Teflon coated pans are any cooks heaven; saving them from scraping, scratching, scrubbing, and crying. Crying, of course! No one wants to wash sticky, burnt pans. Non-stick utensils have been around for 50 years now. Teflon is a unique polymer that repels most things, so the question is, how do the manufacturers get it to stick to the pans? The Teflon coating process uses sand, heat, vacuum, and some other chemicals.
Teflon was a polymer that resulted as an accident in 1938 at Dupont’s Jackson Lab. Dr. Roy J. Plunkett was experimenting with refrigerants and froze a sample of tetrafluoroethylene which polymerized spontaneously. The polymer was called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and was known as the most slippery material in existence. Several years later, it came to be known as Teflon.
PTFE is amazing for use on utensils to keep them non-stick, but a long chain of the carbon-fluorine mesh molecules in the strongest of bonds makes it practically inert. In addition to the super strength of the carbon-fluorine bond, fluorine is a natural repellant of most elements. These properties make the material both inert and non-stick.
Several different methods are used to make Teflon stick to pans.
Dupont’s Silverstone brand uses a method that begins with sandblasting the pans. This causes the surface to become uneven thus favoring adherence. On the sandblasted metal, a layer of Teflon is sprayed which is then baked at extremely high heat making the Teflon get a mechanical grip on the metal. Until an even thick layer is achieved, the process is repeated several times. This is not a chemical process as it only involves mechanical sticking of the polymer to the metal.
Another method called “sintering” also uses heat to make the Teflon stick, but the first step is different. The metal is first bombarded with ions in a high-vacuum electric field. The ions cause some fluorine bonds to break which allows the carbon atoms to bond with other materials thus, making it stick to the metal.
The third method makes use of chemicals. Instead of bombarding with ions, one surface of Teflon is treated with a reducing agent, thus breaking the strong carbon-fluorine bonds. The free carbon forms into unsaturated hydrocarbons that get the polymer to adhere to the pan.
Watch how a pan is made from scratch and how it is treated to make it non-stick.