances and affect fetal development.

Since PFC’s have a variety of applications and the research on their effects is quite complex, I wrote a post discussing these chemicals in detail. For now, let’s turn our attention to Teflon.

The Trouble with Teflon

Despite the various pros of PTFE, there are also many cons. The main concern around Teflon is the fact that it produces fumes when overheated which has shown to kill pet birds and cause people to experience flu like symptoms.

The Teflon Flu

Polymer Fume Fever or the “Teflon Flu” refers to the flu-like symptoms of chills, sore throat, coughing, headaches, muscle aches, and fevers between 100-104°F, that a person may experience if they are exposed to the fumes released when non-stick cookware is overheated. Teflon flu generally lasts for two to three days. (6, 7)

While DuPont has known about the illness caused by its products, it claims that Teflon maintains its integrity until around 500°F, and only produces fumes when it reaches 660°F to 680°F. While that seems like a high number, studies have shown that not only is it easy to reach in conventional cooking, but that harmful compounds are released at lower temperatures. (2)

A study conducted in 1991 found that when Teflon cookware reached 464°F, PTFE particles could be measured in the air. At 554°F oxidized particles are released. At 680°F toxic gases are released which are known to be carcinogenic to animals, poisonous to plants, and even lethal to humans. (8)

Even within two to five minutes cookware on a conventional stove can reach these temperatures. An even greater concern is using Teflon under a broiler in the oven or on the grill. Many ovens today are made with non-stick materials, and have self-cleaning cycles which will reach 800°F. (1** 2)

While neither the long term effects of routine exposure, nor the effects of coming down with the “Teflon Flu” have been well studied, it does seem like there is minimal health risk in ingesting Teflon, even if it is flaking. (2)

There is, however, concern about exposure to PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid, a PFC used to make PTFE. Even though its thought that there is minimal PFOA present in the final Teflon product, after repeated heating and cooling it’s possible for PFOA to leach into food.

Thankfully DuPont stopped using this PFC to manufacture Teflon in 2013. (7)

Canaries for Your Kitchen

While the chemical flu is the most studied effect on humans, there have been many reported avian fatalities. That’s right, pet birds are dying from pots and pans and muffin tins. (This also makes you wonder if there are longer-term damages that haven’t been identified yet!)

Some of These Documented Cases Include:

  • Deaths of 1,000 broiler chicks under Teflon-coated heat lamps at 396°F
  • Deaths of baby parrots (number unknown) when a Teflon lined oven was used to bake biscuits at 325°F
  • Deaths of 55 birds when water burned off a hot pan.
  • Death of pet Cockatoo when water was boiled out of a Teflon pan

The makers of Teflon even acknowledge this risk, and warn consumers about this issue. In an online brochure sponsored by DuPont, as well as the Association of Avian Veterinarians and the ASPCA, the writer (a veterinarian) states that “bird fatalities can result when both birds and cooking pots or pans are left unattended in the kitchen, even for a few minutes.” (7,10)

Teflon Cant Stand the Head

Of course, in this industry sponsored brochure, it is made to seem that any cookware can cause birds this harm. However, on its own website, the Association of Avian Veterinarians places only non-stick cookware under the category of air pollutants dangerous to pet birds.

Air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, insecticides, and toxic fumes from over-heated non-stick-coated utensils can cause serious respiratory problems and even death. (9)

All sources recommend that birds be kept out of the kitchen and that ventilation should be utilized when cooking with non-stick.

How to Avoid Teflon Fumes

Though cases of Teflon flu in humans are rare, they do occur. Also, some sources, like the EWG, have concerns about potential cancer links with teflon fumes, though more research is needed.

Of course, the best way to avoid Teflon fumes in the kitchen is to use alternative cookware. Stick with traditional cookware options such as stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans, and ceramic and glass bakeware.

In my experience its also best to avoid so called “green pans” which have a thin ceramic coating which scratches easily causing food to stick. A high quality alternative is fully ceramic pans or ceramic-enameled cast iron cookware like dutch ovens and brasiers.

My Cookware Choices

I wasn’t aware of the problems with Teflon when I got married, and while we registered for mostly stainless steel dishes, we did receive a few non-stick items as well. After researching, we eventually got rid of these pieces and I’ve actually downsized to just the few dishes that we use regularly and love. My personal favorite non-toxic cookware pieces are:

Can’t Ditch the Non-Stick Yet?

If you do have non-stick cookware and can’t (or don’t want to) get rid of it right now, there are many things you can do to limit your exposure to fumes such as:

  • Never preheat non-stick cookware at high heat.
  • Use low to medium cooking temperatures.
  • Don’t put non-stick cookware in an oven heated to over 400°F.
  • Use an exhaust fan when cooking with non-stick.
  • Don’t use the self-cleaning function on your oven if it contains any non-stick coatings.

And of course, if you have pet birds… don’t keep them in the kitchen while you are cooking!

This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Do you use teflon? Ever considered trying other options?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


56 responses to “Important Reasons to Ditch the Teflon”

  1. Ingrid Avatar

    The amazon links seem like they’re not working? Wanted to see the list of enameled cookware.

  2. Dottie Avatar

    Thanks for your in depth article…very helpful. I am looking for a frother that heats the milk and froths it, not the little whisk kind, but cannot find any without nonstick treatment. Have you seen any?


  3. Diane Avatar

    Thanks! I hear dupont no longer makes it after law suits though I believe it is made and used in China! Frontline I believe or other PBS show.

    Now there is another non stick. I am wondering about it??? do you know anything? I just bought a Rice Cooker with it then watched the show a couple weeks after and am wondering about returning.

  4. Kirsten Avatar

    Do you have any suggestions for small cookware to use in the toaster oven? All the toaster oven pans out there seem to be non-stick. We use our toaster oven a lot to reheat leftovers, but the pans it came with have the coating chipping off which I don’t want to end up in my food! I saw a new All Clad 8-inch stainless steel square baker I was thinking about trying.

  5. Dominique Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    What about using a milk frother covered inside with Teflon? Would it leach Toxins into the milk? I’ve trying to find one without coating but they are usually super expensive…
    Thanks so much for all the info!
    You help me being a better mom 🙂

  6. Linda Brown Avatar
    Linda Brown

    Awesome post, Katie! What I appreciate most about your writing is your uncompromising stand on health issues. My husband and I love to visit your site periodically to expand our knowledge on many things. I feel lucky today that I subscribed to your site. This post on ‘Teflon’ is thorough and highly informative. Thanks!

  7. Kim Avatar

    Great article. Great comments. However, I am still unsure of what to use to cook scrambled eggs. Any suggestions? Thanks

  8. Jenna Avatar

    Wellness mama,
    what about the pans that are stainless steal with a ceramic coating? They are more affordable than all ceramic ones. But are there dangers with those? Thanks.

  9. Aleah porche Avatar
    Aleah porche

    I’m surprised cast iron wasn’t mentioned. How do you feel about that? I love my cast iron pans. My other pots our stainless still. And I also have a ceramic coated cast iron Dutch oven that I love too.

  10. Rozanna Avatar

    Hi Katie!
    Thanks for the information, can you please tell me what you use for baking muffins. Thank you! Blessings!

  11. Julie Avatar

    I have never been able to find something that works that isn’t teflon and isn’t cast iron. We have a flat top range so cast iron doesn’t work. I have tried the ceramic ones that are suppost to be so awesome, but it doesn’t work. Things stick SO bad, even with TONS of oil or butter. I use pyrex in the oven for most things, but for cooking on top it seems like teflon is the only thing that works at all. I am not even cooking eggs, mostly just potatoes. The brand I have is Tramontina, it had good reviews.

  12. Bethani Avatar

    Just curious about the ceramic coated pans in the stores. I am in search of a larger fry pan but don’t have lots of $ to spend at the moment. I found these to be a reasonable price for now. What are your reasons for not liking them? Is there teflon under the ceramic? If they are well taken care of, wouldn’t they be considered safe. I value your opinion and enjoy your view on things. Thank you.

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