Does Stainless Steel Cookware Leach Into Food?

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As someone who enjoys cooking, I’ve often wondered if the materials in my cookware could get into my food during the cooking process. Stainless steel is known for its durability, heat-conducting properties, and overall safety, but recent research prompted me to ask: Does stainless steel cookware leach into food? Let’s get into the details.

In my investigation, I discovered that stainless steel cookware does, in fact, leach small amounts of chromium and nickel into food while cooking. Similar to how cast iron pans can leach iron, the amount leached depends on various factors, such as whether the food being cooked is acidic or non-acidic, the length of cooking time, and the specific type of stainless steel pan being used. Despite these findings, it’s important to note that the levels of chromium and nickel leached are typically not considered dangerous to the human body.

During my research, I also learned that there are certain precautions I can take to minimize potential leaching. Slice of Kitchen suggests refraining from slow-cooking and cooking acidic dishes with stainless steel cookware, as well as removing food from the pan immediately after cooking. Additionally, it’s crucial to avoid using abrasive detergents, scouring pads, and steel wool when cleaning to prevent damage to the pan’s surface. So, does stainless steel cookware leach into food? Let’s get into the details.

Related: Our Cookware Buying Guide. How To Find Your Perfect Set.

What Is Stainless Steel?

In this section, I will discuss stainless steel cookware and its features, covering its definition, its composition, common types, and its cooking properties.

does stainless steel cookware leach set


Stainless steel cookware is a type of cookware made from a metal alloy called, surprise surprise…stainless steel. It typically contains iron, chrome, and nickel content, making it resistant to rust and corrosion. As a result, people often choose stainless steel cookware for its durability and longevity in the kitchen.


Stainless steel itself is an alloy with a minimum of 10.5% chromium content. Other elements, such as nickel, molybdenum, titanium, and copper, are added to enhance their qualities. To date, there are more than 150 stainless steel grades based on the combination of metals. For cookware, the most common grades are 18/0, 18/8, and 18/10, which indicate the percentages of chromium and nickel in the alloy.

Common Types Of Cookware

When it comes to stainless steel cookware, there are several types available on the market. Some of the most popular types include:

  • Clad Stainless Steel Cookware: This type features a core made from another metal, such as aluminum or copper, sandwiched between layers of stainless steel to improve as a conductor of heat.
  • Tri-ply Stainless Steel Cookware: This type of cookware is made with three layers of metal, typically stainless steel layers enclosing an aluminum or copper core.
  • Nickel-free Stainless Steel Cookware: For those who are allergic or sensitive to nickel, nickel-free stainless steel cookware (such as 18/0, 21/0, and 430 steel) is a suitable choice. An example of nickel-free stainless steel cookware is the HOMI CHEF 14-Piece Cookware Set, available on Amazon.
Pot Of Meatballs In Sauce

Cooking Properties

Stainless steel cookware is known for its even heating and non-reactive properties. Due to its durability and resistance to staining, it can handle high heat and is suitable for various cooking methods such as frying, searing, boiling, and simmering. Stainless steel cookware is compatible with all cooktops, including induction cooktops. However, it is essential to note that stainless steel cookware can leach metals, like nickel and chromium, into foods during cooking, especially when cooking acidic foods or using new stainless steel pots and pans. It is important to use your cookware properly and care for it to minimize any potential risks.

Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?

As a cookware enthusiast, I’ve discovered that stainless steel cookware is generally considered safe for preparing meals. In this section, I will be discussing the reasons why stainless steel is a safe choice and also the exceptions to the rule.

Explanation Of Why Stainless Steel Is Generally Considered Safe

Stainless steel’s popularity in cookware stems from its non-reactive properties and durability. The majority of stainless steel cookware on the market contains at least 16% chromium, which makes it food-safe according to the National Sanitation Federation (NSF). The hard and non-reactive cooking surface of stainless steel prevents harmful levels of metals from mixing with food and ensures bacteria won’t linger.

Exceptions To The Rule

Non-Stick Coatings

While pure stainless steel is generally safe, some cookware comes with non-stick coatings which might pose potential health risks. It’s important to ensure that any non-stick cookware you use is certified to be 100% free of toxic chemicals such as PFOAs, as recommended by Food & Wine.

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Copper Or Aluminum Core

Some stainless steel cookware features a copper or aluminum core for improved heat conductivity. In these instances, it’s crucial that the core material is safely enclosed within the stainless steel layers, preventing direct contact with food. Proper construction ensures that these metals don’t leach into your meals.

Scratches Or Damage

Over time, stainless steel cookware can develop scratches or other damage through regular use. While these imperfections may not necessarily pose significant health risks, they can impact the performance and longevity of your cookware. To maintain a safe and effective cooking surface, I recommend properly caring for and cleaning your stainless steel cookware and replacing it when necessary.

How To Minimize Risks

As someone who loves cooking and values safety, I will share some tips and recommendations to minimize the potential risks of stainless steel cookware leaching into food.

Tips For Using Stainless Steel Cookware Safely

Here are some valuable tips I’ve gathered to use stainless steel cookware safely:

  • Cook over low to medium heat, as high temperatures can increase the chances of leaching.
  • Avoid using damaged or worn-out cookware, which can expose the underlying metals and cause leaching.
  • Limit cooking highly acidic or salty foods in stainless steel, as these foods tend to react with the cookware and may cause leaching.

Examples Of High-Quality Stainless Steel Cookware Brands

In my experience, investing in high-quality stainless steel cookware can help minimize the risk of leaching. Some of the top brands I trust include:

  1. All-Clad
  2. Cuisinart
  3. Calphalon
  4. Made-In

Importance Of Proper Cleaning And Maintenance

I always emphasize the importance of keeping stainless steel cookware clean and well-maintained. Proper cleaning and maintenance can prevent deterioration and potential leaching. Here’s how I do it:

  • Wash with warm water, mild soap, and a gentle sponge or cloth after each use.
  • Avoid using harsh abrasive cleaners or scrubbers that could damage the cookware’s surface.
  • Dry the cookware completely after washing to prevent water spots and discoloration.
Scrubbing Pan With Sponge

How To Test Your Stainless Steel Cookware For Leaching

I find it essential to test stainless steel cookware periodically for signs of leaching. One method I use is the vinegar test. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Fill the cookware with a 1:1 ratio of water and white vinegar.
  2. Heat the mixture on medium heat for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Discard the vinegar solution and examine the cookware for any discoloration or residue, which could indicate leaching.

By following these tips and recommendations, I can enjoy the benefits of stainless steel cookware while minimizing potential risks.

Conclusion: Does Stainless Steel Cookware Leach Into Food?

In this article, I explored the safety of stainless steel cookware and discussed whether it leaches into food. I examined various factors that influence the leaching process, such as cooking acidic foods, the length of cooking time, and the condition of the cookware.

Recap Of The Safety Of Stainless Steel Cookware

Research shows that small amounts of chromium and nickel can leach into food when cooking with stainless steel pots and pans. However, it is important to point out that these levels of heavy metals are usually not considered dangerous for most people. The amount of leaching is influenced by what you cook (acidic versus non-acidic foods), the length of cooking time, and the condition of the pan.

It is also essential to be aware that damaged pans can have a higher chance of leaching metals into food. Therefore, once you notice any significant wear or damage to your cookware, it is advised to discard them and replace them with new ones.

Final Thoughts And Recommendations

While stainless steel cookware is not 100% safe, it remains a popular and practical choice for many people due to its durability, affordability, and relatively low leaching levels. To minimize the risk of metal leaching, I recommend the following:

  • Using high-quality stainless steel cookware
  • Avoiding cooking acidic foods for extended periods
  • Maintaining your cookware in good condition
  • Replacing damaged cookware promptly

By considering these recommendations and being mindful of the potential risks, you can enjoy the benefits of stainless steel cookware while minimizing potential harm.

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Josh Green

Josh is a freelance food writer and certified kitchen gearhead. He has a background in engineering with extensive product testing experience and enjoys helping his readers find their inner Wolfgang Puck. When not writing, he can be found spending time with his family, hiking the local trails, and continuing his quest to find the perfect cheesesteak. He lives in the Philadelphia ‘burbs with his wife and two children.