Ask a Gear Head

How Often Should I Replace My Nonstick Pan?

Nonstick pans don’t last forever. Here’s how to know when it’s time for a new one.

Published Aug. 16, 2023.

Dear Gearheads,

How often should I replace my nonstick pan or skillet? How do I know when it’s time to get a new one? 

—Lula from Vermont

Well, that all depends on you! Here’s why.

Ten years ago, the life expectancy of a nonstick pan was two to three years. These days the technology has improved. One can expect five to seven years from a pan with a quality coating, according to Fran Groesbeck, managing director of the Cookware and Bakeware Alliance.

But, and it’s a big but: How you treat your nonstick pan will ultimately determine how long it lasts.

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Neither traditional (PTFE) nor ceramic (often touted as “green”) nonstick pans will last as long as a cast-iron, carbon-steel, copper, or stainless-steel pan. Because what makes a nonstick pan not stick is a thin layer covering the cooking surface—a layer of plastic on the traditional pans and a glass-like ceramic material on the ceramic pans. Typically, ceramic pans wear faster but both styles are fallible and will lose their nonstick ability over time.

This is why we don't recommend spending a lot on a nonstick skillet and why we tell folks interested in cooking on a nonstick surface to consider carbon steel or cast iron instead, both of which, with some minor maintenance, will become naturally nonstick over time.

(Note: Technically you can recycle a nonstick pan but you have to strip the nonstick coating off first, which isn’t practical for most folks. For this reason, we recommend buying a pan with a quality coating and treating it right to minimize your environmental impact.)

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So, how do you know when it’s time to replace your nonstick pan? Look for three telltale signs.

1. If the coating is flaking off in pieces, toss it.

Not for safety reasons—the coating won’t interact with your body and will pass right through if accidentally ingested. (This is why nonstick is used to coat surgical implants and sutures.) Instead, we recommend getting a new pan if yours is chipping because it’s unpleasant to eat bits of coating. Once it’s started chipping, it will likely continue to chip because of the way the nonstick layer is bonded to the pan. These days, chipping is more common in ceramic nonstick pans. 

2. If the coating looks deeply scratched and dry.

If the coating is scratched, it may still be usable; you will see more sticking, especially if it's deeply scratched. If the surface is looking whitish and dry, it’s likely that the nonstick coating has worn away to an extent that will make it quite clingy. Use extra fat to avoid sticking, but if you’re constantly struggling with it, it's probably time for a new pan. 

3. If everything just seems to be sticking.

If food is sticking a lot, try this first: Warm the pan over low heat for 30 seconds, put a teaspoon of a neutral oil like canola inside and swipe it around with a cloth or paper towel, rubbing it all over the interior of the skillet. (We’re seasoning it here like a cast-iron skillet!) If this helps, great. If it doesn’t, it’s truly time for a new pan. 

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