Why You Shouldn’t Use Cooking Spray on Your Nonstick Skillet

Using cooking spray on a nonstick skillet might seem like a good idea, but it can actually damage the nonstick coating.

Published Apr. 11, 2023.

Before we begin cooking, many of us reach for nonstick cooking spray or a nonstick skillet for insurance against delicate foods such as fried eggs or pan-seared fish sticking to the pan.

Using nonstick cooking spray on a nonstick skillet seems like it would provide an even slicker surface, right? 

This seems like the logical solution, but it actually is doing more harm than good and even damaging your skillet in the long run. If you’ve ever pulled out your nonstick skillet and noticed a sticky residue, you’ll know what we mean.

Here are two reasons why you should never use nonstick cooking spray on a nonstick skillet (plus alternatives to cooking spray to keep things from sticking).

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Reason #1: Lecithin in Cooking Sprays Causes a Sticky Residue

Nonstick cooking sprays aren’t just oil in a spray bottle; they typically contain at least one type of oil plus an emulsifier, such as lecithin. Lecithin causes problems for nonstick cookware. It leaves a sticky residue behind and can adhere to your pan and build over time, ultimately impeding the abilities of the nonstick coating. 

“Lecithin itself has low thermal stability, so it will discolor, degrade, and form a dark, sticky residue at much lower temperatures than the oil would on its own,” explained Ilana Rosen, senior product manager at OXO, the maker of our favorite nonstick skillets. This low thermal stability makes cooking spray with lecithin extra-sticky. Over time this stickiness impedes the nonstick abilities of your pan.

But the issues with lecithin and nonstick skillets aren’t just about the chemical itself. The thinner the layer of oil, the more likely it is to cause stickiness, and lecithin helps achieve a thinner layer of oil than just oil in a spray bottle would. “Lecithin helps the oil to form a thin film of droplets, which is problematic because the oil will heat up and carbonize faster than it would if it were poured into a pool at the bottom of the pan,” says Rosen. 

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Reason #2: Trying to Remove the Sticky Residue Damages the Nonstick Coating

Once your nonstick pan has a sticky residue, it is incredibly hard to get off. People often scrub their nonstick pans with abrasive or scrubby sponges in an effort to remove it. This is a sure way to scratch or otherwise wear down your nonstick coating, ruining it completely. 

In order to preserve the coating on nonstick skillets, we recommend avoiding abrasive sponges and cleaners such as Bar Keeper’s Friend, Comet, and Ajax. Instead, use warm water, dish soap, and the soft side of our favorite sponge.

Of course, nonstick skillets don’t last forever, which is why we don’t recommend spending a lot of money on them.


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Alternatives to Using Nonstick Cooking Spray on a Nonstick Skillet

We’ve established that you shouldn’t use nonstick cooking sprays on nonstick skillets, but what can you use instead? Here’s how to ensure your food doesn’t stick, without creating a sticky mess.

  1. Use oil or butter instead. Add a small pool of oil or a pat of butter to your skillet instead of using a spray. If you like the coverage you get from a nonstick cooking spray, you can also use an oil mister that you fill at home to achieve that even spray. Keep in mind that a thin layer of oil burns (and thus polymerizes and sticks to the pan, as Rosen says) more quickly and easily than a pool of fat in the bottom of the skillet. With that in mind, be sure to keep the temperature of the skillet low.
  2. Use a cooking spray without lecithin. If you really want to use a cooking spray, be sure to check the ingredient list and make sure it doesn’t have lecithin. Because lecithin helps the oil achieve the thinnest possible layer, using one without that ingredient means the oil will polymerize at a slower rate. We recently reviewed cooking sprays and named a Best Non-Propellant Option, Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Spray. Remember that nonstick skillets still should not be heated to a high temperature, even when using a spray without lecithin.
  3. Save the nonstick spray for other pans, such as stainless-steel skillets. If you’re a die-hard nonstick cooking spray fan, we’re not saying get rid of it altogether. It serves a great purpose! The lecithin doesn’t stick to stainless steel the same way it does to the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, a compound best known by the brand name Teflon), coating on nonstick pans, so the molecule won’t adhere in the same way. When it comes time to wash the stainless-steel skillet, the lecithins emulsifying power actually makes it easier for soap and water to penetrate the oil, so it breaks down and washes off readily.

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