I’ve been getting a lot of requests for a more detailed explanation and a safety review of non-stick Ceramic coated cookware.
Exactly how safe are the ceramic coatings?
Exactly how safe are the ceramic coatings?
While PTFE (Teflon) has had its share of negative publicity there have also been a lot question marks about ceramic and ceramic coated cookware. Concerns include the possibility of metals and toxins leaching into food: lead, cadmium and even arsenic!
Other readers have asked about the ‘non-stick’ life of a ceramic coated pan. Do they stay non-stick for long? And if they scratch, are poisonous toxins leaching into your food?
Manufacturers and marketers of ceramic coated cookware claim they are ultra safe, with no chemicals or heavy metals and are very durable…..
BUT ARE THEY?
We set out to find out.
Consider this your ultimate guide to the safety, ease of use and durability of non-stick ceramic coated cookware.
Update Feb 2018: I’ve had a lot of reader queries about this so I thought I should clarify this.
If you’re confused about ceramic coated cookware vs 100% ceramic cookware (e.g. Xtrema),you need to know that they are NOT one and the same thing. There is a clear distinction between the two and you can read it here
What is Ceramic coated cookware?
Ceramic technically means ‘clay that has been fire hardened’. So when we talk of ceramic coated cookware, we are talking about some sort of metal (usually hard anodized aluminum) that has been coated with a layer of ceramic. Ceramic non-stick coatings are typically made from inorganic minerals, primarily silicon and oxygen. Inorganic means not containing any carbon.
So does that mean it is PTFE and/or PFOA free?
Yes, none of these chemicals are used in the manufacture of Ceramic coated cookware.
PTFE, if you don’t know, is the chemical name for teflon and teflon-type non-stick coatings. PFOA is a compound that was used in the process of making PTFE. (Read more here if interested).
Many people looking for ceramic coated cookware are looking for an alternative to PTFE based non-stick cookware so If that happens to be you, I want to offer a caveat to the above statement about ceramic cookware being free of PTFE and PFOA.
Sometimes, manufacturers will combine ceramic coatings with PTFE to combine the strength and heat resistance of ceramic particles with the superior non-stick food release of PTFE. Nothing wrong with that and all in the spirit of offering more choice to the customer i.e. you.
But just be aware and make sure that when you are purchasing and if your intent is to buy pure ceramic coated cookware, the description should say PTFE free as well as PFOA free. If it just says PFOA free, chances are, it contains PTFE.
So the ceramic non-stick coating is made of inorganic materials. Why should I care?
Several reasons. The inorganic composition of Ceramic non-stick coating makes it a more environmentally friendly product.
Basically, the composition is the same as sand or stone!
Additionally, it allows for easier application during manufacturing. Most PTFE (Teflon) based non-stick coatings require at least 3 applications. Ceramic coatings requires as little as one layer. They also needs less time to cure, which reduces oven time, saves energy and emits 50% less carbon dioxide than PTFE based products.
And how is this inorganic sand-like mineral applied to cookware?
Most ceramic non-stick coatings are applied using a Sol-gel process. Sol-Gel is a process that converts the inorganic liquid Solution into a Gel that can be applied to any metallic substance. Sol-gel coatings are applied either by spray or by dipping the item in the mineral gel which is then hardened by a high heat firing process known as curing.
What about heat resistance?
Because of its inorganic nature, ceramic coated cookware is heat resistant up to 450 C. That’s roughly 842 F. Just so you can compare, Teflon and similar coatings will deteriorate after 500 F.
How safe is it?
According to various ceramic manufacturers, even if you accidentally heat a ceramic coated pan beyond 450 C, it will not emit any toxic fumes, unlike a Teflon coated pan. Nor will it break down. Which means it’s safe for humans and pets.
Is ceramic cookware safe for birds?
Yes. As mentioned in the previous section, ceramic coated pans don’t off-gas like teflon at a higher temperature. Teflon fumes have been known to be lethal for pet birds so if that is a concern, ceramic coated non-stick pans are a better option for you.
What about lead or cadmium in the Ceramic coating?
There have been reports of some ceramic glazes that leach lead or cadmium into food. This is typically true of ceramic cookware from Latin American and Asian countries where regulations may be a bit lax. In the US there are strict FDA requirements (via a law known as Proposition 65) for ceramic products to be free of lead or cadmium.
Additionally, the FDA also administers the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) which is the main law covering food contact materials (FCM).
All reputable companies comply or should comply with these requirements.
In order to be sure, we reached out to the German company Weilburger Coatings, the maker of the Greblon® non-stick ceramic coatings (used in Ozeri, Healthy Legend Cookware and Josef Strauss Cookware to name a few) to ask about the safety of the coating. Here is their response:
As Greblon-Ceramic coatings are designed for food contact, of course there is no danger of lead leaching from the coating. The product has been tested to meet US-American as well as European Food contact regulations. Naturally, for us to market safe products, food contact for us means no lead, no cadmium, no PFOA, no PFOS .
Head of R&D, WEILBURGER Coatings GmbH
To understand this further and to make sure I’ve done the due diligence beyond a manufacturer’s claims, I did some more digging into food contact regulations in Europe.
The laws in Europe are as strict, if not stricter than the laws in the US when it comes to food contact materials. Specifically, the entire EU follows a harmonized legal framework via Commission Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004. This regulation sets out the general principles of safety and inertness for all Food Contact Materials (FCMs). According to this regulation, materials that come into contact with food must not leach into food at levels harmful to human health and must not change the taste, smell or composition of food in an unacceptable way.
So to sum it up, you can be quite sure that Ceramic coated cookware that is sold in the US by reputable companies, whether the coating is sourced internationally or locally, is safe to use.
The key takeaway here is that if you are in the market to buy a ceramic coated non-stick pan or set, you want to be sure to pick well established brands that have no issue declaring that they are free of these toxins. [Tweet This!]
What about the non-stick properties?
Here’s where the debate starts! According to the manufacturers of ceramic non-stick coatings like Thermolon and Greblon, these coatings provide a superior non-stick release than traditional non-stick pans. They say the coatings are durable, scratch and abrasion resistant and will not corrode.
In reality, people either love it or hate it. For some it performs well over years, while others have found the non-stick properties don’t last long at all, despite caution and care. A lot of people found that the life of the non-stick element of a ceramic coated pot is one year. For extra durability, choose a set with more ceramic nonstick layers instead of the usual 1-2.
Is there any way to extend the life of a ceramic coated non-stick pan?
Yes, here are some suggestions:
- Wash using only a mild detergent in hot water with a dishcloth or sponge. Avoid scour pads of any type
- Cook on low to medium heat.
- Don’t make the pan go from hot to cold too quickly
- Wash by hand – even if the manufacturer says its dishwasher safe
- Use plastic or wooden spoons. Metal utensils can chip or scratch the ceramic surface, making the non-stick surface less non- stick.
- This is personally tried and tested tip – it helps to always use a light brush of oil or butter when cooking in a ceramic coated non-stick pan. This helps prolong the life of the non-stick, helps with food release and makes the food taste better!
Can you cook on high heat with a ceramic non-stick coated pan since it is heat resistant up to 842 F (450 C)?
As a general guideline, most food should be cooked on no higher than medium to medium-high temperatures anyway. This not only preserves the nutrition of food but also prolongs the life of any pan. There are a few exceptions, of course, like stir-fries and searing steaks. But even then, there is no need to hit super high temperatures during cooking.
So to answer the question, a ceramic coated pan should, in theory, be ok with higher heat however be careful with sudden temperature changes, i.e. from high to low or low to high. That could make the ceramic coating shatter or crack.
So if non-stick ceramic coating is like stone, it should be ok to use Metal Utensils, right?
It is recommended to always use wooden, plastic, silicone or nylon utensils with any non-stick. Stainless steel utensils could scratch or damage any non-stick coating, whether Teflon or Ceramic which would reduce the life of the pan.
Can you wash pans with non-stick ceramic coating in the dishwasher?
Depends on the brand. Many ceramic coated non-stick pans will say they are dishwasher safe. But as always, we at The Cookware Advisor strongly recommend you hand wash all pans with a mild detergent and hot water without any abrasive pad.
Can they be used in the oven?
Depends on the handles of the brand you buy. If the handles are all stainless steel, most pans are good till about 500 F. If handles are silicon, then stick to 350 F.
Is a scratched or chipped ceramic pan safe to use?
While small scratches and dings are inevitable with any cookware, let’s talk about cases where the coating has scratched deep enough to expose the underlying metal. Is that pan safe to use?
Concise answer: Yes. Read on if you want more a more in depth analysis.
Case #1: Underlying metal is aluminum (e.g. Caraway cookware)
Based on my research on aluminum pans and their safety, aluminum does not leach into food from coated or anodized aluminum cookware and the amount that leaches from untreated aluminum cookware is not enough to cause a health hazard. So if its a coated pan with just a few minor scratches, the chances of aluminum leaching into food are really low.
Case #2: Underlying metal is stainless steel (e.g. Zwilling Spirit)
Based on my research on stainless steel pans and their safety, stainless steel is a generally recognized safe cookware material. It can leach nickel and chromium into food in low quantities, however, for most of us, it is within safe and acceptable limits. So in my opinion, the amount that would leach from a few scratches on a non-stick ceramic coated stainless steel pan would be almost negligible.
So, are non-stick ceramic coated pans a healthier and more environmentally safer choice?
Yes. Primarily because at higher temperatures, the coating won’t break down and emits fumes that are bad for the environment and an irritant for humans. At normal cooking temperatures under 500F, they are no more or less healthier than a PTFE (Teflon) coated pan.
If cookware safety is a primary concern for you, I would urge you to check out 100% ceramic cookware instead of ceramic coated cookware, like Xtrema.
Is ceramic coating the best type of non-stick that is designed to last?
Consensus seems to say ‘no’.
In fact, in tests conducted by Whitford, a major supplier of all types of non-stick coatings, it was found that the best ceramic coating will last only 15% as long as a PTFE (teflon) based coating. Meaning 6 times less! I should point out, however, these tests were documented in 2007 and ceramic coatings have made big improvements since then.
Keep in mind that ANY non-stick coating, whether PTFE or Ceramic based will eventually wear out, and the life of the non-stick depends not only on the quality of the non-stick but also on the amount of use and abuse.
In the end, when considering Ceramic coated cookware, the choice is really more about being environmentally safer and healthier (at higher temperatures), rather than choosing a better non-stick pan. If you want great non-stick, nothing comes close to a good quality ‘Teflon ®’ i.e. PTFE based non-stick coating. But if you want a pan that is better for the environment and your health, then Ceramic coated cookware might be for you.
Which non-stick ceramic coated cookware does The Cookware Advisor recommend?
Update Nov 2019: We would like to introduce our newest pick for top ceramic coated non-stick cookware: Caraway!
Caraway is a new company with a mission to craft well-designed, non-toxic ceramic cookware that not only looks beautiful but performs well. In their own words, “healthy cookware is a bit of a healthy obsession”. According to inside sources, their cookware is made of heavy gauge aluminum with more layers of ceramic coating than most ceramic coated sets that have 1-2 layers. This is designed for extra durability to the non-stick.
Other Cookware Advisor picks for best non-stick ceramic cookware
Other non-stick ceramic coatings that stood out in terms of quality were Thermolon and Greblon. Here are the recommended products/brands within each non-stick coating:
Best Thermolon coated cookware brands: (made by Thermolon Corporation}:
Best Greblon coated cookware brands: (made by Weilburger Coatings Germany):
Other Notable Non-Stick Ceramic coated pans:
Neoflam, the brand that uses Ecolon Ceramic coatings recently came out with a line of premium ceramic coated cookware called the Carat Collection. It’s named that because the look is aesthetically pleasing with a diamond like design on the lid.
If you’re wondering about one of the brands of ‘copper’ ceramic cookware that is advertised on TV like Copper Chef, Red Copper and Gotham Steel, you can read more here.
Update Feb 2018 due to a lot of reader queries:
Is there a difference between ceramic coated cookware vs 100% ceramic cookware?
There is a clear distinction between ceramic coated cookware and ceramic cookware.
Ceramic coated cookware is a metallic cookware (usually aluminum, sometimes stainless steel) that is coated with a layer or layers of ceramic based non-stick coating.
Ceramic cookware, on the other hand is made purely with a clay formula that is 100% natural. This means it is free of ANY metals, free of any chemicals, is made without ptfe (teflon) and pfoa, and does not leach any heavy metals. It also means that since there is no ‘coating’ other than a natural ceramic glaze, there is no risk of anything flaking or peeling off into food.
When it comes to pure ceramic cookware, I’m a big fan of Xtrema cookware. They have been providing outstanding ceramic cookware for over 10 years and each batch of their cookware is rigorously tested to make sure it complies with FDA and California Prop 65 laws.
I would go so far as to say that if you’re looking for a metal free option, Xtrema is the safest cookware available in the market.
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Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.