When to Throw Away Non-Stick Pans? 5 Telltale Signs

A person frying bacon in a pan

Can’t remember how long you’ve had that non-stick skillet hanging above your oven? That is one sign that you might need help knowing when to throw away non-stick pans.

Non-stick pans are coated in either Teflon or ceramic-based material. The coating on the pan makes the pan easy to clean and prevents food from sticking to the surface. 

So what’s the problem?

These non-stick pan coatings break down over time, which means they are less effective and they may also be leaving flakes of non-stick coating in your food (gross). Before you throw away your non-stick pan, it’s important to understand what damages non-stick pans and what are the clear signs that it’s time to replace them.

What Damages Non-Stick Pans?

Non-stick pans do not last forever. Teflon coated non-stick pans last about five years with proper care and use, and ceramic-coated non-stick pans last about three.

Notice we said with proper care and use.

In reality, you might be damaging your non-stick pans without even realizing it. Here are some ways you might be damaging your non-stick pans and how you can avoid them.

Using Cooking Spray

You shouldn’t use cooking spray on a non-stick pan.

Cooking sprays create a build up in the pan that can be difficult to remove and ruins the surface.

If you really need your non-stick pan to be, well, more non-stick, you can use butter or oil.

Overheating

Teflon non-stick coating begins to degrade at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Ceramic-based non-stick coatings begin to degrade at 850 degrees Fahrenheit.

When using non-stick pans, keep the heat at medium or lower to protect the non-stick surface.

To avoid warping and other safety concerns, check the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website before using non-stick pans in the oven. Or, just err on the side of caution and don’t use them in the oven at all.

Submerging Your Hot Pan in Cold Water

Submerging your non-stick pan in cold water when it’s still hot can cause the pan to warp. A warped non-stick pan won’t sit flush on your stove, causing food to cook unevenly.

Avoid warping your non-stick pans by letting them cool completely before washing, and always gently wash the pan using warm, soapy water after every use.

Using the Wrong Cooking Utensils

No metal utensils (tongs, silverware, etc.) should ever touch the surface of a non-stick pan. When we say ever, we mean it! Using metal utensils on a non-stick pan is one of the most common ways people ruin them.

Metal utensils will scratch and scrape the non-stick coating, causing it to break down quicker. 

Stick to wood or heat-resistant silicone cooking utensils.

Wooden cooking utensils arranged on a wooden tabletop
These wooden utensils are safe to use on non-stick pans

Improper Care and Storage

Storing non-stick pans near other abrasive objects risks them scratching the non-stick surface.

We recommend hanging non-stick pans – but if you want to stack your non-stick pans put a towel, oven mitt, or pan protectors between them to protect the non-stick surface. 

Is it Safe to Use a Damaged Non-Stick Pan?

Some people throw away their non-stick pans the second they notice a scratch, while others continue to use their non-stick pans even after they’re covered in scrapes and scratches.

But is it safe to use a damaged non-stick pan?

Yes. The concerns around damaged non-stick pans arose from a chemical used in Teflon pans known as PFOA, which was associated with cancer in high-exposure communities.

PFOA was phased out in 2015. And, according to a recent study, the small amount of PFOAs present in any Teflon coating flakes are unlikely to cause any harm.

That said, use a common-sense approach when it comes to damaged non-stick pans and toss any with deep or numerous scratches or abrasions.

5 Ways to Know When to Throw Away Non-Stick Pans

The good news is that it’s not difficult to figure out when to throw away non-stick pans. In fact, the only tool you’ll need to figure out if it’s time to retire your non-stick pan is your eyeballs.

5 of the most obvious ways to know when to throw away non-stick pans include:

The Pan is Warped

A warped non-stick pan won’t cause any health risks, but it could impact the quality of your food.

Warping usually occurs when pans are heated to a high temperature and then cooled very quickly. The most common way this happens is when you remove a pan from high heat and then stick it under cooler water to wash it before it is properly cooled.

A warped non-stick pan won’t sit flush on your stovetop and won’t heat evenly, which means your meals won’t cook evenly, either.

To test if your non-stick pan is warped, set the pan on a flat surface and press the handle up and down to see if it wobbles. If it does, it might be time to replace your pan.

There are Significant Scratches

I used to use metal utensils on my non-stick pans before I knew any better, and as a result they were quickly covered in scratches.

I also used to cut up meals in the non-stick pan, also a big no-no.

Any time you have scratches inside of your non-stick pans you risk having the coating itself begin to flake off.

While it is unlikely to have cause ill health effects, having little black flakes of Teflon in your food is pretty unappetizing in our opinion.

You can avoid scratching your non-stick pans by investing in a quality set of wood or heat-resistant silicone cooking utensils.

You See Dark Discoloration

Discoloration on non-stick pans is normal – it’s caused by the buildup of food over time. Some light discoloration is expected, but once the discoloration darkens it can mean that the non-stick coating is irreversibly damaged.

You can prevent the buildup of food from ruining the non-stick coating by properly caring for your non-stick pans. Wash your non-stick pans gently in warm, soapy water after every use to prevent excessive buildup.

The Pan's Handle is Loose, Melted, or Broken

Your non-stick pan’s coating might not start to degrade until 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but the handles on non-stick pans are often made of plastic that will melt at a much lower temperature.

Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to your non-stick pans if you want to use them in the oven so you don’t accidentally melt the handles.

If the handle of your non-stick pan has melted, it is no longer safe to use and needs to be replaced.

Similarly, if you have a non-stick pan with a broken or loose handle that can’t be fixed with a screwdriver, it’s time to say goodbye.

The Core of the Pan is Visible

Most non-stick pans are constructed of an aluminum core coated with either a Teflon or ceramic-based non-stick coating.

If the core of your non-stick pan is visible it is a sure sign that it is time to replace it.

How do You Dispose of a Non-Stick Pan?

Your non-stick pan served you well, but now it’s ready for retirement.

It might be easy to know when to throw away non-stick pans, but it’s not always obvious how to get rid of them. Should you throw your non-stick pan in the trash and move on?

While this is certainly an option, it’s not the best one. Here are better ways to dispose of a non-stick pan.

Donate to Families in Need

A good non-stick pan can be prohibitively expensive for some families. If your non-stick pan is in gently used condition consider donating it.

There are numerous organizations you can donate your non-stick pans to, including Goodwill and Salvation Army.

If you want to keep it local, contact your neighborhood churches and shelters to see if they accept donations.

Recycle Your Non-Stick Pan

There is a lot of confusion around whether non-stick pans can be recycled. Non-stick pans can be recycled, you just need to make sure that you specifically confirm that non-stick pans can be recycled when you are checking with different organizations since it is the coating that makes the process more complicated.

Your curbside recycling company may be able to recycle your non-stick pans for you and handle breaking down the non-stick coating, but you’ll need to call them and find out.

If your curbside recycling program can’t recycle your non-stick pan, find a local scrap yard. Most local scrap yards will be more than happy to recycle your old non-stick pan.

Finally, if you’re purchasing new a new non-stick pan you might be able to use a mail-in program to recycle your old non-stick pan like Made-In’s Recycling Program.

Man standing by a truck in a metal scrap yard
Scrap yards would love to take your old pans

Non-stick coatings have a limited lifespan even with perfect use, and at some point you’ll need to decide when to throw away non-stick pans. For some people that might be once they notice a single scratch, while for others it might be after a few years of vigorous use.

No matter your preference, we advise keeping an eye on your non-stick pans and using common-sense when it comes to replacing them.

We’d like to hear from you when to throw away non-stick pans – let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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