Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Teflon Oven Liner? Not In My Kitchen

By Dave Andrews, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Working Group

Poking around the kitchen of our new house, Lena and I discovered a flat piece of synthetic something-or-other under the oven’s lower burner. Our landlord proudly explained that it was a Betty Crocker non-stick oven liner, a great labor-saving device.

Well, I’m all for avoiding oven-scrubbing. And, being a scientist, I’m naturally curious about how things work, exactly, so I pulled out the liner, stuck a thermometer in the oven and turned on the self-cleaning cycle. In a matter of moments, the needle had shot up past 600 degrees, the thermometer’s upper limit. The oven probably got much hotter.

Meanwhile, I took a hard look at the oven liner. What would have happened to it at 700 degrees?

It gets hot because it’s an oven.

The label wasn’t informative, so I went online. “PTFE-Coated Fiberglass,” the ads said. “Safe up to 500 degrees.”

That was all I needed to know. I was sure that anything half an inch from the glowing red burner would get hotter than 500 degrees, even in regular roasting and baking.

I also knew, from studies conducted by my colleagues at Environmental Working Group and other scientists, that PTFE would begin to fume gases so toxic they could kill a bird in a matter of moments.

Lena and I don’t have a pet parakeet. All energy goes to keeping up with our 15-month-old, Wyeth. Like all parents, we do our best to shield him from anything that has a chance of harming him.

That includes the chemical PFTE, which stands for polytetrafluoroethylene, the basis for DuPont’s “Teflon” brand non-stick coating and a member of the perfluorochemicals (PFCs) family.

Stain, grease and water-resistant coatings persist in the body.

Limiting Wyeth’s contact with PFCs is challenging, because, in addition to Teflon, these chemicals are in Scotchgard, Goretex, Stainmaster and other stain, water and grease-resistant coatings applied to textiles, carpets, food wraps and many other consumer products. Since members of the PFC family are notoriously persistent and bioaccumulative, nearly all Americans surveyed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention test positive for traces of the PFC family.

EWG’s landmark study, Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns, found several PFCs among 287 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborns.

Fertility problems linked to Teflon chemical family

Some research has linked elevated body levels of some PFCs to fertility problems in women and men. Other studies have associated PFCs with toxicity to various organs.

These studies need much more confirmation, but they are troubling nonetheless.

The U.S. government does not regulate human exposure to PFCs, though we at EWG think it should move toward that goal.

Voluntary industry action against some PFCs

Under pressure from EWG and EPA, companies have taken voluntary action against some PFCs that raise the most serious health concerns. In 2000, 3M agreed to phase out perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS.) Dupont and seven more large makers of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), have agreed to a 95 percent reduction in emissions by next year and virtual elimination by 2015.

Other PFCs are still in consumer products.

While we are encouraged that the chemical industry has voluntary moved to reduce and eliminate production of the most notorious molecules used to make non-stick coatings, we remain concerned about the new replacements.

Lena and I would rather put up with a few carpet and sofa stains – well, a lot of stains – than have Wyeth crawling around on stuff that will stay in his body for decades, to what effect, we don’t know.

Spots, yes. Fumes no.

The oven liner – it’s going back to the landlord. We’ll scrub the oven the way EWG’s new Greener School Cleaners report recommends — with a stiff brush and baking soda.

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7 Responses to “Teflon Oven Liner? Not In My Kitchen”

  1. Lila Rose says:

    Sign me up for stains over toxic PFOA coatings and sprays too, thank you very much. We as consumers don’t seem to have much of a choice these days – apparel companies, diaper bag companies, furniture companies all seem to think we NEED everything coated in Teflon or else…we just might perish when forced to remove a stain with baking soda or soda water or some other non-toxic substance. Worse, when these concerns are brought forth on websites, helpful DuPont reps remind readers taht there is a lot of “misinformation” about Teflon and that it is not toxic at all. Pure as snow. Where is the EPA – they’ve been MIA on this topic for years!

  2. Julie says:

    How do we know what products are soaked in chemicals? It never seems to appear on the label. I think if consumers were at least given the opportunity to see what they were exposed to, they would quickly choose a more natural product.

  3. M'Lou Craig says:

    I had a teflon liner in my oven which was installed last year with a self-cleaning option. I did not learn that it did not have a manual latch lock until a friend was talking in the kitchen and leaned on the stove accidentally activating the cleaning cycle. We did not realize this until a strong chemical smell was apparent and we could not turn it off. HOW DO I REMOVE THE RESIDUE FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY OVEN? I cannot use it as it is now. Thank you for any help you can give me.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      M’Lou Craig, Here’s a reply from chemist Dave Andrews

      I am sorry to hear about your experience with having an oven liner in your oven during a cleaning cycle, that sounds like quite a mess. I would call the manufacture of the oven liner and ask them how to clean this mess and voice your dissatisfaction and concern about selling a products that will melt in your oven. A call to the oven manufacturer might be helpful for tips on how to best clean the black gunk.

      Another fix would be to look into replacing the bottom panel of the oven. Otherwise, I would attempt scrape of as much as possible using a razor blade.

      Good luck.


  4. E says:

    Yeah that’s crazy.

    But really, why do people even clean their ovens? It all cooks off over time anyway…I never clean my oven, it’s been here since we moved in 9 years ago and it looks great. 🙂 and I’ve never even used the “cleaning” cycle. Or maybe I just don’t cook in it as much as others do? Oh well it doesn’t bother me to have stains in my oven.

  5. AKS says:

    This liner killed my Amazon parrot after oven accidently placed in self clean cycle with liner on the bottom.

  6. Derek says:

    I agree with “E”, there is no real reason to have to clean the inside of your oven. Im sure anything that’s “growing” on the inside will soon be killed one you turn it on. Id much rather cook with a little bacteria than chemicals.