Last Updated on November 29, 2022 by The Filtery
IN A NUTSHELL:
- Many ceramic cookware brands are much safer than traditional Teflon,™ while still providing an easy-to-use, non-stick cooking experience.
- However, there are downsides to ceramic-coated cookware that are worth considering. It tends to be less durable than other kinds of cookware, and there is little research on the true safety of the “sol-gel” solution that’s used as the ceramic-coating. Furthermore, not all ceramic cookware brands are truly 100% PFAS-free, so safety can vary from brand to brand.
- 100% ceramic cookware and ceramic-coated cookware are not the same thing. Most of the questions that arise with regard to ceramic-coated cookware do not apply to 100% ceramic cookware, making 100% ceramic a safer cookware option.
The world of non-toxic cookware can be a confusing one. Many people know that traditional non-stick cookware like Teflon™ is made with toxic chemicals known as PFAS (or “forever chemicals”), but the question of what to use instead is not always super clear.
As manufacturers have started moving away from traditional non-stick cookware, ceramic-coated cookware has become more popular as an easy to use, non-stick option. The most popular ceramic cookware brands include GreenPan and Caraway, but there are lots of other ceramic-coated pots and pans on the market, including collections from big brands like Cuisinart, T-Fal, and more.
The thing is that there isn’t actually a straightforward yes or no answer to the question of “Is ceramic cookware safe?” The answer is actually: “It depends.”
Many ceramic cookware brands are in fact safer than traditional Teflon non-stick cookware, but ceramic cookware comes with it’s own potential problems.
So in this article, we’re giving you the rundown on ceramic cookware so that you can understand the pros and cons and make the best decision for you.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.
Featured Image Credit: Caraway
The first important thing to note is that there is a difference between traditional non-stick cookware (Teflon™), ceramic-coated cookware, and 100% ceramic cookware:
Non-Stick vs. Ceramic Cookware
The main factor differentiating ceramic cookware from traditional non-stick cookware is the outer later of material that gives the cookware its non-stick properties.
Traditional non-stick cookware (i.e. Teflon™) is made using per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These man-made chemicals have very strong bonds that repel liquids (allowing things to slide right off of them). They’re also known to contribute to a long list of negative health effects, including cancer, thyroid dysfunction, ulcerative colitis, immune deficiencies, and more.
When research began piling up about how toxic these PFAS chemicals are, many brands started moving away from them and finding safer ways to make a pan surface that could still offer the convenient and easy-to-use non-stick feature. Enter: ceramic!
BUT not all ceramic cookware is created equal.
100% Pure Ceramic Cookware vs. Ceramic-Coated Cookware
100% ceramic cookware and ceramic-coated cookware are not the same thing. 100% ceramic cookware is made out of materials like clay, water, and natural minerals, whereas ceramic-coated cookware is made with a metal core (usually aluminum but sometimes stainless steel) covered with a silica (sand)-based “sol-gel” solution that’s sprayed around it.
Even though both types of cookware are fired at very high temperatures to make them hard and heat-resistant, 100% ceramic cookware is more of a “true” ceramic material.
Ceramic-coated cookware is much more common, so usually when you see cookware labeled as “ceramic,” it’s most likely ceramic-coated.
Both kinds of ceramic cookware have their pros and cons, summarized here:
Pros & Cons of 100% Ceramic Cookware
- One of the safest non-toxic cookware options available.
- More durable (can last generations).
- Not as susceptible to greenwashing.
- More versatile.
- Can withstand higher temperatures.
- More scratch and stain resistant.
- Safe for cooking acidic foods.
- Needs to be seasoned to make it non-stick.
- Can be more expensive in the short-term.
- More likely to break if dropped.
Pros & Cons of Ceramic-Coated Cookware
- Many brands (though not all) are a much safer option than traditional non-stick cookware (aka Teflon™).
- Very easy to use / no learning curve when transitioning from Teflon™.
- More affordable options available.
- Easy to clean.
- Less likely to break if dropped.
- May not be 100% non-toxic. (Depends on the brand.)
- Does not last very long (creating more waste and becoming more expensive in the long-run).
- More prone to scratches and scrapes.
The Problems with Ceramic Coating Materials
The “sol-gel” material that the ceramic coating is made with is where the confusion and controversy about ceramic-coated cookware comes into play.
Here are the main problems with ceramic-coated cookware at this time:
1. Actual ingredients vary by manufacturer.
The first confusing thing is that sol-gel can be manufactured in different ways, so although all ceramic-coated brands are similar, their coatings may not be made in the exact same way or with the exact same ingredients. Some ceramic-coated cookware brands are completely PFAS-free and some are not.
There are more than 9,000 different kinds of PFAS chemicals. PFOA and PFOS were the two types of PFAS that were most widely used and studied in the 90s and early 2000s. Over the past couple of decades, cookware manufacturers in the U.S. have been largely phasing PFOA and PFOS out of their products, but the problems are:
a) These phase-outs have been largely voluntary, not required by law.
b) These phase-outs only include TWO (out of over 9,000!) chemicals in the PFAS family. This is important because PFOA and PFOS replacements have been shown to be just as harmful.
What this means for cookware is that when you see a claim like “PFOA-Free” on cookware, that does NOT mean it’s necessarily free from all PFAS. For example, when we reached out to Great Jones to ask about their products, they told us that their ceramic-coated bakeware is “PFOA-free but not entirely free of PTFE or PFOS.”
Caraway, on the other hand, says their products are completely free from all PFAS. (And they also sent us several third-party test results confirming their cookware is free from PFOA, PFOS, and PTFE.)
These two brands’ products ceramic-coated products are very similar, but one is PFAS-free and one is not… And unless you know exactly what to look for on the products descriptions or reach out to the brand to ask, you probably wouldn’t know the difference.
2. Lack of research about the PFAS-free materials.
The second potential problem with ceramic-coated cookware is that there isn’t very much data on this sol-gel material.
The sol-gel used may or may not contain nanosized particles of titanium dioxide and/or silicon dioxide. Again, the exact way this sol-gel is made can vary from brand to brand.
Titanium dioxide (which is also used in other types of products like sunscreen and makeup powders) can be acutely toxic and/or carcinogenic, but it depends on the size of the particles as well as the route of ingestion (for example, inhalation versus skin absorption). There also just isn’t a ton of data yet about titanium dioxide nanoparticles, so unfortunately, the verdict is still out on this.
Some brands use this nanoparticle technology on their ceramic coating and others do not. GreenPan, for example, uses their own material called Thermolon™, which is enforced with diamonds instead of titanium dioxide. Caraway uses silicon dioxide instead of titanium dioxide. While these materials appear to be much safer than Teflon at this time, there just isn’t very much research on them at all.
Should you take the precautionary approach?
This brings us to the idea of the precautionary principle, which is the idea that “action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous.”
It basically means that if you’re unsure about whether or not something is safe or non-toxic, you avoid it.
Even considering that ceramic-coated pans are safer than traditional Teflon pans, many people may choose to stay away from them out of precaution, choosing instead to use 100% ceramic cookware, cast iron, stainless steel, or another kind of safe cookware.
Regardless of what you decide, we will be keeping our eyes on this issue here at The Filtery and will be keeping you updated if and when there is more research on this issue.
3. Scratched ceramic-coated pans can become more toxic.
There’s one more issue to talk about with regard to ceramic-coated pots and pans: when the coating starts to break down, it can expose you to heavy metals.
Remember that the core of ceramic-coated pans are made out of metal. Most of the time, it’s aluminum, but it can also be made from stainless steel as well. If the coating gets scratched by a metal utensil or dishwashing tool, or if the pan is exposed to extremely high heat, or if the cookware just generally starts to break down over time, it can expose this metal core and cause leaching into your food.
Aluminum, for example (which is what most ceramic-coated brands use for the core), is a neurotoxin that’s associated with Alzheimer’s. So if scratched pans leads to aluminum exposure and leaching into your food, that’s not good.
This is why if you do decide to get ceramic-coated cookware, you’ll want to take good care of it, follow the proper care instructions from the brand, and replace it when it becomes damaged.
Some general rules of thumb for making your cookware last as along as possible include:
- Avoid metal utensils that could scratch the coating
- Cook on low heat or medium heat when possible (high heat can lead to faster breakdown of the non-stick coatings)
- Hand wash when possible
- Check the care instructions for the specific brand and follow them accordingly
So, Is Ceramic Cookware Safe?
To sum it up: both 100% ceramic cookware and ceramic-coated cookware are much safer options than traditional Teflon™ non-stick cookware. 100% pure ceramic cookware is one of the safest non-toxic cookware options available. Even though ceramic-coated cookware seems to be mostly safe for now, there are still some questions about the specific ingredients used in the coating material. So if you’d like to take the precautionary approach, you should choose 100% ceramic cookware over the ceramic-coated option.
If you do decide to use ceramic-coated cookware, remember that not all brands are created equal, so be sure to choose a brand that is free from all PFAS chemicals (not just one or two of them).
The Best Ceramic Cookware Sets
If you do decide you want to buy ceramic cookware, here are the best brands in terms of both safety and performance.
Best 100% Ceramic Cookware: Xtrema
Price Range: $50 (signature skillet) – $600 (12-piece set)
Xtrema is one of the safest cookware brands available. It’s made out of clay, water, natural minerals, and oxides, and fired at very high temperatures in order to ensure proper stabilization and prevent any leaching. Each piece is made by hand, too.
Since it’s made out of 100% ceramic, you don’t have to worry about any of the questionable ingredients that might be in ceramic-coated cookware. It’s completely safe for human health, even when cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a slight learning curve to using 100% ceramic cookware if you’re not used to it. You’ll have to add a seasoned layer to make it non-stick (the same way you do with cast iron). It’s also heavier than traditional non-stick options.
The team at Xtrema tests every shipment for extractable lead and cadmium in accordance with California Prop 65. They have passed Prop 65 standards for lead and cadmium for the past 15 years, and they make these results available on their website for consumers to check out.
They even went a step further and tested their unglazed pans to make sure that even if the glaze on your cookware gets damaged over time, you’re still safe.
Xtrema also offers some other perks like a 40-day trial and a 10-year limited warranty. For instructions on how to care for your Xtrema to get the non-stick feature, check out their Use & Care Guide.
Most Affordable Ceramic-Coated Cookware: GreenLife
Price Range: $29 (fry pan) – $186 (12-piece set)
GreenLife is actually owned by the same parent company of GreenPan, the more well-known ceramic cookware brand. There are a lot of similarities between the two brands, with the main differences being that GreenLife is more affordable, doesn’t carry as wide variety of options, and is constructed out of slightly different materials.
Both GreenLife and GreenPan use Thermalon™ for their sol-gel coating, but GreenPan uses more advanced tech with their “Minerals Pro” and “Diamond Advanced” Thermalon,™ which is said to add durability. The aluminum used is also different—Green Pan uses “ultra-strong” hard anodized aluminum, whereas GreenLife uses recycled aluminum.
GreenPan is available in a variety of more “fun” colors, like bright yellow, teal, and pink. They also offer “softgrip” handles, whereas most of GreenPan’s are made with stainless steel.
Both brands are completely free from PFAS, nanoparticles, lead, and cadmium. However, it’s important to note that when we reached out to GreenPan, they refused to share their third-party test results with us, which is very frustrating. The reason I feel okay recommending this company despite that fact is because the Ecology Center did their own testing on GreenPan and found it free from PFAS, lead, and cadmium.
Also, if you have an induction stoves be sure to check the product details before purchasing GreenLife cookware because not all of their options are suitable for induction stoves.
Taking all of that into consideration, GreenLife’s cookware is definitely not going to last a lifetime, but if you’re on a budget and want to move away from the toxic chemicals found in Teflon cookware while still getting the non-stick abilities, GreenLife is one of the best options.
(P.S. If you’re wondering about the GreenPan controversy and lawsuit from several years ago, stay tuned – we have a separate article coming out soon about that.)
(P.P.S. Cast iron cookware and stainless steel are also affordable cookware options! If you’re open to trying out a different kind of cookware, you can learn more about other options here.)
Most Stylish Ceramic-Coated Cookware: Caraway
Price Range: $95 (fry pan) – $595 (7-piece set)
Caraway is one of the best brands for cookware that is truly non-stick—your food just slides right off the pan like you’re used to with Teflon, so there’s zero learning curve required. It’s definitely on the pricier side, but it looks great in your kitchen. Their cookware sets come in several colors, including navy, sage, cream, rose quartz, marigold, and more.
Caraway’s cookware and bakeware is not completely free from nanoparticles (they use silicon dioxide), but it is free from all PFAS and is Prop 65 compliant. They even sent us third-party test results for various kinds of PFAS, Prop 65, metal leaching, and PTFE.
We have a full review of Caraway’s bakeware right here.
Most Versatile Ceramic-Coated Cookware: Our Place
Price Range: $60 (Tiny Always Pan) – $310 (Home Cook Duo Set)
One of the biggest downsides to ceramic-coated pans is that they’re wasteful. They don’t last as long as 100% ceramic cookware, cast iron, stainless steel, or even Teflon pans.
But if you really want to use non-stick pans, one of the ways you can at least minimize the waste issue is by just using less cookware!
That’s why Our Place’s Always Pan and Always Pot is a great versatile option. Each piece is designed to replace 8 traditional pieces of cookware (including a fry pan, sauté pan, steamer, skillet, and spoon rest). They come in colors like oatmeal, blue salt, charcoal, rosa, lavender, and more.
Our Place has stated that their cookware is not only free from all PFAS but is also free of nanoparticles and meets all of the CA Prop 65 limitations for heavy metals like lead and cadmium.
More FAQs About Ceramic Cookware
Is there any ceramic cookware that’s made in USA?
At this time, we have not been able to find any ceramic cookware that’s actually made in the U.S. (Many brands are based in the USA, but their products aren’t actually manufactured here.)
We will continue keeping our eye out for a USA-made brand and will update this article if one pops up!
Is ceramic cookware safe for birds?
Those who have pet birds need to be careful of “Teflon toxitosis,” which is where birds can become severely ill or even die when someone in the home is cooking with non-stick Teflon cookware. Ceramic cookware is generally safe for birds; however, to be safe, you it’s important to be sure that the ceramic-coated cookware you’re buying is truly PFAS-free.
Are scratched ceramic pans safe?
Although scratched ceramic-coated pans are not as toxic scratched Teflon pans, they may not be entirely safe, either. When the coating is scratched and the aluminum core is exposed, it can potentially cause toxic heavy metals to leach into your food. Additionally, due to overall lack of research, it is currently unclear whether or not the nanoparticles and/or other ingredients in the sol-gel ceramic coating are entirely safe when they break down.
More Ceramic-Coated Cookware Brands You May Be Wondering About
Here are some more ceramic-coated pan brands we looked into. A few of these brands appear to be free from all PFAS, but most of them are only free from one or two specific kinds.
Although Bialetti’s ceramic cookware is free from PFOA, it does not appear to be free from all PFAS chemicals and therefore is not the safest cookware option.
Blue Diamond appears to be a pretty good option, as they state their cookware is free from all PFAS. They also have a “Triple Steel” option, which uses stainless steel instead of aluminum for the core.
It is unclear whether or not Calpholon’s ceramic cookware and oil-infused ceramic cookware is truly free from all PFAS, so we cannot recommend it at this time. Calphalon also sells conventional non-stick pans that definitely do contain PFAS chemicals.
It is unclear whether or not Cuisinart’s ceramic collection is free from all PFAS, so we cannot recommend it at this time. Additionally, be aware that Cuisinart also offers other traditional non-stick cookware varieties that definitely do contain toxic PFAS coatings.
Farberware says it’s ceramic cookware is made with a PTFE-free “hybrid ceramic” nonstick coating, but it’s unclear what exactly is in this “silicone polyester” coating. It’s also unclear whether or not the cookware may leach copper, which can become toxic to humans if too much is ingested. For these reasons, we cannot confidently say that Farberware’s cookware is totally non-toxic. Also, be aware that Farberware sells other non-stick cookware that is not PFAS-free.
Unfortunately, Food Network is not clear about the specifics of their materials. Some of their pots and pans appears to be PTFE-free, while others do not. Some of them even come with Prop 65 labels, indicating they could leach heavy metals. For this reason, we cannot recommend them at this time.
MadeIn’s nonstick coatings are not free from all PFAS. However, they do have stainless steel and carbon steel options, which should be safe for most people (unless you have a nickel sensitivity).
MasterClass’s nonstick cookware is not free from all PFAS chemicals.
Although NutriChef appears to be free from PFOA, PFOS, and PTFE (which is a good sign), it’s unclear whether or not it’s free from all PFAS.
Unfortunately, Pioneer Woman’s non-stick ceramic coating does not appear to be completely PFAS-free.
No, T-Fal’s non-stick cookware is made with PTFE, which is a kind of PFAS. Therefore cannot be considered non-toxic.
Although Tasty says its ceramic cookware is made without any PTFE or PFOA, it’s unclear whether or not it’s free from all PFAS. Therefore, we can’t recommend it.
Zwilling’s ceramic cookware does not appear to be from from all PFAS and therefore we cannot recommend it at this time. They do, however, have stainless steel options, which are generally safe and non-toxic for those without nickel sensitivities.
There are obviously a lot more cookware brands out there, so if there is a specific one you’re wondering about, just put it in the comments below and we’ll look into it!
Are Circulon brand Innovatum and genesis plus safe? I use every day so this is important to me.
Thanks for all your work.
Unfortunately, it looks like Circulon’s cookware is not PFAS-free, so we can’t recommend it. 🙁
What about ZWILLING Clad CFX ceramic coating? Is it free of Titanium Dioxide particles?
Zwillling is addressed at the very end of the article. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be free from all PFAS, so we can’t recommend that one at this time.
Are scratches okay/safe on 100% ceramic cookware, cast iron, or stainless steel?
Good question! Actually, those types of cookware won’t scratch very easily, so you shouldn’t really have a problem there! But if it happens, you should be totally fine. The only people who might have to be careful are those who are sensitive to nickel (for the stainless steel) and those who have too much iron (for the cast iron).