How Teflon Sticks to Nonstick Pans

How to Stick the Non-Sticky

Skillet frying pan on white background
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Teflon is DuPont's brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, a fluoropolymer in which the fluorine atoms are so tightly bonded to the carbon atoms that everything else slips right off. It's a miracle of modern chemistry that you encounter whenever you use non-stick cookware. But... if Teflon is non-stick, then how do they get it to stick to pans in the first place?

How Teflon Sticks to Pans

You might guess Teflon somehow sticks to metal better than it does to eggs, but in reality, the polymer slides right off of metallic surfaces, too. In order to get Teflon to stick to a pan, the metal is sandblasted. A primer coat of Teflon seeps into the tiny holes and cracks. The Teflon is baked into the pan. It doesn't stick to the metal, but the plastic has a hard time working its way out of the nooks and crannies. A finishing layer of Teflon is applied and baked onto the primed surface. Teflon has no trouble polymerizing with itself, so this layer bonds to the prepared pan without any problem.

Keeping the Teflon in Place

You can ruin your Teflon-coated pan two ways. You can damage the Teflon coating or scratch beneath it if you use metal utensils or too much force stirring or scraping food. The other way to ruin the pan is by applying too much heat, which can happen if you burn your food or heat the pan without any food in it. When too much heat is applied, the carbon bonds break, releasing fluorocarbons into the air. This isn't great for either the pan or your health, so non-stick cookware shouldn't be subjected to extremely high heat.

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  • Carlson, D. Peter; Schmiegel, Walter (2000) "Fluoropolymers, Organic" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Wiley-VCH. Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a11_393
  • Puts, Gerard J.; Crouse, Philip; Ameduri, Bruno M. (January 28, 2019). "Polytetrafluoroethylene: Synthesis and Characterization of the Original Extreme Polymer". Chemical Reviews. 119: 1763–1805. doi:10.1021/acs.chemrev.8b00458
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How Teflon Sticks to Nonstick Pans." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 26). How Teflon Sticks to Nonstick Pans. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How Teflon Sticks to Nonstick Pans." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).