Why Do Non-Stick Pans Warp? (and what to do about it)

Let’s face it. Non-stick skillets and other kitchen pans make our lives a lot easier. However, they sometimes warp making cooking with them a challenge. So I wondered why do non-stick pans warp?

So I decided to investigate and here’s what I found out.

Non-stick pans warp due to being submerged or filled with cold water right off the stovetop or out of the oven when they are still extremely hot. The drastic temperatures cause the metal in the pans to expand and contract inconsistently resulting in warping. Thin, cheaply made pans can also warp with frequent use.

But there’s more to know about non-stick cookware and what causes warping. We’ll also explore whether more expensive versions don’t warp, and, more importantly, how to fix your warped pans!

So let’s keep reading and get all the answers we need!

If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.

I always hand select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

What causes a non-stick skillet to warp?

The most common reason a non-stick, or really any skillet or pan to warp is placing cold water in or under it while it’s still blazing hot.

Think about it.

Cold contracts and heat expands due to the movement of the molecules. Heat causes those pesky molecules to move a lot, whereas cold makes them slow down. Check out PhysLink to learn more about the physics behind that.

So taking a very hot pan right off the stove or out of the oven and placing it in a sink and filling it with cold water is bad. It creates a situation where the molecules that are jumping around rapidly due to the heat suddenly stop moving due to the cold water coming in contact.

When that happens, especially since the entire pan isn’t usually being immersed in the cold water all in the same instant, different parts of the pan contract faster and more than other parts.

Other reasons for a non-stick pan to warp include:

  • Being made of softer metals under the non-stick surface – Copper & aluminum warp more easily
  • Inexpensive pans are usually thinner – thinner metal means a greater chance of warping
  • Placing a small pan on a large burner – Burners are designed to fit (roughly) a pan of the same size. Placing a small pan on a large burner can cause it to receive too much heat over too much of it’s surface and could lead to warping
  • Pans made from 2 different metals – Different metals expand and contract at different rates and can cause warping

How do you fix a warped pan?

This is the million dollar question, right?

When a pan warps, sometimes the flat bottom of the pan bulges up (convex) or it might warp bulging down (concave). Or other times, it might just lose it’s perfectly round shape.

So to fix this, you’ll need:

  • A rubber mallet
  • Some towels you can set the pan on
  • A flat work surface that you don’t mind a few scuffs on such as a work table
  • A small, perfectly flat piece of wood the same diamter as the bottom of your pan

For starters when you’re ready to fix your pan, you’ll want to heat it on a burner over medium-high heat for about 15-20 minutes.

If the bulge is bulging up with the pan flat in a normal position, then simply set your pan on its normal flat bottom, on top of a towel on your work surface.

If the bulge is bulging out, meaning down when you hold the pan in its normal position, then flip the pan over. Also, make sure it’s on top of a towel on your work surface. Place a towel over the top of the pan when you’re ready.

Then, once your pan is in position, simply tap firmly and consistently with your rubber mallet where the bulge is to flatten it out.

You may find you over-compensate and push the bulge in the opposite direction.

Or you may not pound hard enough to flatten it out. You can repeat the heat and pound cycle a few times until you get the pan perfectly flat (or at least better than it was).

Sometimes your round pan is simply not quite round anymore but not bulging out.

In that case, you can take the wood piece and cut it to the exact size of the bottom of your pan. Then heat the pan as described above and pound the wood piece (on top of a towel). Move the wood around the full diameter of the pan, a little at a time, pounding a few times with each move.

Do make sure to not pound directly on the pan with your mallet; cover it with a towel to prevent damage to the non-stick surface.

This isn’t an exact science and will require a little trial and error. But as I mentioned, you can re-heat your pan and try again until you get the pan about where you want it.

Is it bad to put cold water on a hot non-stick pan?

Yes, for the reasons I got into above.

Always allow a hot pan to cool before placing it into cold water or running cold water into it. Sometimes your pan is smoking like crazy and you just want it to stop.

So while it’s tempting to throw it in the sink and run the water, a better solution is just to set it outside the back door, or in a cold oven.

Even expensive pans other than non-stick pans will warp when placed directly in contact with cold water coming right off the stove or out of the oven.

Ideally, simply move your skillet or other non-stick pans to a burner not being used.

Then allow them to cool down naturally. They don’t need to be room temperature to be placed in cold water. But if it’s too hot for you to touch directly, then it’s too hot for cold water.

Along with cookware, no kitchen is complete without some Essential Small Kitchen Appliances. If you click the link, you’ll be taken right to my article which covers the appliances you must have, and some surprising choices you should avoid wasting your money on.

Do more expensive nonstick pans not warp?

Generally speaking with cookware, you get what you pay for.

Cheaper pans are often made from thin aluminum or stainless steel. Manufacturers use aluminum because it’s cheap. And they make thin pans because it uses less metal.

As noted chef, and one of my personal heroes, the late Anthony Bourdain once said, “when buying cookware think…if you hit someone over the head with your pan, and you have any question which will break first, the persons skull or the pan, the pan is not heavy enough”.

So for cookware, you want to last for years, non-stick or not, you’ll want to go with something a little thicker, a little more durable. Ideally, look for something made from a material both sturdy but also something that transfers the heat easily across the whole pan for even cooking.

Honestly, cast iron pans (which you can also get probably give you the highest level of durability, and seasoned correctly, can provide a great non-stick surface. Cast iron pans coated with enamel are among my favorite pans.

But many have a hard time seasoning regular cast iron pans and keeping them from rusting. Plus any type of iron pan will be heavy!

I personally would avoid un-coated aluminum pans due to health concerns associated with aluminum. So for me, the only 2 types of pans I would consider would be heavy-duty stainless steel or coated aluminum.

Copper pans look great at the store, but copper is a soft, reactive metal. So it stops looking great shortly after you start using it.

So while almost any pan can warp if you place it in contact with cold water while it’s still extremely hot, higher-end pans are less likely to do that.

More expensive pans definitely won’t have the other issues that can lead to warping.

What is the best non-stick pan?

These days there is a lot of concern over the material non-stick pans are made from.

Because of that, you often see a number of them advertised as “PFOA-free”. PFOA refers to Perfluorooctanoic acid (Teflon) which is a chemical coating long used on non-stick cookware.

The reason you are starting to see pans advertised as PFOA-free is due to concerns about the effects of this chemical both in our body as the surface scrapes off.

But there are also concerns in the environment as well. During the manufacturing process, PFOAs can pollute both soil and water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has noted that drinking water has been contaminated by PFOAs in 29 of our 50 states in the US.

So now you know to look for PFOA-free. Now you’re likely to have the choice of a traditional non-stick pan or a ceramic non-stick pan. Ceramic pans have become popular lately.

However, the non-stick surface does tend to scrape off faster on ceramic.

So my recommendation is a traditional non-stick pan such as the Zwilling non-stick fry pans made by renowned cookware company J.A. Henckels.

This pan is a whopping 40 times more durable than other non-stick fry pans in terms of how fast the coating scrapes off. I can almost guarantee that as long as you don’t drop it or fill it with cold water right off the stovetop or out of the oven, it will never warp on you!

Their pans have awesome reviews on Amazon, are an Amazon’s choice product and come with free Prime shipping.  Italian made with an aluminum base under the PFOA-free non-stick coating.

Of course, there are also concerns with aluminum and how it affects our health, but if it’s coated with a non-stick surface, those concerns tend to go away.

There are lots of sizes available, but the 11″ fry pan is perfect for me and I was really pleasantly surprised how cool the handle stayed when the pan was sizzling hot!

Check it out on Amazon.

Top 6 Reasons Why Pans Warp | Before You Buy, Watch This!

Did I cover all you wanted to know about why non-stick pans warp?

In this article, I took an in-depth look into the world of non-stick cookware.

We explored what might cause a non-stick pan to warp, if higher-end pans don’t do that, and what to do when your non-stick pan does warp.

That way, you can enjoy the convenience of non-stick cookware without the hassles of a skillet that won’t stay flat on your stovetop.

What’s your favorite brand of cookware?

If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.

I always hand select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with 3 daughters, practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

Recent Posts