From rusting to warping, age-related factors can impact how well your cookware will perform.

By Kelly Vaughan
October 06, 2020
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After years of braising meats and vegetables or cooking pasta and rice, pots and pans can start to show their age. While browning or rusting on a once-shiny, stainless-steel pan can be removed with a bit of elbow grease—and a lot of help from a cleaning product like Bar Keeper's Friend ($4.95, williams-sonoma.com)—other issues like warping or scratched coating on a nonstick pan can be a sign that the performance of your pan is no longer top-notch. "The lifetime of a pan will vary depending on the material and/or coating, how often you use it, and how you care for it," says Wendy Dyer, international product director for All-Clad. When taken care of properly, good-quality cookware should last a lifetime. Here are the signs that your cookware may be degrading. Plus, we explain how to safely and sustainably dispose of old pots and pans when that time comes.

Credit: Bryan Gardner

Browning or Rusting

While unsightly, a slightly rusted pan doesn't mean that you need to get rid of it. "Browning or rusting on the bottom of a pan can be caused by many things including burning food or water spots that leave a layer of rust," Dyer explains. Using a product like Bar Keeper's Friend, which is made with oxalic acid, a natural rust remover, can help bring your cookware back to life. However, if the appearance of a browned pan bothers you, replace it with a newer, shinier model.

Warping

While it can be tempting to clean a hot pan immediately after cooking with it, submerging it in cold water can cause thermal shock, resulting in a warped pan over time. "If you have cookware that has warped, it isn't necessarily dangerous, but it could impact the quality of the food you are cooking, since the pan cannot evenly heat," says Dyer. Assess the amount of warping on your pan and decide if it's worth replacing.

Nonstick Coating

The one sign that you should definitely get rid of a pot or pan? If the coating on a nonstick pan starts to flake or chip off. Many nonstick pans were once made with a product called Teflon, which was made with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and was considered to be a human carcinogen. If you own a nonstick pan that you purchased prior to 2013 (which is when many cookware brands reformulated the type of chemical used in nonstick coatings) and it's starting to flake, you should recycle it. Nowadays, most nonstick pans are made with a non-toxic coating free from PFOA, PFAS, lead, and cadmium. However, if the pan does start to flake, you may want to discard it anyway as the coating could get in your food when you cook with it.

How to Dispose of Old Pans

Looking for a way to safely and sustainably get rid of your old pots and pans? "One of the safest and most eco-friendly ways to dispose of old cookware is to recycle them at a scrap metal facility, so that the metals can be removed and used for other things," says Dyer. "You can also give them to a household waste facility that will recycle them on your behalf." Check with your local sanitation department to see what your options are. Or consider sending them to TerraCycle, an upcycling service that collects waste. Depending on their condition, you can also donate them to a secondhand store or to families in need.

This story originally appeared on marthastewart.com.