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Are Cast Iron Pots and Pans Safe?

Whether your pancakes will slide off the frying pan easily or stick to it may set your mood for the whole day.  My husband used to look forward to making pancakes because of the ease of removing them from the pan.  It made him feel good as a cook.  When I replaced all the non-stick cookware in the kitchen with cast iron pots and pans, he lost his interest in pancakes for a while.  However, after learning how to use cast iron to make it work, he totally forgot about all the toxic non-stick pans he had used before.  Read on to find out why we chose cast iron as safe non-stick cookware for our kitchen and what makes it non-stick. 

Are Cast Iron Pots and Pans Safe. A photo of a cast iron pan as safe non-stick cookware and green vegetables.

The cookware to avoid in your kitchen

Let me tell you why I decided to get rid of our non-stick cookware for good. 

On the one hand, non-stick pots and pans are easy to use and easy to wash, assuming you do not scratch them.  But on the other hand, the material of their coating may be unsafe for your health.

Teflon non-stick cookware

To begin with, Teflon® is a trademarked name for a slippery polymer discovered in 1938 and patented by DuPont.  Its “real” name is polytetrafluoethylene (PTFE), and it contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other undisclosed materials.

When you heat a PTFE-coated pan to 464°F, it starts off-gassing toxic particulates, and at 680°F, it releases at least 6 toxic gases.  The latter include two carcinogens, namely, PFOA and tetrafluoroethylene (TFE), and two global pollutants.  They also include monofluoroacetic acid (MFA), which is lethal to humans even in small doses.  In fact, a non-stick frying pan can reach 800°F when you preheat it on an electric stovetop burner, and 1,000°F – on a gas range top (source).

Additionally, please do not fall for the “PFOA-free” label.  If the PFOA is not there, there must be something else to replace it.  And you do not know if it is better or worse than PFOA.

Thus, even though Teflon® cookware is light and easier to handle than cast iron pots and pans, I recommend you stay away from it altogether.

Ceramic non-stick cookware

What about ceramic non-stick pots and pans, such as GreenPan – are they safe non-stick cookware? 

Well, the good news is that GreenPan uses Thermolon instead of PTFE coating.  The Thermolon coating results from a Sol-Gel process and is comprised mainly of silicon dioxide, the component of sand from which glass is made.  So, from this standpoint, ceramic non-stick cookware is better than Teflon® cookware.  However, there are two reasons that prevent me from pronouncing it as completely non-toxic cookware.

First, although GreenPan provided me with their test reports, which I applaud, there is no way to say that they are comprehensive.  For example, we know that one of the components of Thermolon coating is silicon dioxide.  But what about the other components?  We still do not have the full list.  Consequently, it is hard to say what substances we need to see test reports for. 

Second, GreenPan is facing a class-action lawsuit from three law firms that they filed in September 2019.  The lawyers filed the lawsuit because of GreenPan’s claims to be “completely toxin free,” whereas (alleges the lawsuit) the patent for Thermolon lists numerous toxic chemicals that comprise it.  To read more about the lawsuit and GreenPan cookware, please head over to my Is GreenPan Non-Stick Cookware Safe? post.

For these reasons, I cannot recommend ceramic cookware as safe non-stick cookware.  But I do recommend cast iron pots and pans, and here is why. 

Cast iron non-toxic cookware

To start with, cast iron is made of an alloy comprised of over 90% iron.  As you may know, cast iron cookware has a long history of use in Asia, Europe, and the US.  It was especially popular during the first half of the 20th century because it was cheap and durable.  Therefore, most American households had at least one cast-iron cooking pan at the time.  Even though it fell into disfavor, it is now seeing a strong comeback as non-toxic cookware. 

For example, according to Tamara Rubin, a leading lead-poisoning prevention advocate, cast iron has a much higher melting point than lead.  As a consequence, simple cast iron pots and pans almost never have any lead as it is unlikely for the metal itself to contain lead.  The two exceptions, though, are cast iron cookware with a decorative high-temperature enamel finish and some antique cast iron cooking items (source). 

Cast iron as safe non-stick cookware

Although cast iron cookware does not carry “non-stick” marketing labels, it has non-stick properties.  All you need to do is learn how to use it correctly. 

First, make sure you heat the pan well before you add any food.  A few drops of water dancing across the surface as they boil off are a good indicator.

Second, season your cast iron after every use.  For example, after washing my cast iron, I put it back on the stove in a wet state.  Once the water has boiled away, I take it off the stove and apply a thin layer of avocado oil (the best oil to use at high heat).  When it cools down, I wipe any excess with a paper towel before putting it away. 

How does seasoning cast iron pots and pans work?

Apparently, heating the cast iron opens small holes, or pores, in its surface.  These pores collect and trap the oil as it cools and contracts, making it act as a non-stick surface the next time you use it.  And if you do not do this, the cast iron may rust. But you can restore even a rusty pan with some elbow grease and a new seasoning.

Don’t let the need to season your cast iron cookware after each use intimidate you. It is easy to do once you get in the habit.  Besides, a cast iron skillet usually comes with instructions on how to season it before the first use.  And there are lots of videos online as to how to do it.

Thus, with the right treatment, your cast iron has a potential to become your favorite safe non-stick cookware.  Based on experience, I can say that cast iron is perfect for pancakes and other potentially sticky food.  After a couple of months, our cast iron skillet became non-stick.

The effects of cast iron pots and pans on food

First of all, cast iron leaches iron into food during the cooking process.  Thus, studies show that the amount of iron varies from 1.7 mg per 100 g to 26 mg per 100 g.  In addition, acidic foods, high moisture content, and the long duration of cooking increase the release of iron significantly.

Can iron cause harm to our health?

On the one hand, iron is a necessary substance for our health.  Therefore, cast iron cookware may help with iron deficiency when the diet is poor in iron or when the iron does not absorb well.  Clearly, we should not consider them the only source of iron, though. 

On the other hand, too much iron is toxic and may lead to an iron overload called Hemochromatosis.  In fact, the symptoms of iron overload are similar to those of iron deficiency. Namely, they include joint pain, fatigue, general weakness, weight loss, and stomach pain.

So, how much iron do we need?

Basically, the amount of iron we need daily depends on age, gender, and whether a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding.  That is to say, the range is between 7 mg to 27 mg daily. And pregnant women need the highest amount.  For more details, please visit here.

Therefore, I recommend that you determine your iron needs before making cast iron pots and pans your primary cookware and use it accordingly.

Conclusion about safe cast iron cookware

In conclusion, I want to emphasize the benefits of cast iron cookware.  First, it can serve as safe non-stick cookware if you treat it right.  Second, it has no lead or other heavy metals that are harmful to our health.  Third, it can supply your body’s need for iron.  However, I do want to say that fried food is not good for you. But eating a lot of fresh or steamed vegetables is very important. 

If you have a high level of iron, do not use this cookware.  Always select cookware according to your health condition.  Thus, you can find out about other options of non-toxic cookware in my Safe Cookware Guide that Makes Sense

For options of cast iron pots and pans please visit my shop.  Also, I am available for consultations on the safety of products you consider buying for you or your household. 

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59 thoughts on “Are Cast Iron Pots and Pans Safe?”

  1. My cast iron was scrubbed with a stainless steel scrub pad – does that mean it now leaches “extra” iron?

  2. Thank you for all the information sharing that you do. I only use old cast iron pans that I fond in antique type stores. I have never trusted the Lodge “pre-seasoned” coating. It is bumpy and actually makes my things stick to them. I do not know what the pre seasoning is made from. My old pans are great as long as I use them for making eggs or sautéing. I do not use them for acidic things or making sauces – stainless steel for those. Also, along the lines of cookware, I have spent many years looking for a stainless steel tea kettle, inside and out, NOT made in China. Even the big stainless names that make their stuff in US import tea kettles from China. If you are able to locate a stainless kettle with a whistle not made in China, I would SOOO appreciate it. I just use a pot to heat my water right now.

    1. Yeah… It might not exist. Most of stainless products are made in China. Even All-Clad makes their stainless steel kettles in China now. I use a ceramic kettle now instead, which I like but my husband hates.

      1. Irina, have you tried the Simplex Tea kettles? They are solid copper with chrome finish over, still hand made in England.

        1. No, I have not. I believe copper without finish is toxic. I have not looked in-depth into chrome finish yet but I know there are some concerns… Thank you for the suggestion.

          1. I’d love to hear about Simplex Tea kettles, as I have one…
            Also – what waffle maker do you use?? I’ve been trying to find one to replace my non-stick one. The only option so far is an old-fashioned cast iron with no timer that goes on the stove top and that you need to turn to cook both sides. I’m hoping there’s a good modern version out there! Thank you!!

          2. Hmm… This is a really good question about a waffle maker. We do not make waffles so I did not think of that. Is there anybody else who is also interested in a safe waffle maker? Are the Simplex tea kettles made with copper? Copper can be toxic so normally it is lined with stainless steel. Is it the case with Simplex tea kettles? Thank you, Julia! ~Irina

  3. I LOVE my cast iron pan! I switched to it for cooking most things a year or more ago, and haven’t looked back! I even bought cast iron muffin pans (on Amazon) and love those as well, as I am trying to move away from other non-stick cooking items! You do need to season them, but since muffins stick on my “non-stick” muffin pans anyway I figured it couldn’t be worse, and it’s very easy to clean up any bits left behind (I typically do not use muffin liners as I find they stick to some of my muffins).

  4. Caroline Moustache

    thanks for the all the great information, I recently got rid of all my non-stick cookware and have been searching for an alternative, eggs is our biggest challenge. I will get a cast iron to pan now that I know they do well with eggs.

  5. Irina, thank you for not giving up on my “frying eggs” dilemma! 🙂 I have Emeril’s iron cast pan, but I haven’t had such luck with it, maybe I don’t warm it up long enough. I also don’t like the black smudges it leaves on the food I make. Is it normal? Thank you!

    1. Yes – it is important to warm up the pan first. Try it and let me know if you are more successful. I don’t think it should leave black smudges… I am not sure what it is. Anybody? Do you season it the way I recommended in the post?

  6. Pingback: Safe Cookware: Is it Safe? | I Read Labels For You

  7. Thanks for the info!wish i knew this before i soaked my cast iron pan after pan frying fish. It rusted. Any way to get rid of the rust or is it best to dispose of it?

    1. Hi Fatima: I do not know how severe the rust is but I believe you can get rid of the rust. You can scrub it with something like a nylon sponge, wipe it, and season it. Let me know.

  8. I have just purchased a cast iron tea kettle and am wondering your thoughts on them as I was planning on using it on top of the fireplace for chai and other tea. Thank you

      1. Thanks Irina, I have never used the tea kettle for tea as it does not even have a name/brand (thanks for your great info by the way!) I got the tea kettle from a vintage local Facebook selling page.. i thought maybe just to use it on the fire top to diffuse essential oils in? but maybe thats emitting toxins into the air too?
        Also I read the comments about oil, I use Coconut oil to cook and to season our cast iron camping oven, i believe it to be able to be heated to the highest temperate without turning toxic.. thanks so much

  9. Hi Irina,

    I just switched back to cast iron after my husband finally agreed (he does much of the pan using). We’re loving our Lodge.

    I did want to mention that hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder affecting iron processing that leads to iron overload. People without this disorder can still overload on iron, however.

  10. Hi,

    I have cast iron pans (Cuisinart) that were made in China. Think these are safe to use?

    Also have an enameled cast iron dutch oven gifted to me. It is from the Christmas Tree Shop, which is a bargain store so I am concerned about its safety as well as I have learned it was also made in China.

    Worried about lead contamination…any insight?

    1. Hi, Madelyn: Regardless where they are made, cast iron pans do not contain lead. As for the enameled cast iron dutch iron, you will have to contact the manufacturer. The best way to get a peace of mind is to ask if their products were tested to Prop. 65. ~Irina

    2. Ok thank you!

      Most of our cookware is stainless steel – do you consider this a safe alternative in terms of leavhing lead and other heavy metals?

      I saw that in one of your posts above you mentioned cooking tomatoes and other acidic things in stainless steel and how it causes metals to leach…I’ve been cooking my tomato based things in my stainless steel because I thought cast iron was bad for that type of thing. What do you think? What should I be cooking my tomato based things in?

      Thanks so much! Just feeling very overwhelmed today with all the possibly toxic things out there 🙁

  11. Hi, I use my lodge cast iron skillet and I see your recommendation on how to season it after each use. I wanted to know what kind of vegetable oil you use? I can’t seem to find organic vegetable oil. I see you use the organic high heat sunflower oil, do you use that to season the pan and what kind of oil do you use for your cooking? I have the Spectrum expeller-expressed high heat organic canola oil but is that good for cooking? Thank you for all this wealth of non-toxic healthy living choices!

    1. You can use any high heat cooking oil. Sunflower oil is a good one. Recently, I’ve switched to avocado oil as I think it is the healthiest for high heat cooking. We buy it at Costco. ~Irina

      1. I have been doing some research as we just bought a Lodge 2 sided griddle and we own bigger cast iron pots we use to make “potjie” in, a very South African dish made on an open fire… And my husbands pots have a really sticky feel to them from him using vegetable oil previously. We are trying out the Spectrum Sunflower oil now and will also try out the Avocado oil soon, but I read somewhere that it is best to season with lard (which we struggle to get here, like Crisco), or with Flax Seed Oil. The opinion on using Flax Seed is quite mixed at the moment, and I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on it’s safety etc? Also, been seeing a lot of companies have Cast Iron Seasoning Oils or Sticks, but I am scared it might not be safe enough to use as one never knows what goes into it. Is it also wise to bake the cast iron item in the oven for 1 hour after every seasoning, or is that not necessary? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

        1. Cast iron takes a lot of abuse and is very flexible in its use. Traditionally cast iron is seasoned with lard, an animal fat and assuredly not Crisco. If a brand new, unseasoned pan, or a rehab project scrub with soap and water to remove unknown oils and detritus, make sure all rust is removed. Rust can be removed with sandpaper, as well as the occasional manufacturing defect, but be careful not to be too aggressive as to create an uneven surface. Once clean, completely dry by wiping down, coat all the way around with lard or high temp vegetable oil, (avocado works well) and allow to sit in oven for 2 hours at low temp (250f). Recoat/spread about every 1/2 hour. (Expect drips) After initial seasononing plan on using extra fats for a little while and avoid acidic foods.
          After every use clean with plain water, dish soap if absolutely needed, and dish rag, nonmetallic scrubber if needed. Finally recoat food contact surfaces with fat, not thick just glisten, and store for next use. I use avocado oil on a paper towel that I leave in the cast iron and then reuse. I prefer avocado oil as it is non animal, is high temp, low flavor, and does not cause stickiness. I will occasionally cook acidic foods in my cast iron, but will not do so on consecutive uses. If I notice that things are sticking a little I’ll use that as an excuse to fry something with that pan. When storing I place my cast iron on something that I don’t mind absorbing a little oil.
          Cast iron is heavy and takes a while to heat up and cool down. Cast iron can go from stove top to oven. Cast iron is generally not recommended on ceramic/glass cooktops, but I use it on mine. There is concern about scratching plus there may be concern about oil tranferring from the pan to the cooktop.
          You may also get enameled cast iron which is not seasoned and can handle all the marinara sauce and other acidic foods you can throw at it. (Enameling is basically melting glass to cover the surface.) It also supposed to be okay for ceramic cooktops. With enameled be careful of chipping. I only use wood/bamboo utensils to reduce this possibility. I’m also careful not to throw a bunch of cold liquid into the pan as that can be hard on the enameling. Finally some enameled cast iron, have handles that can’t handle the oven. I do not have data on the pigments that are used with enameling.

      1. There are several organic avo oils available. Please consider that although eating non-organic avo is fine, chemicals like hexane are used in the manufacturing of nearly all food oils and are banned if organically produced/certified.

  12. Wow, this post has been so interesting to read… I will have to share it with the hubby. Will using olive oil to season it also work or is sunflower or avocado oil best? Wait, I also wanted to ask, what type of utensils to you suggest to use with Cast Iron, Stainless Steel and or Ceramic etc? Going to start looking at where I can get your suggestions in the Middle East, otherwise I will have to improvise….

      1. Thanks for the tip. I picked up some untreated Birch Wood spoons and spatulas, not sure if I should treat them though. Don’t know if the untreated wood would harbour bacteria? Do you use the spatulas you recommend in your Kitchen ebook? Just curious as I know mineral oil should be avoided, although I think treated utensils will probably last longer.

        1. I use untreated wooden spatulas. If you keep them dry, they will be fine. Again, because wood can get fully dry without pockets of moisture, bacteria won’t be able to grow as it needs moisture. ~Irina

  13. I have cooked on cast iron cookware for 20+ years. This year I decided to buy a unique piece of cast iron for Hubby. It has holes in it to char veggies. Since I like to make fire-roasted salsa, I thought this would be perfect. I ordered the pan (Mr. Bar-B-Q skillet made in China) from Walmart. When the pan came, I noticed it was nicely pre-seasoned so I washed it lightly and seasoned it again. Then I put my skillet on the grill to warm up. The toxic fumes that emanated from the skillet was unbelievable. After a lot of research, I finally decided my cast iron skillet was safe…but not the chemicals they used to season it. I’m sure my cast iron was seasoned with cosmoline to keep it from rusting. It smells just like my rifles. I returned it to Walmart. Stick with USA brands!

  14. So I have been using the avocado oil and I like it! I have it stored in the fridge per directions, but it solidifies in the fridge. Do I let it get to room temp each time I use it or can I just use the liquid stuff that comes out which is all collected on top of the solidified fat in the bottle?

  15. hi, Irina
    idk if you are still replying to comments here but i recently switched to using a cast iron, and was wondering about the enamel do they all have that now and is that safe.. also i noticed it dramatically made the colour of my tea and coffee alot darker then before, im assuming that is normal for cast iron? any info or tips you could give me about this would be appreciated, Thanks, susan

  16. Hi Irina,

    Have you had any success with using cast iron to make pancakes? Is there a particular trick to get pancakes to not stick on cast iron? Thanks so much!

  17. Hi Irina
    I want to buy a safe and good quality of cast Iron , do you recommend field company or something better ?

    regarding oils for cooking , I know that avocado oil is best oil for cooking.
    I saw some nutritionist do not recommend canola oil . so I was wondering to know your idea about Organic and non-GMO canola oil ? do you think Organic and Non GMO canola oil in the market is safe to use ?
    THANKS A Lot

    1. Hi, Eli: Yes, Field cast iron cookware is a good option, too. Even organic and non-GMO canola oil is not good for us just because it is not rapeseed is not a good thing to eat. Thank you. ~Irina

  18. Thank you Irina but I did not catch your point that why Organic , Non Gmo canola oil is not healthy,
    could you please make me clear ?I know that canola was created through traditional plant cross-breeding by removing two things found in the rapeseed plant: glucosinolates and erucic acid.
    One of concerns about canola is GMO BUT with Non-GMO one still is not healthy to use ?

    Thank you

    1. Not only is Canola unhealthy it’s one of the most mislabeled as “non-GMO” food. Less than 1% grown across the world is organic, let alone non-GMO. Studies have shown at least 5-10% of world’s annual supply is consistently sold as non-GMO.

      While technically true it is considered “traditionally” created, the process which was carried out in a university genetics lab to maximize marketability and profits, is in my opinion much closer to the invasive unnatural GMO processes of today than traditional cross breeding procedure used successfully for hundreds of years.

      Can (Canadian) ola’s (Oil) [clever marketing] biggest use is industrial lubrication and found in the cheapest fry pits of fast food giants for one reason only, it’s the cheapest of the cheap to produce and doesn’t break down easily, it’s no wonder marketing has convinced many of it’s health benefits enabling profit squeeze at the cost of consumers’ health.

  19. Lodge’s enameled cast iron Dutch Ovens are now MADE IN CHINA, according to Lodge. So, how do we know how safe and/or durable it is? Low prices don’t help if you eat toxic flakes in your food.

      1. Irina, so many good works! I am proud to report that with seasoning with ½tsp lard (from Targét) after each use (becomes routine), I can fry an egg without sticking! 🥰 I also found that with a 50¢ brush from Walmart and ¼tsp salt, my Lodge pans clean up great! Your Pearl’s of wisdom are spot on!

  20. Found a 10” cast iron skillet at Tuesday Morning on sale ($13). It’s by Smith & Clark Ironworks (made in China and a brand of Tabletops Unlimited) It’s preseasoned, no enamel, quite heavy. Another 6”, oil-seasoned one by Sharper Image made in China. Do you think buying a cast iron skillet from brands like these is unadvisable? Is it common for soles brands to have toxic materials in cast iron?

  21. Hi Irina.

    I have a glasstop electric stove. Do you know if Field Day iron skillets are smooth on the bottom? Thank you so much for the information you provide to the community. You’ve helped me tremendously in the past.

  22. Stephanie Scofield

    I have read a few of your article, starting with GreenPan. I have sever fibromyalgia and my hands and wrist are very painful. I desperately need sauce pans. Can you recommend any that aren’t too heavy. Right now I have The Rock fry pans. I like them, but recently heard they are bad.
    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us.

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