An In-Depth Guide to Detoxing Your Dangerous Cookware

An In-depth Guide to Detoxing Your Dangerous Cookware

It’s very important to detox the dangerous cookware lurking in your kitchen, but safer cookware is pretty hard to find these days with all the new-fangled products and their weird science coatings. Lucky for you, we got a little obsessed about finding truly healthy options, so we dug through every piece of information we could find on the most popular and widely-available types of cookware out there and came up with a lot of usable knowledge.

Remember, if your cookware’s worn out, throw it out! Any scratches or peeling could be exposing you and your family to heavy metals that can readily leach into your food.


Dangerous Cookware Materials to Avoid

PFOA and PTFE-Coated Non-Stick Cookware (Dupont Teflon)

Non-stick Teflon-coated metal pans contain a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE). Fumes released from PTFE-coated non-stick cookware are toxic at high temperatures and have caused people to develop flu-like symptoms called “Teflon Flu.” These fumes are also deadly to birds.

According to the Environmental Working Group,

PFCs (the family of chemicals that includes PTFE) have been found in nearly all Americans tested by federal public health officials. Chemicals from this family are associated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is another synthetic chemical used in the process of making Teflon with PTFE. It’s a bioaccumulative and environmentally-persistent toxin, building up in the body and lasting extremely long periods of time in the environment. The presence of PFOA has also been found in nearly all Americans, and when studied in the lab was found to increase the incidents of tumors of the liver, testicles, mammary glands, and pancreas.

Aluminum

Aluminum is bioaccumulative and has been identified as a neurotoxin, and there’s evidence to support the theory that chronic exposure to low levels of aluminum may lead to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s. It’s likely that older people have a potentially pathological accumulation of aluminium in their brain due to exposure over a lifetime. Aluminum cookware contributes to this accumulation.

According to Mount Sinai Hospital,

Aluminum toxicity can cause:

  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone pain, deformities, and fractures
  • Seizures
  • Speech problems
  • Slow growth—in children

Complications of aluminum toxicity may include:

  • Lung problems
  • Nervous system problems causing difficulty with voluntary and involuntary actions
  • Bone diseases
  • Brain diseases and disorders
  • Anemia
  • Impaired iron absorption

Unlined Copper

It’s safer to steer clear of unlined copper cookware because of the likelihood that it will release copper and nickel during cooking.

Ceramic-Enameled Aluminum Cookware and Crockpots

These we don’t recommend. In all of our research, we were unable to unearth a single option that we feel comfortable recommending. Why? Most companies don’t provide any evidence that their ceramic coatings are free of heavy metals like lead and cadmium. And secondly, many of these ceramic coatings are too fragile for long-term use and tend to scratch and chip away leaving bare aluminum, and non-anodized aluminum immediately starts contaminating the food.

In our experience so far, you’re more likely to find lead in brightly colored – especially red – ceramic coated cookware.

Worried about lead in your crockpot? We recommend testing it with a 3M LeadCheck Swab for peace of mind. We just tested our Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Slow Cooker and it was negative for lead.

How to Test for Lead In Your Crockpot


Safer Cookware Materials to Use Instead

Pressure/Slow Cookers

Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to confirm the safety of any conventional slow cookers. There are currently no companies that conduct third-party testing on the ceramic glazed inserts for the presence of heavy metals. We’ll continue searching and pressing for information, and update this list as new information is uncovered.

The closest we’ve come to the conventional slow cooker is two types of uncoated stainless steel versions, and the VitaClay and Instant Pot Multi-Cookers. Both the VitaClay and Instant Pot are capable of slow cooking and pressure cooking, and free of heavy metals AND flame retardants.

Ceramic

Ceramcor makes the Xtrema line of cookware, and get this, all products are free of lead, cadmium and toxic heavy metals, PFOA and PTFE-free, non-scratch, non-toxic, non-metal 100% solid ceramic cookware inside and out — our favorite cookware by far. Read about our experiences with Xtrema HERE, and see for yourself why we highly recommend it.

We also located three lines of stoneware and porcelain bakeware confirmed free of heavy metals.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is our most frequent recommendation. Pre-seasoned cast iron cookware is safe, multi-tasking and will last a lifetime if cared for properly. Unseasoned cast iron is acceptable as well, but a good, thick seasoning protects food from sticking and burning, and from taking up too much iron. This can happen when acidic foods like tomatoes are cooked in under-seasoned cast iron cookware, so it’s common to use other types of cookware for this purpose.

Our favorite pre-seasoned cast iron cookware is made by Lodge. It’s affordable and available almost everywhere.

Enameled Cast Iron

Enameled cast iron is beautiful with it’s decorative colors and glossy finishes, but not all enamels are created the same. It’s important to check with the manufacturer for the presence of heavy metals like lead and cadmium in enamel glazes before purchasing an item. It appears that many brightly colored ceramic glazes have cadmium as an ingredient, however, it seems to be present on the outside of the cookware, never touching the food. We found only two companies addressing this concern at all, Lodge and Le Creuset.

From Lodge regarding their enamel glaze:

Lodge utilizes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Test Procedure 7.5.1.4a Leachability of Lead and Cadmium for Glazed Ceramic Surfaces. The FDA Division of Compliance Programs uses ASTM-C738 as the Standard Method of Test for glazed ceramic. In addition to information provided by vendors, Lodge Manufacturing Company uses third party testing to ensure that products with the Lodge name comply with standards set forth by the USDA.

From Le Creuset:

Cadmium and lead are two elements under strict control in the cookware industry. Our position today for the entire production process is to be in compliance with California Proposal 65 which is the most rigid standard in the world for these elements (approx. 10 times lower than “acceptable” limits). Lead is NOT used in our recipes and for cadmium a special anti-acid enamel fritt is used which will not release the cadmium pigment during cooking. Cadmium is used for coloration purposes in achieving bright exterior colors such as Flame and Cherry. The interior enamel which makes contact with food is either sand, white, or black.

Our determination is that Lodge and Le Creuset enameled cast iron is safe to use since their products have been subjected to third-party testing for heavy metal leaching.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is lighter than cast iron with its safe carbon-added formulation, and it’s often used in place of heavy pots and pans, especially in restaurants. Many carbon steel pans are unseasoned, so our go-to recommendation is once again Lodge for their fabulous line of pre-seasoned carbon steel products.

Stainless Steel

Uncoated stainless steel is inert making it one of our top cookware recommendations. It’s extremely long-lasting and it won’t rust like cast iron. Avoid scouring and scratching stainless steel cookware and it’ll last for many years, however, wear down does eventually occur and stainless steel cookware should be replaced as needed to avoid the possibility of leaching heavy metals like nickel and chromium.

Enameled Stainless Steel

Enameled stainless steel cookware can be a catch 22 just like enameled cast iron. The real concern is the composition of the ceramic glaze enamel, especially in regards to non-stick chemicals and heavy metals. We confirmed four acceptable options, free of toxins. The Granite Ware products in the list below are made of thin steel and enamel coating that seems somewhat fragile, so we expect a shorter lifespan from these products.

Stainless Steel-Lined Copper

Stainless steel-lined copper cookware is an excellent choice with its safe food-contact materials and even heating. Cookware with a copper core between layers of steel is effective and safe as well with both options shielding food from coming into direct contact with copper.

Hard-Anodized Aluminum

Hard-anodized aluminum is electrochemically-hardened aluminum made through a process of submerging the aluminum in a sulfuric acid bath while applying low electrical charges to the liquid, exposing it to oxygen and applying much stronger electrical charges thereby creating a very hard outer layer of inert aluminum. And while anodized aluminum isn’t easily scratched or chipped, it can become worn over time which can expose the non-anodized aluminum underneath.

Overall, there’s very little evidence proving the long-term safety of anodized aluminum cookware, so our questions remain. How thick is the hard anodized outer layer? How do I know when I’ve worn through it and reached the untreated aluminum? As of now, it seems to be a person-to-person judgment call. It’s likely that anodized aluminum cookware is safe, at least for a while, but the lifespan may not be as long as we’d like it to be.

So far, ManPans is the only line of anodized aluminum cookware that we can recommend because of its unique formulation. According to ManPans, there’s a safe, two-layer sapphire/quartz-like natural mineral finish permanently bonded to their hard-anodized aluminum pans that won’t flake, chip or rub off and is metal utensil safe.

Ceramic-Enameled Hard-Anodized Aluminum

We found one line of ceramic-enameled hard-anodized aluminum cookware, GreenPan (also GreenLife). This cookware is coated with a substance called Thermolon, which checks out as safe and appears to be durable. Our only drawback is the aluminum pan itself — again with the hard-adonization (see above).

Titanium

Titanium is a metal that’s totally inert and perfectly suited for cooking. It’s more durable than stainless steel, but usually quite costly due to the limited amount of available titanium. There are only a few acceptable, truly titanium cookware options, and they’re meant for on-the-go use. The others consist of a titanium-composite coating over cast aluminum (non-anodized) or a ceramic-titanium mixture, neither of which could be confirmed free of heavy metals.

Glass

Uncoated glass cookware and bakeware have been around forever. It’s not the most ideal stovetop material because it doesn’t heat very evenly and everything sticks to it, however, we’ve found glass saucepans and bakeware to be quite useful in the kitchen. Steer clear of non-stick glass cookware because the coating is likely toxic, and be sure not to use older glassware since it frequently contains lead.

Clay

Clay cookware is our newest discovery. Clay products can be more fragile than other cookware and pretty pricey, but we’re sold on the benefits of clay cooking and can’t wait to get our hands on a piece or two. It’s important to avoid clay cookware with unknown enamel coating because it can contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, but there are several safe clay options available now, both glazed and unglazed.

Soapstone

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock that’s well-suited for cooking and has been used for millenia. Soapstone cookware is made of a softer rock called Steatite, and needs to be cured through a simple process of oiling, drying, heating and cooling. The nice thing about soapstone is that it has no taste, it’s naturally non-stick, rustproof and doesn’t leach toxins during cooking. It heats very evenly with its thick walls and retains much of its heat when removed from the stove. Soapstone cookware can keep food warm for an hour after it’s removed from heat.

Silicone

We really like silicone, but the jury’s still kinda-sorta out on the safety of silicone bakeware. We use it at times, but it’s hard to say definitively that silicone is perfectly safe to use when heated because there have been no real tests confirming or denying it. If you do choose silicone bakeware, it’s important to select only 100% food-grade silicone products since it’s the safest, most inert silicone material.

Dr. Weil says,

Silicone appears to be safe. It is an inert material – nothing used in its manufacture will leach into foods. So far, no safety problems have been reported, but if you’re concerned, stick to silicone kitchen tools (such as spatulas) and avoid bakeware.

Bamboo

Bamboo is a wonderfully sustainable material, but its lifespan is short-lived because of it’s somewhat fragile nature in the cooking setting and there really seems to be only one place it excels: steamers. However, we couldn’t confirm or deny that bamboo steamers are made with toxic formaldehyde glue, so there are no recommendations at this time.

Our Top 24 Safer Cookware Choices

 
Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
Le Creuset Stoneware
Lodge Cast Iron Cookware
Xtrema Ceramic 2-handled Skillet
Xtrema Ceramic Dutch Oven
Vitaclay Multi-Cooker
Instant Pot Pressure Cooker
Staub Cookware
Visions Cookware
Glasslock Bakeware
Creo SmartGlass Bakeware
La Chamba Clay Cookware
Magma Enameled Stainless Steel Cookware
Lodge Carbon Steel Cookware
Carbon Steel Woks
King Kooker Cast Iron Cookware
Stainless Steel Vegetable Steamers
ExcelSteel Copper Stainless Steel Cookware
ManPans
HealthPro Titanium Cookware
Soapstone Burger Grill Press
Cuisinart Stainless Steel Cookware
Chantal Enameled Stainless Steel Cookware
Chantal Glazed Clay Bakeware
 

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  • Jessie Green

    Thanks for this list! However, I would love to know your suggestions about how to realistically detox kitchen equipment. Kitchen stuff is not cheap, and of course, what you recommend is top of the line (obviously, and with good reason) which could be cost prohibitive for a lot of people. I know that I can’t just dump a whole bunch of pots pans and slow cookers in the trash and go out and buy all new. I would love to, but, you know. The money thing. So- what are your recommendations for an already stocked kitchen? If pieces had to be changed out slowly, what are the priorities?
    Thanks! And thanks again for all of your research!

    • Hi Jessie, We totally understand! It was our goal to find products that most people could afford, but that turned out to be more difficult than we’d hoped, however, there are quite a few accessible options in the guide (several available at local stores), especially if you buy one piece at a time.

      A good place to start is whatever piece you use the most. For me, it’d be a large skillet first, then a large saucepan, a stockpot, and other pieces after that. And as we always say, even the smallest changes can make a big difference, so exchanging even one piece of toxic cookware for a safer one is good progress! ~Laura

      • Jessie Green

        Is there anything that can be done to make non-safe cookware more safe if replacements can’t readily be made? Like someone else asked about a liner for a slow cooker. Are there any ways to make some things safer?

        • Sorry, Jessie. We don’t know of any way to make non-safe cookware safer. As for slow cooker liners, the materials are mostly unknown, but manufacturers say they’re made of “nylon resins.” At this point, there’s not enough data to confirm their safety either way. ~Laura

          • Jessie Green

            Thanks so much for your info. my kitchen isn’t too bad, I teach workshops on healthy living and just want to be sure I have all the right info to pass on. Thanks again! Your site and blog are so helpful!!!

          • We’re happy to help! We love that you’re helping others about healthy living. Fantastic! ~Laura

  • Anya | Prepare & Nourish

    Very good information to have. It’s always a wonderful reassurance to know I’ve been doing *this* right at least. We tossed our teflons years ago. My favorite are glass, cast iron and stainless steel. 🙂

  • Lisa

    I got an Instant Pot and love it! I also use stainless steel and glass for most of the rest. Thanks for posting this!

    • You’re very welcome, Lisa! We’re hearing all sorts of rave reviews about the Instant Pot. Good stuff! ~Laura

  • Veronica Nelson

    I wonder if there is a safe liner or something that can be placed in the crockpot? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!!

    • Hi Veronica, Slow cooker liners are said to be made of BPA-free “nylon resins,” but manufacturers aren’t willing to disclose their proprietary ingredients lists at this time. We’re on the lookout for safer verifiable alternatives, but we don’t have any at this point. During our research, we submitted several information requests to companies asking about any chemical migration regarding their slow cooker liners, but we have yet to receive a response. We’ll update this guide as new information becomes available. ~Laura

  • dr victoria

    What about scottpan? U did not mention them at all?

  • Sam Warren

    You said: “be sure not to use older glassware since it frequently contains lead.”

    What, exactly do you mean by “older”? Over 10 years old? 20? 50? 100? I mean, I don’t use lead crystal for this reason, but regular glassware? Pyrex too?

    Sorry for all the questions, but I thought this was a relatively safe one, and I’d really like to know if I should be getting rid of my parents’ stuff I’ve been using and replacing it. I’d hate to have to as most of the new stuff I could afford isn’t nearly as nice, but I will if I must.

    Thanks for this and all you do.

    • Hi Sam, It’s hard to pinpoint an exact timeline on leaded glass, but I’d say be careful of inherited glassware. Of course, if it’s older, beautiful and crystal-like there’s a very real possibility of lead presence, such as the lead crystal you mentioned. There is, however, an easy way to find out if your glassware is lead-safe, and that’s by using an inexpensive 3M instant lead test on it. You can pick them up at just about any hardware store, or online: http://amzn.to/23ugTDB. ~Laura

  • Hi Leslie, Lining with paper baking cups is better, but you’re right, it does off-gas. I use a plain stainless steel muffin pan. I love using the liners for easy cleanup, but it’s not necessary for the purpose of avoiding toxins since stainless steel is inert. ~Laura

  • Lorean

    Any thoughts on Salad Master cookware?

    • Hi Lorean, We haven’t researched SaladMaster, but I did a quick check of their website and they appear to have good quality, stainless steel products (unlined, uncoated), however, I couldn’t find enough information online to make a full judgment. ~Laura

  • Hi Krissy, Yes, it was common to add at least one lead ingredient (i.e. lead oxide) to vintage glassware at the time, including Pyrex. To be safe, I’d use a 3M instant lead test on your Pyrex to determine if your pieces are lead-safe. ~Laura

  • Carl Botefuhr

    Thank You! I am thrilled that you did the research, and even more thrilled that you are entertaining questions. Here are some that I have not been able to find non-toxic (and functional) opinions on. I’d love to hear your thoughts on EVACO/CAST, Zwilling ceramic, Kuhn Rikon, Tramontine ceramic, Darna and Neoflam, QuanTanium, Gastorlux Biotan. I also wonder why all my old iron is as smooth as a, well, smooth as a smooth thing, and the new stuff (Lodge) is all bumpy. Comments? Answers or not, THANK YOU for doing the work.

    • Hi Carl, We’re thrilled you found our guide useful! We haven’t researched any of the brands you mentioned (except for Lodge of course), so I can’t say whether they’re acceptable or not. We hope to add more approved brands in the future, but our main goal is to help folks make informed decisions about materials when looking at a new cookware purchase.

      As for the cast iron, I imagine companies have varying ways of manufacture that contribute to the product texture. It’s probably possible that older cast iron wears down little by little over time as well. ~Laura

      • Carl Botefuhr

        If I could not find smooth vintage cast iron, I’d have a new pan/skillet milled or ground down. Lodge says that over time theirs will get smoother. I think smooth is good. Anyway, I am still researching and hope to see you future work. Thanks for this article. It helped give me a leg up.

  • What a fabulous thorough guide! I am so pleased to see all of my cookware on here. Definitely pinning for my own future reference : )

  • Lori Popkewitz Alper

    Fantastic in depth review of cookware. Thank you! This can be such a confusing topic for most of us. There’s so much to choose from and so much to know before selecting safe options.

  • Enamel pots have always been a mystery for me. I have used stainless for 20+ years. Now I am also using Lodge’s iron pans and the Instant Pot. I do a slow cooker which worries me but I don’t see any scratches. Is there a way to test your slow cooker?

    • Yes, there is! An easy way to find out if your cookware is lead-safe is by using an inexpensive 3M instant lead test on it. You can pick one up at just about any hardware store, or online: http://amzn.to/23ugTDB ~Laura

  • Those are great suggestions, Jen! It’s definitely a good idea to practice safe techniques when using cookware that’s not ideally safe. ~Laura

  • Raia Torn

    This is such important info! Thank you so much for sharing it at Savoring Saturdays! I hope you’ll come back and share with us again!

    • Thanks so much for having us Raia! Thrilled to know that such a great resource is out there with Savoring Saturdays 🙂

  • I returned VitaClay because I wasn’t sure about their clay. They only indicate that it’s lead free but couldn’t tell me exactly what’s in the clay. Since it’s from a specific region in China, I wanted to know but they couldn’t tell me, other than that they comply with CA prop 65. There were other concerned comments on Amazon’s page, asking the same but no real answer. Also, rice sticks to the clay, leaving marks. Obviously, the delicate nature of unglazed clay was also an issue. I have Instant Pot now and I love it for making rice in its Stainless Steel pot.

  • Courtney Sullivan Homer

    Thank you for this excellent research! I’m on the hunt for a new griddle and a new waffle iron. Any recommendations?

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