If you have a kitchen, chances are you have a non-stick pan. Non-stick pans are the best weapon of any home chef. Most of those non-stick pans will be made with Teflon coatings. Teflon coatings used to be the easy choice when stocking your kitchen: it’s more durable than ceramic and will outlast silicone. Then the media took a different view, accusing Teflon of causing cancer.
This accusation was false if not unfounded. Teflon is not suspected of causing cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s a durable non-stick coating that we needn’t be afraid of. Here’s why:
What exactly are Teflon coatings?
Teflon is less commonly known by its official name: Plastic Material Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE coatings are one of the most popular forms of non-stick coating in the world. From Teflon coatings on cookware to industrial Teflon coating on wires in airplanes and computers, thanks to its release capabilities and ability to withstand high and low temperatures, Teflon can be used to create non-stick coating on just about anything. It can withstand temperatures from -464 degrees Fahrenheit to 600 degrees Fahrenheit without any loss to its physical properties, making it far superior to any fluorpolymer coating could handle.
A decade ago, 90% of alluminum cookware sold had a Teflon coating. Since then, the media began harking on Teflon-coated pans as causing cancer. What many consumers still don’t know, however, is that this accusation was unfairly misplaced. According to the American Cancer Society, Teflon is not suspected of causing cancer. Why did it get such a bad reputation, then? Because perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is suspected of causing cancer.
PFOA is a man-made chemical that is used in the process of making Teflon. The experts are still unclear on if PFOA is or is not dangerous, but this doesn’t affect Teflon. While PFOA is used in making Teflon coatings, it is burned off during the process and as such isn’t present in the final Teflon product.
How are Teflon coatings made?
The Teflon coating process begins with three ingredients: fluorspar, hydrofluoric acid, and chloroform. These three substances are combined inside a reaction chamber and heated to between 1,094 and 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit (590 to 900 degrees Centigrade). This process creates a tasteless, odorless, colorless, nontoxic gas which is then cooled and distilled so any impurities can be removed.
The liquid is polymerized to create solid PTFE, which is then dried and pulverized to turn it from the consistency of coconut to that of wheat flour. Since fine powder is hard to mold, the substance is often mixed with a solvent. Once the grains are sticking together in pellet form, they can be poured into a hydraulic press which applies pressure using a weighted ram.
After its had time to set, the PTFE is cooled and sliced into smaller pieces for shipping to manufacturers. Most manufacturers looking to create Teflon coatings will turn the sliced PTFE into a liquid or back into a fine powder for coating metal.
The last step in the PTFE coating process is to apply it to the surface being coated.
Most commonly used on pots and pans, Teflon coatings are one to three mils thick. The pan is first thoroughly washed, then etched to roughen its surface. Etching is done by dipping the pan in to hydrochloric acid. After being rinsed once more, the pan is placed in a convection oven to dry.
A PTFE primer coat is applied, followed by more drying, then additional layers of Teflon coating. Once coated, the pan is placed into an oven to dry. Its heated slowly to allow the water to evaporate from the coating. Once the water has evaporated, the heat will be raised to approximately 800 degrees Fahrenheit (425 degrees Centrigrade) for five minutes. This allows the Teflon coating to gel. Once the pan has been cooled, it’s ready to be packaged and shipped.
Why we needn’t be afraid of Teflon
Teflon coatings needn’t be feared by home chefs. They last seven times as long as ceramic or silicone. Teflon coated pans are dishwasher safe and can even be used with metal utensils. By 2017, industry experts have predicted Teflon production will be greater than 240,000 tons, and for good reason: why choose anything else?