How to Restore a Sticking Non-Stick Pan

There is nothing worse than cracking an egg into the skillet for that perfect over easy breakfast and then going for the flip and...stick. We’ve all been there - a sticking non-stick pan. Come on pan, you had one job!

Luckily, a sticking non-stick pan isn’t the end of the world, or the end of that skillet. In fact, most non-stick pans can be restored well enough to make perfect over easy eggs once again. Here’s everything you need to know about restoring a sticking non-stick pan. 

A sticking non-stick pan isn’t the end of the world, or the end of that skillet. In fact, most non-stick pans can be restored well enough to make perfect over easy eggs once again. Here’s everything you need to know about restoring a sticking non-stick pan.

Restoring a non-stick pan: Common problems and solutions

Non-stick pans inevitably wear down, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reverse course and restore some slickness to your cookware. While not all pans can be repaired, many can, and in fact it’s easy to extend the life of your non-stick cookware with a few simple tricks. 

These are the most common problems that will lead a non-stick pan to stick, and their solutions.

Problem

The surface of my non-stick pan is scratched

Solution

Scratches are among the most common problems associated with non-stick pans. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to non-stick pans, they’re pretty delicate - even something as strong as titanium-reinforced non-stick is still vulnerable to scratching!

Non-Stick Pan

The image above is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. There are clearly scratches all over this pan. This will lead to some definite stickage. 

Before I go forward though I want to highlight one thing, and this is important - the following solution applies only to non-stick pans that are PTFE, PFOA and Teflon free. 

If your pan contains any of these materials in the non-stick layer, there is unfortunately no way to restore that cooking surface without the risk of leaching harsh chemicals into your food. 

Now, moving on. In theory, scratches to the non-stick surface can be buffed out, but in doing so you risk removing the surrounding non-stick materials and losing the qualities that make your pan special. We obviously do not want this. 

Instead, the best solution to a scratched non-stick pan is to delicately re-seasoning with neutral oils.

But rather than seasoning with straight canola oil, I would recommend trying out either a Culina seasoning stick or the Crisbee Stik. Even though these products were designed for cast iron they will still fill in the scratches of your non-stick, and the shape of the product makes precise applications easy. 

Crisbee Stik Steel Seasoning

Crisbee Stick

Culina Cast Iron Seasoning Stick

Culina Seasoning Stick

Problem

There is grease build up on my non-stick pan.

Solution

Grease build up is another major issue affecting the performance of your non-stick pans. Usually the result of food debris or haphazard cleaning, grease is thankfully something that can be removed from most pans without too much trouble. 

That said, if your pan has built up grease because you’ve been using an aerosol spray like Pam, I’ve got bad news for you. Aerosol sprays lead to grease build up that penetrates and mixes with the non-stick surface, baking into your cookware. More on this below. 

No amount of scrubbing will remove this kind of build up without seriously compromising your pans. So if you’ve been using an aerosol spray on your non-stick, stop that now! You’ll probably need to start fresh with new pans and avoid aerosols in the future.

Dirty Non-Stick Pans

Now, if we’re talking just normal grease build up, you’re in luck. Most grease build up can be removed by boiling a mixture of 1 cup of water, 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and ½ cup of white vinegar for approximately 10 minutes. 

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda

Baking Soda

White Distilled Organic Vinegar

White Vinegar

After you’ve let this mixture boil for about 10 minutes, you’ll want to wash your non-stick pan as you normally would, with warm water and a gentle dish soap, avoiding of course abrasive sponges. Most of the grease should release from the pan with relative ease and you’ll be left with a clean cooking surface.

At this stage, you may want to test your pan’s non-stick properties by simply frying an egg. If the pan sticks, you can gently re-season with a neutral oil, or even better, by using one of the seasoning sticks listed above.

Problem

The non-stick surface of my pan is flaking.

Solution

A flaking non-stick pan is a big problem. Not only will it cause your pan to stick, but you also risk transferring bits of non-stick, potentially toxic material to your food. This can be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. 

If your non-stick pan is flaking and contains PTFE, PFOA or Teflon, I’m sorry to say that it’s time to move on. The following tips apply only to non-stick pans that do not contain these chemicals. It’s extremely difficult to completely restore a pan once that encapsulated barrier has been disrupted. 

If your non-stick pan is flaking and does not contain any of the aforementioned chemicals, you should start by giving it a good scrub. Don’t worry about using an abrasive brush at this step because you’re actually now working to remove the unsettled protective non-stick layer, at least the parts of it that are flaking. 

After a good scrubbing it’s time to tackle any remaining grease. That means boiling your mixture of water (one cup), baking soda (two tablespoons) and white vinegar (half a cup) for about ten minutes. This will strip your pan further, after which you can give it another gentle washing with soap. 

At this point you should have a relatively smooth pan, free from flakes. But don’t forget you’ve removed material from the non-stick surface of the pan, which means it will probably still stick. 

So the next and last step? Now that you have a clean cooking surface free from flakes, you can re-season with a neutral oil, or use one of the seasoning sticks that I’ve recommended above.

Problem

My pan looks perfectly fine, but it’s still sticking.

Solution

If your pan looks fine but it’s still sticking, that means it likely has some combination of any or all of the above mentioned problems on a microscopic scale - scratches, flaking or grease build up. 

Since you can’t see the scratches or grease, it means that the intervention to restore your pan won’t need to be as severe. In fact, I would caution against taking drastic measures like those above if you find your pan in this condition. 

Non Stick Pan

Instead, start by giving your pan a moderate scrubbing with a soft sponge and gentle detergent. Let the pan soak for a minute, and then really get in there without using anything abrasive. Rinse your pan and wipe it dry, and then it’s time to re-season. 

We normally don’t need to season non-stick pans unless they start to stick, and then it’s simply a matter of re-imparting the surface with some non-stick properties. Neutral oils like canola and avocado oil are perfect for this, and some people prefer a hybrid mixture. 

In the case of a pan that appears fine but still sticks, you want to start with less rather than more. Apply a small amount of oil to the surface of the pan and gently massage the oil in with a paper towel until it disappears. You may want to heat the pan slightly at this point, but I would caution against baking it. 

While heat is important to seasoning, it can also disrupt the non-stick surface, especially if that surface is already vulnerable. Instead, after you’ve rubbed in a small amount of oil, put the pan on your stovetop on low heat for a few minutes. 

If your pan continues to stick after this, I would recommend repeating the process and adding slightly more oil than the previous application. Remember, you want to rub the oil in until you can barely see it. Good luck!

What causes a non-stick pan to stick?  

All non-stick pans eventually degrade and begin to stick, but improper care accelerates this degradation, causing the pans to stick prematurely. The most likely culprits - metal utensils, grease build up, and the dishwasher. 

Scratches to the surface of your pan can compromise the integrity of the non-stick material, drastically reducing its non-stick properties. These scratches may be caused by metal utensils or tongs, from using hard abrasive sponges, like steel wool, and by storing your pans by stacking them one on top of the other. 

Pan on Stove

Another major factor leading to non-stick degradation is the dishwasher. Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, never put your non-stick cookware in the dishwasher. Dishwashers will slowly wear down the non-stick coating, causing it to flake. 

Lastly, grease and food build up are quite common and almost always lead to a sticking non-stick pan. While most food debris can be washed away with a gentle scrubbing, grease build up is another matter. 

Grease build up that won’t go away is likely the result of oils that have baked into your pan. When the oils penetrate that non-stick layer, they shift the balance of the protective coating, basically transforming the molecular design of the non-stick. 

Unfortunately, baked in grease isn’t something you’ll be able to remedy with just a sponge and dish soap. 

Can non-stick pans be restored?

There are a few tricks for improving a pan’s non-stick coating after it has degraded. That said, unless you have your pan restored by a professional, it will never be as slick as it was on day one.

I want to be transparent here and temper expectations. While it is more than possible - and in fact, easy - to restore a non-stick pan to a degree, that pan won’t ever be the same as it was straight out of the box. 

Instead, when we restore pans we are actually trying to undo some of the factors that caused the pan to stick in the first place. This is often far easier than re-coating the pan in what is often a highly complex, relatively expensive and proprietary finish.

Cooking Pancake

Obviously, few of us have Teflon, titanium alloys or ceramic on hand. That work is best done by the manufacturer, and just pretty clearly beyond the capabilities of the average home cook. 

Instead, non-stick restoration largely consists of smoothing out scratched and/or sticky surfaces, and then gently re-seasoning with oil. This process is remarkably similar to the process used to restore cast iron, but I should emphasize that everything we do with non-stick needs to be more delicate and precise. 

Of course, there are some important things to consider before deciding on whether or not your non-stick pan can be restored. The first among those considerations is figuring out what materials originally composed your non-stick surface. 

Since you don’t really have the technical capacity to re-encapsulate your non-stick - i.e., create a new, chemically protective layer over an old, damaged one - you want to ensure that harmful chemicals are not released into your food through continued use. 

Again, our methods of restoration consist of smoothing out a non-stick surface and then gently seasoning with oil. This adds slickness and a degree of protection to your pan, but it doesn’t seal it completely.

The oil seasoning will provide non-stick properties, but it does not constitute a fully protective barrier, meaning components of the original non-stick surface could still leach. If your non-stick pan was made from Teflon, PTFE or PFOA, no degree of restoration will make it safe again, and it’s time to ditch that pan and move on. More on this below. 

Does cooking spray ruin non-stick pans?  

Using aerosol cooking sprays on non-stick is not advised, as these sprays will degrade a pan’s non-stick surface. Cooking sprays like Pam have a relatively high smoke point, leading excess oil to bake into your pan, rather than burn off.

While baking oils into your pan is critical to seasoning something like cast iron, it’s the enemy of non-stick. The reasoning for this is really quite simple. Whereas virgin cast iron has no inherent protective coating, non-stick cookware is already coated in a carefully manufactured, ultra slick barrier. 

When oils bake into that non-stick layer, they disrupt the chemical and material balance of the non-stick coating. This shift in composition can cause the coating to either flake or get sticky. 

Most of us are familiar with this stickiness, as it can result from things other than aerosol sprays as well. It is most common to see this kind of degradation begin around the edges of our most commonly used non-stick pans. 

What I’m describing feels like grease build up, but unfortunately, no amount of scrubbing can get the gunk off since it’s already baked into your pan. Or rather, no amount of scrubbing can completely clean your pan without further disturbing the pan’s non-stick surface. 

When to replace a non-stick pan

I’ll level with you - none of the aforementioned procedures and tips for restoring a non-stick pan are going to make your pan feel like it did when you cooked on it for the very first time. Non-stick is tricky, and it does degrade. This isn’t irreversible, but we also aren’t miracle workers. 

While the tips above can certainly extend the life of your favorite non-stick cookware, there comes a point when you just need to throw in the towel and move on. There are a few situations in which this is the case. 

It’s time to replace a non-stick pan when:

  • That pan is flaking or severely scratched, and contains PTFE or PFOA. This is a true go-no-further situation. You won’t be able to re-establish a protective layer that keeps your food from harsh chemicals, no matter what you do. Time to chuck it.
  • More than 50% of your pan’s surface is covered in scratches. This is somewhat of an arbitrary measure, but once you hit this halfway mark your pan’s performance will decline significantly. Time to chuck it.
  • Your pan is flaking on more than 50% of the surface area. Again, this is relatively arbitrary, but you can see above for my justification. Time to chuck it.
  • Your pan has grease baked in from using an aerosol spray. I’ve discussed aerosols above, and unfortunately there is no coming back from this. Time to chuck it.

How long does a non-stick pan last?

The life of your non-stick pan will correspond directly to the care you put into it. If you treat your pans well, they will last anywhere from 3 - 5 years.

Cooking an Egg

Improper use and storage of non-stick pans are the number one causes of early degradation, and the reason why some non-stick pans are no good after less than a year of use. The major things to avoid are those that I’ve mentioned above, listed here for convenience.

To prolong the life of your non-stick pan, avoid:

  • Using metal utensils on the non-stick surface - this can lead to scratches.
  • Using an aerosol spray like Pam - this can lead to grease build up.
  • Overheating a non-stick pan - this can lead to a breakdown of the non-stick barrier.
  • Using an abrasive sponge, or putting your pans in the dishwasher - this can lead to scratches and flaking.
  • Stacking your pans - this can also cause scratches from the bottom of one pan on the top of the other. 

Instead, to extend the life of your pan:

  • Always use either wood or silicone utensils on the non-stick surface.
  • Use a modest amount of oil, poured directly into the pan, instead of an aerosol spray.
  • Never heat your pan beyond the temperature recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Always hand wash, and only use a soft sponge - never an abrasive.

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