We shop for organic produce, we’ve swapped the toxic cleaners for safer stuff, ditched the artificial fragrances in our home, and moved to cleaner choices for our beauty routine. However, many are surprised to find that our cookware can actually be a major source of lurking toxic chemicals and can contribute to our body’s toxic load (when talking to my friend the other day about it she said, “Oh my gosh, my cookware is poisoning me?! I had no idea!”). Unfortunately, materials and metals like aluminum, plastic, lead, and Teflon can pose serious risks to your health and are prevalent in a lot of cookware options.

And if the cookware we constantly use is leaching out harmful toxins, we are doing ourselves and all that effort a disservice.

The good news is that there are so many better non-toxic cookware options out there! Toss the toxic pots and pans and check out our guide to healthier swaps below. And if you’ve already made the switch, let us know in the comments what your favorite cookware is!

What to toss:

Traditional Non-Stick Coatings

Teflon is the trademarked coating that makes non-stick cookware non-stick. It’s incredibly convenient and was a gamechanger for cooking when it was introduced around 80 years ago. The issue is that these coatings (which contain compounds like PFOA or PTFE), are highly toxic and have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, organ failure, reproductive damage, and other health issues (check out the film Dark Waters and the documentary The Devil We Know for a deeper dive into the health risks). Newer nonstick coatings, like Teflon, technically no longer contain PFOA and PFOS, but you wanna keep an eye out for Teflon cookware that was made before 2013 as it could still contain these dangerous chemicals. And while most Teflon coated pans these days are PFOA-free, this often means that they still contain PTFE (PFOA or C8, which is used to make PTFE coating, and as we discussed, is considered a carcinogen). On top of that, high heat causes the chemicals to break down, releasing toxic fumes. Additionally, PFOAs and PTFEs don’t biodegrade – which means they can accumulate in our bodies increasing the risk of damage.

Aluminum

There is some debate over whether aluminum is safe. Aluminum exists in our environment and we all have some amount of aluminum exposure daily. However, research shows that aluminum is toxic at certain levels. Elevated aluminum levels have been linked to everything from anemia and other blood disorders, to ALS and Parkinson’s to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and neurological problems.

Healthier Swaps:

Ceramic coated

Not all ceramic coatings are made equal. Skimp on the cheap ceramic coatings and instead look for one that’s certified by third-party testing and free of PFAs, PFOA, lead, and cadmium. I personally have a few Green Pans and love them! They’re nonstick, affordable and with some care hold up well. Another great option is the Always Pan—the color options are so good!

Ceramic

Ceramic is great as it’s completely inert—meaning it won’t leach any harmful toxins. Ceramic pans are generally free of heavy metals, polymers, coatings, and dyes, plus, they’re dishwasher safe! Easier to wash than cast iron, you can just use warm soapy water. If you’re interested in trying, Xtrema is a great brand to check out. A note: you do have to be more careful with these pans, as they’re more fragile than other types of pots and pans.

Stainless steel

Not all stainless steel is created equal. When shopping you will see numbers like 200, 304, 316, and 430, the higher the number the stronger, longer-lasting it is and the less nickel content it will have. Be sure to use gentle cleaners as harsh cleaners can damage the lining, which then can allow the heavy metals in the core to leach into your food.

Cast iron

This is the OG nontoxic cookware. They take a bit of time to get used to if you’ve never tried them, but work so well once you figure it out and are budget-friendly! Some tips: heat before adding food, avoid soap when cleaning, and season regularly (check out this post for tips for seasoning). There are many methods for cleaning cast irons, but my go-to is scrubbing with some salt and rinsing with water. I then dry thoroughly, drizzle with cooking oil, spread it around, and then set on low heat for a bit to ensure the pan is completely dry.

Glass

The main perk of glass cookware is that there are tons of budget-friendly glass options out there, Pyrex being the most common one. You can find everything from baking dishes, to round soup dishes to loaf pans.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is sometimes used for frying pans and woks. It’s similar to cast iron, and can output small amounts of iron into food, which is great if you happen to have someone with slight anemia in your home!

Porcelain Enamel

Enameled cookware is usually made of cast iron that has been coated in enamel (think Le Creuset). While not perfect in terms of low heavy-metal content, I’d say this is one of the “better” options. The perk of this cookware is that it won’t rust, in contrast, to cast irons, if not properly seasoned. Cleaning is super easy with mild soap, water, and a gentle scrub pad. It is a bit on the pricier side, but your investment will last you a long time!

This post was originally published on May 21, 2020, and has since been updated.

13 comments
  1. 1
    Melissa Alvarado | May 21, 2020 at 11:51 am

    LeCrueset tested high for Cadmium. Check out Tamara Reubens blog, Lead Free Mama. She had it tested and it failed

    Reply
  2. 2
    Sarah | May 21, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    You’re missing wrought iron. Lighter than cast, they don’t break if dropped, vented handles so no burning yourself. They’re perfect for non toxic, non stick! Solidteknics are my fav.

    Reply
    • Hannah Zahner | May 22, 2020 at 10:35 pm

      Oh amazing, good tip! Totally adding wrought iron on my list to check out.

      Reply
  3. 3
    Sarah | May 21, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    You’re missing wrought iron from your list. Lighter than cast, won’t break if dropped, vented handles so handles stay cool. They’ll last forever, non toxic, non stick. Solidteknics is my fav!

    Reply
  4. 4
    Lauren Zielinski | May 22, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    Yes ! We’ve been using only cast iron for years because of this ! I’m really happy to have a guide to other options too – especially now that I’m n the midst of creating a wedding registry!! Thanks for this awesome resource ! I appreciate you ladies talking about environmental toxins too! It’s something I mention a lot to my patients and while some a receptive a lot give me the raised eyebrow – I can’t wait until this becomes more mainstream. Yes yes yes!

    Reply
    • Hannah Zahner | May 22, 2020 at 10:39 pm

      Perfect timing! Wish I could redo my wedding registry with a few of these! 😉 And such a great point – environmental toxins are such an important piece of the wellness puzzle. Your patients are so lucky to have such an aware care provider!

      Reply
  5. 5
    Rachel | October 31, 2020 at 9:40 am

    Hello! I have a question! You mention that stainless steel has different grades, and yes I have seen these numbers. So is it best to avoid the nickel content (is having nickel bad)? I’m not familiar with heavy metals – I don’t know which metals are considered heavy metals and I don’t know which ones are considered harmful. Is the stronger, more expensive stainless steel also
    the least toxic (I wasn’t sure if “better” in kitchen industry terms of quality will also translate to “less toxic”)? Please let me know which type of stainless steel you recommend as the safest!! Thank you for your post! 🙂

    Reply
  6. 6
    Noel | December 2, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    What cookware are you using in the pictures?

    Reply
  7. 7
    Augustine | December 21, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Yes, here in the U.K. The Netherton Foundry in Shropshire make spun iron pots and pans which are brilliant . Much much lighter than cast iron, which as you get older is more difficult to lift. It’s easy to clean and just needs a bit of seasoning with hemp oil and care when hot not to use cold water. But cooks very well, even eggs don’t stick and lovely traditional and attractive styles with videos on the site to show you how to use them,

    Reply
  8. 8
    Yvette | January 18, 2021 at 4:48 pm

    What cookware do you use now? You mentioned Greenpan. Are you still using Greenpan? If so, which line? Thanks for all the info.

    Reply
  9. 9
    Shaira Ombra | March 11, 2021 at 11:52 am

    Hi! Great read. What pot are you using in the second photo with the soup? Thanks!

    Reply
  10. 10
    Stella | March 13, 2021 at 1:55 am

    I have recently began to think ” cookware”, when trying to understand my long term unexplained anaemia. It is now considered endemic. I eat well!
    So, I have begun investing in cast iron. I am glad to hear of other options here. Thank you.
    My question, did you say carbon steel can release iron into your cooking? If so, does cast iron do likewise?
    Secondly, how do nickel plated cutlery stand. Safe or no?
    Thank you, I have been educated.

    Reply
  11. 11
    Chie | March 17, 2021 at 9:05 am

    316Tiis what we are using. Frying without oil and cooking vegetables without water keeping its nutrients intact.

    Reply
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