Non-stick cookware is easy to use and even easier to clean up. But, did you know that you might be using it wrong?
In this article, we’ll share comprehensive tips on how to season, use, clean, and store your non-stick pots and pans so that you can get the most out of it for years to come.
First Step: Read the Directions for Your Brand New Non-Stick Cookware
Did you know that your non-stick cookware likely came with directions? Each branded cookware is slightly different, so your first step when unboxing any new non-stick cookware item is to read the instructions.
If you’ve already tossed yours in the garbage, no problem! Just Google “instructions + (brand and model name),” and you can locate a copy online. (Here’s an example of instructions for the Red Copper Square Pan, so you can have a better idea of the type of document you’re looking for.)
How to Season a Non-Stick Frying Pan
Because non-stick coatings are prone to wearing off, some manufacturers suggest that you season your pan before use and that you repeat the seasoning process two times per year for the life of the pan.
Pro tip: Throughout the guide, you’ll notice we frequently suggest referring to the manufacturer’s guidelines, as there can be meaningful differences in the proper use and care for cookware—including this initial seasoning step. In fact, some manufacturers expressly instruct customers not to season the brand’s nonstick pans.
And even in instances where seasoning is recommended, not all non-stick cookware is heat-tolerant to the same degree. For example, some products instruct you to season them in the oven at 300°F for twenty minutes, others on the stovetop at medium for five.
If the company recommends seasoning, though, just like with a cast iron pan, the purpose is to cause a chemical reaction called polymerization, whereby smaller molecules are combined to create larger ones.
Specifically, LeafTV’s David Shaw explains that this “fills the penetrable cooking surface with carbonized oil” and “forms a protective barrier against oxidation,” prevents “rust from accumulating on the pan's surface,” and prolongs its shelf life.
Here’s how to season non-stick cookware:
- Wash and dry your non-stick skillet, ensuring that no moisture remains.
- Dab vegetable or canola oil (avoid cooking sprays, since they can form a film that reduces performance over time) onto a paper towel and spread a thin coating over the interior of the pan.
- Expose the pan to heat as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Once cool, wipe off any excess oil with paper towels.
Once again, if you’re in doubt about the appropriate heat setting, be sure to locate and read the pan’s instructions on the manufacturer’s website, or contact their support department directly.
Can I Use Non-Stick Pans With My Stovetop?
Here, we’ve categorized stovetops by how they heat your cookware and shared some specific tips for using non-stick:
Gas and Electric Coil Stovetops
Gas and electric coil stovetops generate heat using a flame or a heated metal, which is then transferred to the base of a pot or pan through a process known as thermal conduction.
All non-stick cookware can be used safely on a gas or electric stovetop, provided you don’t cook over high heat (570°F or higher, according to Healthline, although most manufacturers will recommend much lower temps). Instead, keep the burner set to medium or lower when cooking in a non-stick pan.
Smooth Electric Cooktops
Smooth electric cooktops work just like their electric coil predecessors, except that the top surface is covered with a smooth piece of ceramic glass to give it a sleeker appearance.
The same rules apply here: Smooth electric cooktops work equally well with non-stick cookware; just make sure to keep the heat at medium or below. For the best results, a flat-bottom pan can provide maximum thermal conduction.
Induction cooktops look like smooth electric cooktops on the surface but work very differently. Namely, they don’t generate heat.
Instead, induction burners have a coiled wire just below the ceramic surface, which generates an oscillating magnetic field. Compared to flames and coils that transfer heat, the magnetic field generated by induction cooktops heats the magnetic metal inside the cookware directly, which can result in faster heating times and more even cooking temperatures.
So, if you have an induction cooktop, you’re limited to purchasing cookware that’s made from a magnetic metal. Meaning aluminum, glass, and copper pans won’t cut it with an induction range. What will work are cast iron, steel, and magnetic stainless steel.
For those with an induction cooktop, that doesn’t mean you’re completely cut off from non-stick options since there are plenty of brands—such as Nuwave, Techchef, Royale, Update, and Cuisinart—that make options with a magnetized bottom. Unfortunately, these tend to be pricier than standard non-stick by $15-30 more, each.
Not sure if a specific pan will work? Use a magnet. If it sticks to the bottom, you’re good to go.
Once you’ve confirmed you have a non-stick pan with a magnetic bottom, the same rules apply: Keep your range at medium or lower so as not to damage the inner coating.
Seven Rules for Using Non-Stick Cookware
Non-stick cookware just isn’t a good fit for some ingredients. From foods to utensils, here’s a breakdown of what should (and shouldn’t) go inside your non-stick pans, along with other cooking tips:
1. Know Which Meals Work Best in a Non-Stick Pan
Non-stick cookware is great for specific tasks, but they’re not able to cook all meals with equal success.
Here’s what you should plan on cooking in your non-stick pots and pans:
Foods with a delicate texture. Non-stick cookware is best for foods that easily flake or become tattered, such as eggs, pancakes, and fish fillets. It’s also great for warming up leftovers.
Foods that are cooked on low to medium heat. Because non-stick coatings break down at high temperatures (more soon), your ingredients should require no more than 350-400°F of heat to cook properly. (Note that some non-stick pans can go up to 500°F, so check the instruction manual for your specific model.)
Equally important is to know what’s best left to another cookware material, such as:
Steaks or meat that you hope to sear. A good sear requires temperatures of almost 600°F, which is far too hot for non-stick coatings to withstand. Non-stick coatings are also poor heat conductors, which means that any attempt to sear will result in an uneven crust.
Stovetop-to-oven dishes. While some non-stick cookware is oven safe, most is not, which will—again—be outlined in the instructions. That’s something to consider before cooking up casserole or shepherd’s pie.
Note: If it’s a good sear that you’re looking for, cast iron pans are king. Check out our comparison of different cookware materials to learn more.
2. Have Silicone or Wooden Cooking Tools Handy
Metal spatulas, spoons, and other cooking implements can easily scratch coatings, and those blemishes will ruin the cookware’s non-stick capabilities.
For that reason, use only wooden, silicone, or plastic tools that won’t scratch the interior of your non-stick pot or pan.
3. Don’t Try to “Charge” Non-Stick Pans
“Charging” cookware is when you heat a dry skillet on the stovetop, allowing it to reach a certain temperature before adding you cooking fats and ingredients. Doing so ensures that the cooking surface is evenly heated.
Because non-stick pans are generally made of a thin metal (as opposed to heavy-bottom stainless or cast iron pans), they’re not good at retaining heat.
As a result, attempting to charge a non-stick pan will allow it to exceed its maximum recommended temperatures too quickly. And if non-stick cookware is exposed to excessively high of temperatures, it can cause the coating to release potentially harmful gasses that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and can be fatal to birds. High heat will also permanently damage its slippery texture.
Pro tip: Maximum temps differ with each product, but it’s safe to assume that your non-stick cooking should cap at medium heat.
Instead, when you’re cooking with your non-stick pan, it’s important to have all your ingredients washed, prepped, and ready to go before ever touching that stovetop dial.
As a precautionary step, it’s also advised that you turn on your exhaust fan whenever cooking with a non-stick pot or pan. As you can see below, the thin metal often used can reach high temperatures quite quickly.
4. Keep an Eye on Those Temperatures
You already know that your non-stick cookware has a heat limit. But, how to measure what’s too hot on a stovetop?
There’s no single answer to how quickly a non-stick pan will heat up because the thickness of its metal base makes a difference.
However, Good Housekeeping performed a test on several pans and the results showed that maximum heat was reached faster than they’d assumed:
Our advice for avoiding risky temperature territory is three-fold:
Purchase non-stick pans made with thick metal bottoms. (We’ll discuss what to look for in detail in the next article.)
Ensure that your stovetop dial stays below medium.
For the first several uses, employ a kitchen thermometer to accurately track the heat inside your pan.
Finally, if your pan starts smoking, remove it from heat while remaining under the exhaust fan, and let it cool before rinsing and examining for damage.
5. Use a Cooking Fat When the Pan Is Still Cool
Despite the term ‘non-stick,’ the reality is that coated cookware still requires some sort of lubrication for the ingredients, such as butter or oil.
This is needed due to the fact that all cooking surfaces, non-stick included, have variances in their surface texture at a microscopic level. These pits and valleys mean that there will be parts of the foods you’re cooking that aren’t in contact with the pan.
Because an item in your pan contains moisture, be it greens or meat that moisture will turn to steam. This can then form a steam pocket, which creates a buffer of space that will lead to unevenly cooked food.
Because fatty lubricants are great at conducting heat, even a teaspoon is enough to help your pan transfer heat evenly.
If you already use stainless steel or cast iron cookware, you’re likely familiar with adding a cooking fat. However, there’s a difference in an application with non-stick options.
Unlike other materials, which should be heated before adding the fat, cooking with a non-stick pot or pan demands that you add a smidge of oil or butter when the surface is still cold.
This prevents the non-stick coating from getting too warm and potentially smoking as it heats.
6. Wait for the Oil or Fat to Start Bubbling, Then Add Your Ingredients
We’ve explained why non-stick pans still require a teaspoon of cooking fat. But, it’s also important to let that fat, whether
After adding oil or butter to a cold non-stick pan, allow enough time for it to heat to a sufficient temperature (e.g., when it begins to bubble slightly) before adding your other ingredients.
Because non-stick pans can only be heated to medium, this shouldn’t take long. But make sure that you don’t get impatient and plop the ingredients in too soon, or they’ll just absorb that fat instead of allowing it to enable an even transfer of heat.
Pro Tip: Don’t use cooking sprays (PAM, etc.). Sure, they might work well at first. But, the heat won’t always burn all the spray off certain areas, such as the sides, which will eventually turn into a stuck-on paste.
7. Allow Your Non-Stick Cookware to Cool Before Rinsing in Water
Most of the time we're cooking at home, we’re in a hurry to get food onto plates and minimize any mess.
And, in an effort to multi-task, who hasn’t been guilty of taking a freshly used pan directly from stovetop to sink so that it can soak while we eat our meal?
It turns out that, like with cast irons, subjecting non-stick cookware to drastic temperature changes can cause microscopic cracks in the coating. Those crack can, in turn, lead to flaking, a loss of non-stick texture, and the overall demise of your pan.
How to avoid creating cracks? It’s as simple as embracing a little procrastination; just allow any non-stick cookware to sit on the stovetop or counter and cool before rinsing in the sink. Let’s continue with this topic in the next section.
How to Best Clean Your Non-Stick Cookware
To preserve a non-stick pan’s ability to give heated ingredients the slip, it’s important to wash them correctly. Here’s how:
1. When Cleaning Your Non-Stick Pan, Reach for the Softest Tool First
While you should wait for your non-stick cookware to cool before rinsing, there’s nothing wrong with giving that surface a good soak in water, if needed. Then, clean your pan with the softest side of your dish sponge, moving to a nylon-bristled brush, if necessary.
2. Don’t Put Non-Stick in the Dishwasher
While non-stick items are easy-care, they should be hand washed, since the high temperatures and cleaning detergents used in a dishwasher can ruin the coating.
3. Are Stubborn Bits of Food Still Hanging On?
It’s rare that a well-kept non-stick pan will hang on to food bits unless they were burned on. If that’s the case, never use steel wool!
Instead, soak the pan in baking soda and hot water for an hour. Then, switch to vinegar and water and all the debris should come clean.
Afterward, be sure to inspect your non-stick pan for any discoloration that could indicate the coating has been damaged. If so, you should discard the pan.
Remember, any abrasive action or exposure to high heat can compromise your cookware’s non-stick coating, which creates more microscopic crevices for food to stick to the next time you cook.
Avoid this vicious cycle by cleaning your non-stick cookware gently, and it should remain smooth and glossy for several years.
How to Take Care of Your Non-Stick Cookware
After cleaning, properly storing and maintaining your non-stick cookware similarly focuses on protecting the coated, inner surface from any scratches.
It’s best if you can store your pans hanging, with plenty of space between them. But if you’re going to nest your cookware to save space, know that you’ll have to take extra steps to avoid damage:
1. Lay a paper towel or a dishrag between each item to prevent the aluminum bottoms of one pot or pan from coming in contact with those beneath it.
2. Make sure there’s enough overhead space that they can be accessed without having to scrape the bottom of one pan on the top of another.
Apart from careful storage, you should also re-season your non-stick frying pans twice a year.
Seasoning every six months fills in any pits or inconsistencies that have developed on the pan’s surface, as well as help to protect your pan’s nonstick coating.
Know When It’s Time to Toss Out Your Non-Stick Cookware and Buy Replacements
Depending on how often—and how well—you use your non-stick cookware, they can last up several years.
Early indicators that your cookware should be replaced include surfaces that are peeling or appear pitted. Even though the non-stick coating is non-reactive and will pass through your system from a health perspective, a damaged coating simply won’t give food bits the slip as well as when new.
Even those who are vigilant with care should expect to replace each non-stick piece after about five years, according to the New York Time’s Alina Tugend. By that time, she points out, the coating will likely have worn thin, and it may perform noticeably less effectively as when first purchased.
A Quick Recap of How to Treat Your Non-Stick Cookware
To help your non-stick cookware maintain its smooth coating and offer ease of use for years to come, The Cookware Advisor over at Cooking For Engineers recommends following these points:
Read the directions to verify your non-stick cookware’s maximum temperatures.
Season the inner part of your pot or pan before using the first time.
Always use plastic, wooden or rubber utensils during cooking to avoid scratching the coating.
Cook on low to medium heat. High heat can cause foods to stick as well as break down the non-stick coating.
Use a teaspoon of cooking fats, but stay away from non-stick sprays.
Cool your pans after cooking before placing in water.
Clean with warm soapy water and a soft sponge or washcloth. No abrasive metal cleaners and avoid putting non-stick pans in the dishwasher.
Store your non-stick cookware with care to avoid scratching.
And lastly, replace your pan if the coating is visibly deteriorating.
» For Further Reading: How to Buy the Best Non-Stick Cookware