If you’re like me, your nonstick skillet makes its way from storage to stovetop on a frequent basis—the efficient go-to for creamy scrambled eggs, crispy salmon skin, and fluffy pancakes on the regular. With all that use comes a sense of responsibility, because if my nonstick is showing signs of misuse, it’s hard to pass the blame—the culprit is very clearly: me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about nonstick cookware over the years, it is that it’s among my most trusted helpers in the kitchen, but not without a little TLC.
Nonstick, like many other cookware materials, can be a little finicky to take care of. While there are clear rules for how to handle these pots and pans, it can become confusing to parse out which rules apply to nonstick, and which guidelines you may have heard in passing that actually apply to the care of a different material. Is nonstick the one that needs to be dried immediately, or is that copper? And is it best to clean it with kosher salt, or was that cast iron?
If you’ve noticed your nonstick cookware is starting to lose its… nonstickyness (can we get away with that one?), it’s likely that it hasn’t received the proper attention it requires. While other materials have a tendency to bounce back to full luster with some extra love (we’re looking at you, copper), nonstick pans made with a ceramic or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating tend to be irretrievable once damaged.
I’ve certainly experienced the dreaded signs of misuse—peeling, flaking, warping, and a less-than-perfectly-slick surface—and I imagine that many of you have, too. Unfortunately, those often mean our pans are approaching retirement. Luckily, though, there are a number of simple tips that one can follow to keep that at bay for as long as possible, so our pans can keep sliding out omelettes to perfection, year after year after year.
A good place to start? Always consider the strength of the flame you’re cooking over. First things first: Do not use over high heat, which is a surefire way to ruin your pan; cooking over low or medium heat will help maintain a smooth, stick-free surface. Plus, remember: ceramic non-stick, if that’s what you have, is a fast heat conductor (hi, Five Two Nonstick Skillet and Food52 x GreenPan Nonstick Skillet), retaining and distributing heat so nicely that an A+ sear won’t require the high heat it usually would.
Next up, be careful to use the right fat. Reach for oils with a high smoke point—like grapeseed, sesame, or avocado—over those with a low smoke point, like EVOO. This is because low smoke point oils burn more easily, which can decrease the pan’s nonstick properties. Also worth keeping at a distance? Cooking sprays of all kinds. When I asked Ashley Holmgren, GreenPan’s Head of Ecommerce, for their best nonstick maintenance tips, she was quick to explain that cooking spray will develop a residue that can shorten the lifespan of nonstick cookware.
Another helpful tip: Once you’ve got your oil of choice in hand, always preheat the pan, being careful to add oil—and distribute it evenly—while it’s still cool (it’ll help with both sticking and the integrity of your ingredients), and remember to employ rubber or wooden, and never metal, utensils (which can lead to scratching or even material deterioration).
Of course, proper cleaning and storage will also send you on your way to success. The first step: Always wait for the pan to cool before letting it come into contact with cold water. Submerging a hot pan in cold water or even running cool water over hot nonstick cookware is the quickest way to warp a pan.
Also, the faster you get to hand-washing, the easier it will be. I know it can be hard to skip the dishwasher, but if you’re committed to caring for your cookware, you’ll keep the nonstick in the sink—just not for too long. Under no circumstances should you use steel wool or other harsh, abrasive cleaning materials to wash your nonstick pan. Instead, use a gentle dishwashing liquid and a soft sponge or cleaning cloth. After your pan has been flawlessly cleaned and towel- or air-dried, place a pan protector, or a cloth or paper towel, over its surface if your storage space requires high stacking. This way, you’ll ward off any scratches.
If you do ever find yourself in a sticky situation—maybe your pan is nearing the end of its lifespan (usually around five years, depending on how often it’s being used, and how carefully) and it’s been used over high heat one too many times—don’t despair, just follow these simple steps: Partly fill the pan with water, and add a ½ cup of white vinegar. Bring it to a quick boil over the stovetop, then remove and let cool, skimming away any residue that made its way to the top. Once cool, pour out the liquid and wash out with warm, soapy water—the burnt food should be easy to wipe away.
As you can see, there’s nothing complicated about caring for your nonstick cookware and keeping it in great condition—all it takes is some mindful cooking, cleaning, and storing. And although your trusty skillet won’t last a lifetime, with proper care, its best years are sure to yield so many treats. Worth the effort? We think so.
In the event you’re looking for the very best ways to clean all of your cookware, you’re in luck. We’ve compiled guides on cleaning and maintaining the most popular materials you’ll find in the kitchen (your pots and pans will thank you):
Stainless steel is ideal for a successful sear or sauté, but can get easily dinged and spotted with signs of meals past. Many of the tricks to keep them looking new have to do with what goes in them, and when.
How do you keep your nonstick cookware in tip-top shape? Tell us in the comments below!
This article was updated in November 2020 with even more nonstick care tips.
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