Time spent in the kitchen should be about whipping up great meals and sharing them with your favorite people — not about scrubbing stuck-on food off your cookware. Pots and pans with nonstick coatings greatly reduce cleanup time, but eventually you may find the coating on your favorite pan failing. You can have the pan recoated, but the process is complex and not one you can complete at home. You'll have to decide if you want to pay for a professional recoating, have the failing coating removed or replace the pan with a new one.
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Applying Nonstick Coatings
Once you understand the process of applying nonstick coatings to cookware, it's easy to see why recoating pans isn't a do-it-yourself job. First, cookware makers must prepare the surface of their pots and pans to receive the nonstick coating. To do so, they wash the pans with a powerful grease-removing detergent. The metal is then dipped in hydrochloric acid, which etches the surface of the pan and makes it rough.
Any dust or metal particles left behind by the etching process get rinsed away in a bath of nitric acid before the pan is rinsed again in plain water and then dried. Once the pan is dried, several thin layers of the nonstick chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) are sprayed or rolled onto the pan. PTFE is the generic name for the chemical often sold under the brand name Teflon.
After applying the desired number of PTFE layers, cookware manufacturers bake the coating onto the pan. At first, the temperature in the oven rises slowly to evaporate any water in the PTFE coating. Once the water evaporates, How Products Are Made reports that the oven temperature goes up to around 800 degrees Fahrenheit where the PTFE will gel in a process known as sintering.
Nonstick Coating Repair
If your pan starts sticking, your first step is to check the warranty. Many high-end cookware companies like Calphalon and Pampered Chef offer lifetime guarantees on their products. Contact your cookware manufacturer to find out if you can have your pan repaired or replaced for free.
When a free replacement isn't forthcoming, you can consider having your pan professionally resurfaced. The internet is full of companies that reapply nonstick coatings to worn cookware, and you might even find someone local to do the job for you. The original manufacturer of the cookware may also take the job, but it isn't likely to come cheap.
The Australian company Surface Technology, for example, will recoat the inside of a medium-sized frying pan for $46 AUD. Even if you send the pan using the United States Postal Service's flat-rate box, however, you could pay $25 or more in shipping to get it there. Add another $25 to get the pan shipped back from Australia and your recoat could easily cost $100 or more. A high-end replacement pan from the Cristel company costs between $105 and $138, so it may prove more economical to replace your pan than to recoat it.
Nonstick Coating Removal
Unfortunately, there is some debate about whether or not nonstick pans cause cancer. A man-made chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used in the manufacture of nonstick coatings. The American Cancer Society reports that there is actually very little PFOA in finished cookware, but some studies have linked the chemical to cancer. It's generally agreed that if nonstick coatings do create a cancer risk, it likely increases when the coating gets scratched or starts to peel.
This means that if you want to play it safe, you probably shouldn't keep using damaged nonstick pots and pans. If you love the weight, size and other features of your pan, consider having the damaged coating removed so you can still use it. A local sandblaster can remove the remaining coating for you so you can keep on cooking. The pan won't be inherently nonstick anymore, but you can use nonstick cooking sprays and oils with it to keep food from getting stuck.
Make it Last
Nonstick coatings on pots and pans don't last forever, but some do last longer than others. Quality cookware doesn't have to cost a fortune, but going with the cheapest option may leave you getting what you paid for. To keep your nonstick pans working well as long as possible, look for quality cookware with good reviews and long or lifetime warranties. If your budget allows, opt for professional-grade cookware.
When you get your new cookware home, protect it. Always lay a paper towel or pan protector in between stacked pots and pans to avoid scratches and use plastic or nylon cooking utensils only. Avoid cooking over high heat in nonstick pans, opting instead for low or medium temperatures. Never use nonstick cooking sprays in nonstick cookware, as this results in a gunky buildup that's quite difficult to remove.
When washing nonstick pans, always do so by hand unless your cookware's instructions specifically state that the pots and pans are dishwasher safe. Only use microfiber cloths and soft sponges to wash your cookware.
Go Naturally Nonstick
If you're concerned about the potential dangers of nonstick cookware, consider opting for cast iron pots and pans instead. When properly seasoned, cast iron gets a nonstick finish without any man-made chemicals or coatings.
To properly season a cast iron pan, wash it thoroughly in hot soapy water. Get it as clean as you can, using steel wool if you must, to return the pan to its original grayish-blue finish. Dry the pan completely and then spread a thin layer of vegetable shortening over the inside. Lay tin foil on your bottom oven rack to catch any drips, and then place your pan on the middle rack upside down. Southern Living advises baking your pan at 375 degrees F for one hour and then letting it cool in the oven.
You now have a chemical-free nonstick pan. To keep your pan seasoned and ready to use, rinse it with warm water after each use, scraping it with a plastic spatula if necessary to remove any remaining food debris. Don't use soap. After rinsing, dry your pan thoroughly so it doesn't rust.