Stop! Don't Ruin That Nonstick Frying Pan.

Stick to these nonstick rules to make your pan last for years to come

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person washing  a nonstick frying pan Photo: iStock

The beauty of a nonstick frying pan is right there in the name—food doesn’t stick! How is that even possible? A chemical coating applied to the metal pan creates a slick surface that allows food to slide right off.

The coating may be Teflon, also known as PTFE for its chemical name (polytetrafluoroethylene), though that’s not the only slick solution. As you’ll see in Consumer Reports’ ratings of nonstick pans, some are coated with what’s referred to as a ceramic finish but which is made using what is essentially beach sand. Pans labeled “PTFE-free” in our ratings often have some form of this coating.

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PTFE is not to be confused with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which the Environmental Protection Agency asked manufacturers to remove from their cookware by 2015 because it’s a possible carcinogen. PTFE is considered safe as long as cookware with it is not overheated, which can result in the release of toxic fumes.

“PTFE in its solid form is inert—that is, it does not react with chemicals,” said Don Huber, former director of product safety for Consumer Reports. “If ingested, PTFE flakes can simply pass through the digestive tract harmlessly.”

Whichever coating your pan has, the surface begins to deteriorate over time, especially if you don’t treat it with care. That means being mindful of the utensils you use, the oil you cook with (if any), and, of course, how you clean the pan.

Here’s all you need to know to make your nonstick pan last.

How to Care for a Nonstick Pan

So what extra care does your nonstick need? We interviewed manufacturers and consulted our experts from the lab to see what you should do to make sure your pan turns out flawless fried eggs for years to come. If your pan is beyond redemption and you’re looking for a new one, check our top pan picks below or read our full list of nonstick frying pan ratings and recommendations.

1. Avoid metal utensils. Metal can scrape or otherwise mar the nonstick surface, causing food to stick and making the pan hard to clean. And while the coating isn’t harmful if it’s ingested, you don’t want flakes of it in your food. Once the finish on your pan is damaged, you’ll have to discard it. To avoid this, stock up on silicone, plastic, and wooden utensils to use instead—they won’t harm your pan.

2. Don’t stack ’em. Don’t stack or nest your nonstick pans. The bottom of one pan may scratch the cooking surface of another. Calphalon, among other brands, warns owners of its cookware that nesting pans or storing lids between them can void the warranty. If you don’t have space and stacking is a must, put a potholder, a dish towel, or some other soft layer between pans to protect the cooking surface.

3. Skip the cooking spray. Cooking sprays burn at a lower temperature than butter or oil and can leave a sticky buildup on your pan that’s hard to remove. In fact, Anolon says in its owner’s manual that the use of cooking spray on a nonstick coating will void the pan’s warranty. If you like to spritz a little oil on the pan before you cook, fill a mister with your preferred vegetable oil or olive oil.

4. Don’t heat a nonstick pan when it’s empty. Unlike with, say, a cast-iron pan that can withstand high heat for searing a steak, heating an empty nonstick pan can damage the coating and shorten its life, according to T-Fal, a major manufacturer of nonstick skillets.

5. Don’t submerge a hot pan in water. The rule about never plunging a hot pan in water is especially true for nonstick pans, which tend to be lighter weight and more prone to warping. Once a pan warps, you’re cooked, because the pan won’t make proper contact with the burner and won’t heat evenly. As Calphalon warns in its owners’ manuals: Allow pans to cool completely before washing.

6. Don’t put a nonstick pan in the dishwasher. (Even if it’s labeled as dishwasher-safe.) We can tell you that not all dishwashers and dishwasher detergents are created equal. High heat and harsh detergents can damage both the nonstick surface and the exterior of the pan. “Every dishwasher and detergent is different,” says Erin Fuchsen, a spokesperson for T-Fal, whose nonstick pans are labeled as dishwasher-safe. “If the dishwasher uses very high heat or the detergents are harsh, this can cause the nonstick surface to dry out.”

7. Be careful how you clean your pan. Nonstick pans clean up so easily that we no longer test them for ease of cleaning in the lab. Skip abrasive pads or sponges, which can scratch the pan’s surface. All you need is a plain sponge, soap, and water.

But don’t go too easy with the cleaning, says RJ Manoni, director of e-commerce at Swiss Diamond. If you see oil building up on your pan, the company recommends spreading on a paste of baking soda and water, letting it sit for up to 24 hours, then washing it off. Most of the time this restores the nonstick properties. Also, don’t use a paper towel to clean. It could leave food debris that can cause the pan to smoke and burn the next time you use it, Manoni says.

Stellar Nonstick Frying Pans From CR's Tests

If your frying pan is too scratched and damaged to use, it’s time for a replacement. Here are five top picks from Consumer Reports’ tests.

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.