This surprising ingredient could be making your air fryer toxic – advice from a chef on how to use yours safely

Do you really know how to use your air fryer safely?

A black air fryer on a white kitchen countertop with a wooden chopping board beside it
(Image credit: Rafa Jodar via Getty Images)

Knowing how to use your air fryer safely will not only make it last for longer, it can help you towards a healthier life too. You'll already know not to overheat it or use sharp utensils in the baskets, but you might be using an ingredient in your recipes that is doing a lot more damage.

If you haven't invested in one of the best non-toxic air fryers (which are lined with ceramic and stainless steel) you'll need to be careful with what you put in your air fryer. In a recent conversation with Sam Milner, author and air fryer chef, she revealed a surprising ingredient that could be doing some serious damage to your non-stick lining. 

We talked about what to look out for, alternative options, and other ways to use your air fryer safely. Milner is full of tips on how to extend the life of your air fryer too, most of which center around keeping the non-stick in pristine condition. Here's everything you need to know.

Why do people think air fryers are toxic?

A white air fryer on a white countertop with kitchen utensils and red lentils beside it

(Image credit: Hazal Ak via Getty Images)

A year ago, the question 'are air fryers toxic?' went viral on TikTok. I've done a deep dive into it, but if you want the headlines, if your air fryer is used appropriately and remains undamaged it's fine. Issues arise when the non-sticks lining of the baskets (made with PTFE, PFOA, PFOA, and BPA) become damaged. Whether you scraped it or used a tough chemical on it, as soon as your non-stick is damaged, you risk ingesting some of it.

Pam Harnett, Registered Dietician and Public Health Expert told me that 'damaged non-stick coating can cause toxins to be released into the air and food. These chemicals can interfere with our hormones. I've seen links between these and several health issues, including reproductive and developmental issues.'

There's no need to panic though. That's an extreme. There are plenty of scientific papers from the National Institutes of Health that say that there's very little evidence that these chemicals will have adverse health effects when ingested in small quantities, but it can never hurt to be cautious.

What's the ingredient that's ruining your non-stick?

A white air fryer on a white countertop with wooden chopping boards and red lentils beside it

(Image credit: Hazal Ak via Getty Images)

In a recent interview, Sam Milner, author of The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook, was giving me some pearls of wisdom for how to make your air fryer last longer. Amongst these, Sam mentioned a mistake that we are all making, which is damaging the non-stick of our air fryers.

She said 'People love air fryers because you can crisp up food without using much oil, but these really health-conscious cooks buy those light, low-calorie oil sprays. If you turn them around, these oils have very scary ingredient lists.' The key culprit for damaging your air fryer is an emulsifier called lecithin. When heated, this will slowly break down the non-stick coating inside your air fryer baskets.

There's no need to worry though, Sam has a simple substitute. 'Just use olive oil instead. You can buy 'you can buy olive oil sprays as long as you check the ingredients first. Failing that, buy an oil spray bottle and fill it with extra-virgin olive oil, making your own mist.'

If you don't fancy the full-fat option, Sam says 'balsamic or white wine vinegar are great options, because they'll stop your food from drying out and they'll add flavor too'. Sam has lots of vinegar-based recipes demonstrating how you can make the substitution in her Complete Air Fryer Cookbook. Make sure you check out the balsamic chicken: it's gorgeous.

Other tips for how to use your air fryer safely

A black air fryer on a wooden countertop

(Image credit: Casezy via Getty Images)

Sam is full of suggestions for how to use your air fryer safely. She recommends investing in some silicone cooking utensils since these won't scratch the bottom of your non-stick, ruining your lining. 

She says 'In our kitchen, we've got loads of air fryer accessories, but the best ones are silicone baskets. They'll mean that you're not cooking in the bottom of your air fryer baskets, so you're less likely to damage them. Plus, they'll save you on washing up.' 

If you ask other experts for advice on how to safely use your air fryer, you'll get a pretty standard list of safeguards: 

  • Don't overfill your basket: this will stop air from circulating properly, so some parts of your meal will burn before others are even cooked. Plus, it'll make yours much less efficient.
  • Don't mix and match: if you have multiple air fryers, don't use the baskets and accessories interchangeably, because they'll be designed to specifically suit the mechanisms of the brand's air fryer.
  • Keep an eye on the cooking: it sounds obvious, but some people don't convert the cooking times and end up burning their food beyond savoir. This is why viewing windows can be really handy
  • Keep it cool: Megan Hilbert, registered dietician and nutritionist, says 'if you're not air-frying at temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, you don't have much to worry about. Thankfully, most air fryers don't reach over 450 degrees, so this shouldn't ever be an issue. It's worth knowing though.'

Cosori Dual Drawer Air Fryer on the countertop with air fried food on plates in front of it

(Image credit: Cosori)

Catherine Rall, certified Nutritionist at Happy V, said that 'Your best bet is to invest in an air fryer that doesn't have a synthetic lining. The advantage of a synthetic lining is that it's easy to clean, but if this comes at the expense of your health, it's simply not worth it'. We've got plenty of suggestions for non-toxic air fryers, which use stainless steel, ceramic, silicone, or organic linings. Luckily, with these, low-calorie oils are safe to use too. Here are my three favorites.


What precautions should be taken when using an air fryer?

If you want to keep your air fryer in top condition, you need to make sure that you clean it thoroughly after use. People will also suggest lining it with baking paper or silicone baskets so that you don't leave any stray crumbs behind.

It's also important not to use utensils with sharp ends, because these could damage the non-stick, as will any aerosol sprays. Also, don't let your air fryer overheat, because this can also affect the non-stick.

Is it safe to leave the house with an air fryer on?

Never leave the house with the air fryer on. These are hot appliances and could cause a fire if left unattended. You shouldn't need to leave the house, because air fryers are so speedy, you'll also miss your food being cooked. It's better to stay nearby at all times. Plus, if you're close by, nobody can steal your share of the fries.

Laura Honey
eCommerce Editor

Laura is our eCommerce editor. As a fully qualified barista, she's our expert in all things coffee and has tested over thirty of the best coffee makers on the market. She has also interviewed Q-Graders and world-leading experts in the coffee industry, so has an intimate knowledge of all things coffee. Before joining Homes & Gardens, she studied English at Oxford University. Whilst studying, she trained as a master perfumer and worked in the luxury fragrance industry for five years. Her collection of home fragrance is extensive and she's met and interviewed five of the world's finest perfumers (also known as 'noses'). As a result of this expansive fragrance knowledge, she always puts quality and style over quantity and fads. Laura looks for products which have been designed simply and with thoughtful finishes.