For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead-poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times to confirm the test results for each component tested. Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
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I get some version of this question every. single. day!
“Which are the least-toxic pots & pans?”
“Which pots & pans are the best?”
“Which pots and pans do you use in your home?”
“What’s the best brand for nontoxic pots and pans?”
First: What to AVOID when purchasing cookware
Given my area of expertise — based on more than a decade of using X-Ray Fluorescence analysis to quantifiably detect and report on metallic toxicants in consumer goods — I am more comfortable advising people on what NOT to buy (e.g. specific items that I have personally tested and found to contain high levels of Lead, and/or Cadmium, Arsenic, or other heavy metals), so I am going to start off with that! Continue reading below the list for what I recommend buying, BUT please DO NOT skip reading this section!
- I avoid any and all non-stick coatings — this includes the latest “breakthrough-completely-nontoxic-titanium-based-diamond-finish-nano-ceramic-matrix-blah-blah-blah” (fill-in-the-“miracle” coating-of-the-month) hyped-up coatings found on so many brands and styles of cookware today! Check out this link for more on that.
- I avoid any and all glazed ceramic pans. This includes blatantly misleading and dishonest claims — brands or models of pans that are actually glazed, yet insist (via their marketing materials) that somehow they are not glazed (Xtrema, Ceramcor, Mercola, etc.)! Breaking one of these pans in half quickly reveals that the interior ceramic substrate is finished with a clearly distinct, separate glazed coating on the surface; elemental analysis easily reveals the utter fraudulence/absurdity of many of these so-called “metals-free” pans (as well as the specific levels of each of the many metals found in their various substrates and coatings!) Check out the link here.
- I avoid any and all enamel-coated metal pots and pans. This includes Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge … pans from ANY BRAND that have an enamel coating over metal. There ARE some brands that make products in this range offering some Lead-free options (and Cadmium-free options), but we have learned we cannot count on these brands to be consistently accountable — with best-practices testing, and continuous monitoring of their manufacturing and supply chains. This includes lifetime implications for all the ingredients in their coatings … so it is best to avoid them altogether. Check out the link here.
- I avoid any and all tinted glass for cooking! In exception, I use some known-to-be-toxicant-free tinted glass for glassware. However, most tints are made with heavy-metals-based colorants — and there is really no legitimate reason for this class of toxic colorants to be in our cookware! Why do we even need “fashion tints” in our food-use glass? No thank you! Check out the link here.
- With very few exceptions, I avoid any and all cookware with silicone. I know — it’s the latest hugely-popular “miracle ‘un-plastic’” — but I have found enough examples of modern silicone products (including cookware) to test positive for trace levels of Cadmium, and some even have unsafe levels of LEAD! Given this, I feel it is really not worth the risk. Check out the link here.
- I avoid any and all cookware with BRASS “accents” (functional or decorative elements). Most often I am seeing this in decorative knobs or functional handles on pots and pans. Almost always, these elements are made of high-Lead-content brass (in the 30,000 to 40,000 ppm range). Check out the link here.
- I avoid any and all cookware that has painted elements of any kind! This includes painted logo markings (whether these are on glass or metal kitchen items), painted measurement markings (on glass or metal), etc. Many manufacturers applying these painted markings on glass and metal food and beverage containers are often — mind-bogglingly — still using actual Lead Paint! Check out the link here.
- Similarly, while I LOVE plain undecorated wooden cooking utensils and bowls — I avoid any and all wooden cooking utensils and other wooden cookware components if they have ANY painted or decorative markings! Check out the link here.
- As a rule of thumb, I steer clear of any vintage cookware of any kind. In most cases — depending on when the items were made — safety standards were either non-existent or much laxer than current standards. Bear in mind, most experts who study the health impacts of heavy metals consider even today’s safety standards (across industries) to still be inadequate! Check out the link here.
- Whenever possible I avoid anything from the brandKitchenAid. Check out the link here.
- I also avoid any branded products from Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Sur La Table, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and Cost Plus World Market (among others) — these particular brands have demonstrated a flagrant lack of responsibility through a history of knowingly selling Leaded products. Check out the link here.
- I avoid any and all Aluminum cookware or utensils (including the Always Pan, Green Pan products, and similar). This includes bare Aluminum, coated cast Aluminum, un-coated cast Aluminum, etc. Nearly all of the Aluminum cookware I have tested has been contaminated with unsafe levels of Lead. Examples of cast Aluminum cookware include many garlic presses, hand citrus juice presses, meat tenderizers, and KitchenAid stand mixer paddles (coated, and uncoated). Check out the link here.
- Avoid all plastic, period. This includes cookware, strainers, food storage, pitchers, cups, etc.
Note/Warning: If an environmentally-focused blogger tells you a new-fangled set of pots and pans is “safe and truly non-toxic” … don’t simply believe them. Did they do their homework? What are they basing their claims on? Usually, it’s just the marketing materials of the manufacturer! How much of a commission are they making from this recommendation? DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE! If it SOUNDS too good to be true … it probably ISN’T TRUE! Three examples: Ceramcor/Xtrema, Always Pan, and Green Pan.
So Tamara, what DO you buy? What do you use in YOUR kitchen? What DO you recommend?
Everything I personally use or recommend usually falls within the following categories — with very few exceptions. This list includes many materials your grandmother (or great-grandmother) might have used in her kitchen at the turn of the previous century — before the mass manufacturing of consumer goods took over our world — which, as it turns out, is a great place to start!
- Plain undecorated clear glass with no painted markings.
- Plain undecorated cast iron with no painted markings and no additional metal accents.
- Plain undecorated (locally sourced? handmade?) wooden cooking accessories (mixing spoons? spatulas? cutting boards?)
- Plain undecorated stainless steel with no painted markings and no additional metal accents, specifically low-nickel stainless for those who have concerns about nickel allergies.
That’s it! Easy Peasy!
Pro-tip: Mix it up!
The trick in following the above guidelines is “keep it mixed up.” Follow the above guidelines but don’t rely too much on any one type of pan or dish. Use a little of this and a little of that for each meal (or for each day of cooking). Don’t use a single pan for everything, especially if you have concerns about limiting your exposure to things like Iron, cast iron, Nickel, or other components of stainless steel). By using an assortment of materials to cook with (simple materials without Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Arsenic, and Antimony), you are much less likely to suffer any potential negative impact that might otherwise be caused by regular daily usage of only one single material. For example, potential impacts if you ONLY used stainless pans or ONLY used cast iron with daily cooking, especially of highly acidic foods. That said, even with our family’s regular frequent use of cast iron, one of our kiddos is still low in iron. So while hemochromatosis (essentially iron poisoning in humans who cannot eliminate iron properly) is a real thing — I don’t think cast iron usage (with a well-seasoned cast iron pan) is automatically a concern for folks in the general population who do not have that diagnosis (although of course check with your doctor on that one)!
You can use these guidelines now to go out and buy ANY cookware that fits within these guidelines and you should be good! You don’t NEED specific brand or model recommendations from me, I promise!
“But TAMARA! I want you to tell me WHAT TO BUY! I want to know EXACTLY WHAT TO BUY!”
Well — this is the part of my work that I absolutely hate! I cannot recommend things in a vacuum, without knowing regular intended use, usage habits, usage conditions, etc. I also HATE recommending products from specific brands — for while I might write an article one month outlining how a recently manufactured example was free of toxic heavy metals, they could change their production methodology or materials sourcing the next month, possibly manufacturing a version of the same pan that is not 100% heavy metals-free. The best example I have seen of this is manufacturers adding a painted logo to a glass lid, where there previously wasn’t one.
So the link that I initially share, (because a recent version of that product seemed to be a good choice) might later, at some unspecified time in the future, link to a newer version of the product that may have changed in some way and now has a component I wouldn’t recommend. For example, I might recommend a product based on the fact that the one pictured/one I had actually tested appears to have etched measurement markings — but then you order it and the one you receive appears to have painted measurement markings instead! So, with the caveat that I cannot change what companies may do in the future, below are TWO SECTIONS of links with recommended products here on the site (and if you continue to read this article, I will link some specific products directly with their vendors or with Amazon in the next section).
Section 1: Best places here on the website to look for non-toxic options (including many specific linked choices), as well as where to read more about them and my recommendations.
- My Amazon store has lots of good choices and might be a good place for you to start.
- My overview about
- cast iron, with some links to specific product choices.
- glass dishes, with some links to specific product choices.
- tea kettles, with some links to specific product choices.
- measuring cups with some links to specific product choices.
- mixing bowls with some links to specific product choices.
- ice cream scoops with some links to specific product choices.
- colanders with some links to specific product choices.
- Here’s a review and full XRF testing of a NEW American Made cast iron pan that seems like a good choice.
- Here’s a review and full XRF testing of a NEW American Made stainless steel pan that seems like a good choice.
- Please also watch this video about how to most efficiently search the 2,700+ articles and pages here on the site — thank you!
Section 2: Direct Links to Amazon with some specific product options.
There is a broader selection of items in the Amazon Store (more generally, items that have tested or are likely to test negative for Lead) and I try to add to that with new finds every month in one or more categories. Here’s the Amazon Store link again.
And now — finally — some direct AMAZON AFFILIATE* LINKS (below). For those arm-twisters out there who don’t have the patience to read all of the above: please be clear that I PREFER you read the above so YOU can make INFORMED CHOICES for YOUR FAMILY based on SCIENCE. I want my work to teach you. I want my work to help you make informed choices forever into the future and not just for one purchase today.
- A good heirloom quality Cast Iron pan.
- An inexpensive Cast Iron pan set.
- A good low-nickel stainless pan.
- My favorite cutting board yet (I would like to get a bunch of these in different sizes)!
- One of my favorite measuring spoon sets.
- My favorite measuring cups.
- A good inexpensive selection for cooking utensils.
- A handmade Amish (heirloom quality) wooden spoon set.
- A good selection for a garlic press (there are lots like this online).
- A good selection for a hand (non-electric) citrus juicer.
- A second citrus juicer choice in stainless.
- My favorite inexpensive blender (glass canister)!
- My favorite expensive blender.
- The low-end (inexpensive) stainless pans I bought my son for college.
- Stainless muffin cups that look like a good choice (mini muffins).
- Stainless muffin cups (regular size).
- Glass loaf pans I bought for my family.
- The stainless steel baking sheets I bought my son for college.
- The colander set I bought my son for college.
- The mixing bowls I bought my son for college.
- The pie plates I bought my son for college.
- The coffee cups we use every day in my home.
- The dishes we use every day in my home.
- The drinking glasses we use every day in my home.
- The glass baking pans I use for most baking at home.
- The electric tea kettle my husband bought (I have not yet tested this).
That’s all I can think of right now! Please let me know if I have missed anything and if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them personally (with over 1.165 million readers on LeadSafeMama.com in 2020 alone, I cannot always get to answering these individually — but I do try)!
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