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 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:
- Muscle weakness
- Bone pain, deformities, and fractures
- 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
- Impaired iron absorption
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 they’re 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.
Safer Cookware Materials to Use Instead
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.
- VitaClay Multi-Cooker
- Instant Pot Multi-Cooker
- 360 Cookware Stainless Steel Slow Cookers
- Precise Heat Electric Skillet/Slow Cooker
- Presto Stainless Steel Pressure Cookers
- T-fal Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
- VonShef Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
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 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 220.127.116.11a 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 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.
- Lodge Pre-Seasoned
- Joyce Chen Uncoated
- Paderno Unseasoned
- Carbon Steel Woks
- CasaWare Enameled Carbon Steel Bakeware
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.
- Vegetable Steamers
- Le Creuset
- Stainless Steel Woks
- Stainless Steel Baking Sheets
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 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 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.
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.
- Visions Cookware
- Pyrex Bakeware
- Anchor Hocking Bakeware
- Glasslock Bakeware
- Libbey Bakeware
- Creo SmartGlass Bakeware
- Simax Bakeware
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 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.
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.
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 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.