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My Superhero Foods Guide to Non-Toxic Cookware

Heavy metals leaching has been found in virtually all cookware, even when they are not metal based. Read more to find better solutions for you and your family.

Non-Toxic Cookware Solutions for Families

Choosing the right cookware can be an intimidating and daunting task in today’s world. Pages list “safe” options for non-toxic pans and PFOA-free cookware, but it’s hard to know which companies are just advertising and which ones are making truly chemical-free metals appropriate for cooking. We’ve listed the ins and outs of most cookware on the market and highlighted the best non-toxic materials. 

In breaking down this challenging topic, we hope to make it easier for families to buy the right tools and feel good about their choices. It’s also vital to know what companies, ads, and materials you should absolutely avoid.

It’s imperative to remember that there is no “perfect” cookware out there. Each option has pros and cons. However, some options are vastly better than others. Keep reading until the end to see our recommendations.

Non-Toxic Cookware Cookware spread

How Bad are Non-Stick Pans?

Home cooks should avoid cookware with non-stick coating. Even “safe” coatings on cookware are dangerous because they inevitably wear down.The base materials used in non-stick cookware aren’t meant to touch our food. Once the pan’s base materials are exposed, it’s time to throw that pan out. 

At the bottom of non-stick pots and pans, there are chemicals known as PFOAs and PTFE. When the cookware ages and the coating scratches, rips, or is otherwise exposed, PFOAs leach into our food and enter our bodies. These PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” are linked to many adverse health conditions.

PFOA and PTFE chemicals are linked with congenital disabilities, reproductive defects, and cancer. In addition to cookware, most pesticides, common household cleaning products, food, drugs, dyes, and solvents contain these chemicals. Though PFOAs have been manufactured for half a century, their use became a health concern about 15 years ago. If you’re learning about this for the first time, don’t panic! There are easy switches to make around your home, starting with your pans.

Ingredients to Avoid in Cookware

Use the California proposition 65 List when identifying naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals in your kitchen tools. This list is a great resource to reference when buying products, including new cookware. You may even notice that some cookware and other items have a Prop 65 warning, meaning some ingredients are carcinogenic. 

The most toxic and hazardous chemicals found in cookware from the Prop 65 list are below.


Aluminum is, unfortunately, everywhere in cookware. It is present in aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic cookware (albeit at lower levels.) Despite some cookware claiming to be “aluminum-free,” most cookware has this metal in it. Stainless steel cookware often has an aluminum core. These pans are covered with stainless steel and additional metals, which protect the aluminum from leaching into the food.

Aluminum is bioaccumulative and a known neurotoxin that can lead to neurological disorders. Additionally, aluminum is linked to speech problems, slow growth in children, bone and brain disease, anemia, nervous system trouble, and more.


Cadmium is a heavy metal that also frequently appears in the cookware industry. Cadmium is used to give ceramic cookware a bright, beautiful color. It is bioaccumulative in our bodies and linked to kidney and skeleton damage, causing renal dysfunction and bone demineralization. In particular, kitchen items that are red, orange, or yellow tend to have lead and/or cadmium added intentionally.


Almost every brand on the market claims to be lead-free, but scientific tests show that low levels of lead (below Prop 65 standards) are still found in many cookware products.

Lead exposure is linked to anemia, weakness, kidney damage, and brain damage. At very high levels, lead exposure is likely to result in death. Lead can enter our body by breathing, swallowing, or absorbing lead particles. In our bodies, lead is stored in our bones, blood, and tissues.

In general, lead affects children more than it does adults.

Nanoparticles in 

 Ceramic Coatings

Recently, ceramic coatings have been shown to leach nanoparticles. Nano titanium dioxide is hazardous and linked to immune system disruption and pre-cancerous lesions in the gut. This applies to ceramic and enameled cookware with non-stick coating, which most brands use. Nanoparticles are dangerous because they are tiny, which allows them to enter most areas of the body.

Non-stick coatings (PFAS)

Most people are aware of the toxicity in non-stick cookware, aka Teflon and Teflon-like cookware. These toxics, or PFAS, are termed “forever chemicals” because of their inability to break down in the environment. The EPA describes PFAS as “likely carcinogenic.” 

Fluoropolymers used in non-stick coatings increase the chance of developing tumors in the liver, testicles, mammary glands, and pancreas in lab animals. Additionally, PFAS are linked to a growing number of diseases and symptoms, including a reduction in immunity, increased risk of allergies and asthma in young children, cardiovascular disease, endocrine disruption, and more! 

Avoiding Non-Stick with Non-Toxic Cookware Solutions

Cookware to Avoid

To make matters more complicated, many cookware brands claim to be “PFOA-Free”; however, they have other types of PFAS in their non-stick coating, which may be just as detrimental to our health. You should generally avoid the following cookware because of the negative health impacts associated with each:

  • Non-stick cookware – Includes PFAS 
  • Aluminum cookware – These heavy metals leach into food
  • Enameled aluminum cookware – Contains nanoparticles
  • Hard-anodized aluminum cookware – Another material laden with heavy metals
  • Enameled hard-anodized aluminum – Nanoparticles may enter your system
  • Enameled cast iron – Has nanoparticles that are dangerous to humans
  • Soapstone – This product has traces of asbestos 
  • Unlined copper cookware – Potential heavy metals in material
  • Stoneware and porcelain bakeware – Different types of heavy metals
  • Silicone bakeware – Has not been proven safe as of this time

Aluminum Cookware

Avoid all aluminum cookware. Aluminum leaches into food very quickly, and for this reason, it should be avoided. Most cookware brands have an aluminum line marketed as safe and well-made, yet many of these are not as tested as you think.

Approved & Safe Cookware (With Some Caveats)

Cast Iron Cookware

In general, uncoated cast iron cookware is safe and recommended. Though they do contain metals like chromium and nickel, they do not leach into your food as much as other cookware. When a cast iron pan is well-seasoned, it can be nearly nonstick and the seasoning acts as a “coating” between your food and the pan. Seasoning a cast iron pan is essential to its effectiveness in your kitchen. 

Cast iron contains ferric iron, which can deplete vitamin C levels, so rotating between cast iron and stainless steel can be helpful. Cooking acidic foods, like tomatoes or tomato sauce, in cast iron can increase the release of iron from the pan. Acids can also hinder the seasoning of your pan. I would not recommend cooking tomato sauce in a cast iron, but a little lemon or vinegar here and there won’t hurt. 

Cast iron pans have been around for a long time, and you can often find vintage pans at antique or thrift shops that just need to be reseasoned and they are good as new. 

Our favorite affordable brand for a new cast iron pan is Lodge, and this is a beautiful, affordable set. Remember that it might take a little bit of time to work in a good seasoning on the less expensive, new cast iron pans. Avoid Lodge’s ceramic-enameled brand. As a general rule, avoiding all ceramic-enameled pots and pans is a good idea. If you’re looking for a higher quality cast iron option, Field pans are very well-made and lighter than older cast irons. We’d pick it over Le Crueset any day.

Stainless Steel Cookware

In general, stainless steel cookware is safe to use. Damaged stainless steel cookware should be discarded because it leaches aluminum. The quality of the stainless steel matters. High-quality, surgical-grade stainless steel is the best type of non-toxic cookware solution for metal migration.

The 5-ply stainless steel cookware by Viking is American-made and high quality. One of my favorite pans is the Viking 5-Ply stainless steel, Saute Pan. It is versatile and can go in the oven.

Avoid any non-stick pans, even if they are stainless steel.

Carbon steel cookware

Lodge has a carbon steel skillet that we consider safe. Carbon steel is similar to cast iron, but it contains more iron. It is also more lightweight compared to cast iron.

Ceramic cookware

Ceramic is concerning because of the glazes that coat the outside of ceramic cookware. These glazes are fragile and tend to chip away after long-term use. That leaves the base materials leaching into your food. As an additional concern, quasi-ceramic brands marketed as “green” or “healthy” cookware can contain nanoparticle coating. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles can leach from quasi-ceramic non-stick coatings.

Mamavation, an impressive company that has thoroughly investigated every category of cookware and bakeware, doesn’t recommend any ceramic-enameled cookware products at all. The ONLY ceramic cookware line they consider safe is Xtrema. Some “green” ceramic cookware brands didn’t contain PFAS, but they were coated with silicon dioxide ceramic.

salt plates

While this cookware is a bit niche, it is a cool option. Chemical-free and non-toxic, salt will not leach anything besides a little salt into your food! The salt plate acts similar to a pizza stone. It can be slowly heated and cooked on. It does take a bit more time as it needs to be heated slowly in order not to crack, so this is a good option if you have some extra time to spend in the kitchen.

Common Questions:

As long as there are no coatings on the glass, glass bakeware is generally considered safe. Be cautious about moving glass cookware from hot environments to cold. Avoid any non-stick glass and buy only uncoated glass products. Glasslock makes a convenient set that is BPA free, eco-friendly, and recyclable, which is great for storing leftovers.

Le Creuset is considered the creme de la creme in cookware, especially if the price is anything to go by. Unfortunately, toxic metals have been found in Le Creuset cookware. Lead and cadmium were found in measurable amounts in Le Creuset food contact surfaces. Additionally, three Le Creuset products discovered high levels of aluminum when used to cook acidic foods.

Heavy metal leaching has been found in virtually all cookware, even when they are not metal based. Investing in quality stainless steel and cast iron pans and rotating between them is most ideal.

To Summarize:

Heavy metal leaching has been found in virtually all cookware, even when they are not metal based. Investing in high quality stainless steel and cast iron pans and rotating between them is most ideal. 

Make sure to read the manual on how to best take care of your pans to avoid cuts and scrapes to the cookware. This likely means avoiding the dishwasher, even if it says dishwasher safe. Avoid metal utensils like spatulas; they have the potential to scratch your cookware and cause it to break down easier. Avoid stacking pans on top of each other, as this may cause scratches. 

In most cases, seasoning cast iron with an oil every 3-4 months is recommended. 

Pay close attention to cooking with acidic foods, like tomato sauce. These acidic foods can exacerbate leaching. Often it is best to remove acid foods and rinse soon after cooking, rather than letting it sit in the pan. Some brands recommend letting your pan cool before putting it under water. Read the manual for individual tips and follow closely to preserve the life of your cookware.

Good luck!