With so many people worried about the toxicity of their kitchenware, silicone is all the rage. You can easily find silicone cookware, silicone bakeware, and plenty of silicone utensils when you’re walking down the aisles of your local Target.
Is silicone cookware really safer and more non-toxic than traditional cookware though?
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What is Silicone?
First, let’s get started by talking about the basics. What is silicone anyway?
You may have heard that silicone is made from sand, which is mostly true. The sand you’re used to seeing at the beach is mostly silica (aka silicon dioxide). Silica is a mixture of silicon and oxygen, and it’s used to make silicone.
Silicone vs. Silicon
This one has always been confusing to me, but silicone and silicon are not the same things.
Silicon is a naturally-occurring chemical element, and it’s the base element in silicone, but silicone is man-made and contains other elements as well, including oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon.
Since silicon is not usually found as a solid on Earth, we have to start off with silica to make silicone instead.
To make the silica into silicone, sand or quartz (both of which are a form of silica on earth) is heated to extremely high temperatures until the silicon atoms can be separated from the silica.
Once they’re separated, the silcon cools down and it’s ground into a fine powder. The powder is mixed with methyl chloride and then heated again.
Some chemicals are added to the process at this point, and the silicone is eventually able to be formed into different shapes. Simtec does a good job of explaining how silicone is made if you’d like to learn more.
The video below also does a good job of explaining the process if you’d like a more in-depth explanation.
The Benefits of Using Silicone Cookware
Compared to plastic, silicone is a much better option (even if you’re not worried about the toxicity of plastic). Here are some of the reasons why:
It’s heat-resistant. First and foremost, silicone withstands extreme temperatures much better than plastic and other materials. Your silicone utensils and bakeware aren’t likely to melt (even when you’re touching them to a hot waffle iron), and you can move them from freezer to oven without worrying about breakage – even with continuous use.
It’s flexible. Silicone is more flexible and bendable than other materials. This makes it ideal for cooking and baking.
It’s non-stick. Silicone is naturally non-stick and waterproof, so food will easily slip and slide right off of your bakeware and utensils, even if you don’t use a lot of oil. Their non-stick properties make them super easy to clean too.
It doesn’t stain. Unlike plastic, silicone is non-porous, so it’s less susceptible to staining. Goodbye, spaghetti-stained storage containers!
It doesn’t leach chemicals. Because of silicone’s non-porous nature, it doesn’t leach harmful chemicals in the same way that plastic, teflon, and other materials do. (Learn more about the dangers of teflon.)
Is Silicone Cookware Safe?
According to the FDA, silicone is perfectly safe and non-toxic. However, there haven’t been a ton of studies done on it.
Looking at the ingredients of silicone (which we discussed above), there isn’t anything toxic in it that can leach into our food, but some companies add chemical fillers to their silicone in order to make it more cost-efficient.
Always check to make sure you’re buying 100% silicone, and make sure your silicone cookware and utensils are 100% food-grade. Do not use silicone in the kitchen if it’s not approved for food use.
Does Silicone Have BPA?
No, silicone does not contain BPA or any of the other toxic chemicals that we worry about in plastic. If you’re interested, I wrote an entire post about BPA and its replacements, and you can learn a lot more about BPA and why you should stay away from it.
Can Silicone Affect My Food?
As mentioned above, it’s unlikely that silicone will affect your food because of its non-porous nature. Most silicones are only approved to be heated up to 425-degrees though, so be sure not to surpass that limit.
Since there hasn’t been a ton of studies about the effects of silicone on our food, if you’re concerned about it, you may want to choose different non-toxic cookware and only use silicone utensils instead.
Why Does My Silicone Bakeware Stink?
If your silicone bakeware or utensils smell bad when they’re brand new and haven’t been used, they may not be 100% silicone. The company may have added other materials to it that are putting off a plasticky smell right out of the package.
It’s more likely that your silicone stinks after being used multiple times. This is because food oils and soap particles can cling to each other and create an off-putting smell. To get rid of the smell, just pop it in the oven at 300-degrees for about 20 minutes. The heat breaks up those stinky molecules, and you’ll be left with silicone that smells like new.
Is Silicone Better than Plastic?
Yes, silicone is better than plastic both because of its health benefits and because of its durability.
If you’re looking for a better alternative to plastic, silicone is probably going to be your best friend. It’s flexible, easy to use, and way more durable.
Is Silicone Eco-Friendly?
Silicone is more environmentally-friendly than plastic.
That’s because plastic is typically made from non-renewable resources, like petroleum, but silicone is made from sand and quartz, which is a more abundant resource.
It’s also less harmful to aquatic life. Since it breaks down in larger pieces, fish and other marine animals are less likely to ingest it.
Unfortunately, silicone is not biodegradable, but it can be recycled.
Disadvantages of Silicone
As mentioned above, silicone is better than plastic, but it does have some disadvantages too.
It’s not biodegradable. Since the process to make silicone is so lengthy and uses hydrocarbons that are made from non-renewable resources, silicone is not biodegradable.
You can’t throw it in the recycling bin. Silicone is recyclable, but you have to take it to a special facility in order to do so. Unfortunately, this makes people less likely to recycle it in the long run.
There isn’t a lot of research on it. As mentioned in some of the sections above, there hasn’t been a ton of research on silicone to find out if it is truly food and heat safe. We believe that it’s safe (and the FDA tells us that it is), but we would be more reassured if there were more recent studies on its effects.
How to Care for and Use Silicone Safely
Silicone is very easy to care for. Most silicone products are dishwasher-safe, and since they’re naturally non-stick, you can wash food away easily.
You should always look at brand recommendations though! Some silicone cookware may be hand-wash only. Some may be approved for 500-degree temperatures, and some may only be approved for 350-degree temperatures. Read the instructions that come with your kitchenware, and be sure to follow them.
Alternatives to Silicone
You shouldn’t substitute plastic for silicone (because plastic is much more toxic and less durable), but if you’re looking for something different, you can sub other materials.
Cast iron is a great bakeware option (so is glass), and bamboo utensils are great for use on any kind of cooking surface.
Click here for more non-toxic cookware options.
Silicone can be a great material for kitchen use! Just make sure you follow our tips above.
Do you have a particular brand of silicone products that you love? Let me know about them in the comments!
More Things to Consider for Your Non-Toxic Kitchen
- Our In-Depth GreenPan Reviews
- How to Find Lead-Free Dinnerware
- The Best Sippy Cups (includes some silicone ones!)
- Safe, Non-Toxic Cookware