Updated on 04.13.10

Replacing Things Early

Trent Hamm

Recently, I took a serious look at our non-stick skillet, the one we use to cook sticky things like eggs. While it was still very usable, I found that in one place a bit of Teflon was beginning to peel away. I immediately tossed the pan into the trash.

A few weeks ago, I replaced a perfectly good filter on our car – or at least it seemed like a perfectly good filter. I looked it over, tossed it in the trash, and installed a new one.

In these two cases – and countless other similar ones – I went against what I often talk about. Instead of using some things until they’re used up, there are many things that I simply replace on a regular schedule or at the first sign of wear. There are several intertwined reasons for this.

ball bearing rings
Image by Ryochi Tanaka and shared under the CC 2.0 Attribution license.

I follow maintenance schedules on expensive things. Our automobiles are one example of this. Our hot water heater is another (I drain it every six months to help with scale buildup, as suggested in the manual). Sometimes, following the maintenance schedules mean tossing out things that seem to be completely functional. Air filters. Brake pads. Water. Fluids. They seem just fine, but often the problems are small enough that we can’t see them with the naked eye. Mineral buildup. Small cracks and structural breakdowns. Internal changes that can’t be seen on the surface.

Of course, not replacing such seemingly “good” parts might work for a while. The problem comes in the long term: if you’ve failed at your maintenance, the large item will often suffer a devastating breakdown, seriously ramping up your costs.

In other words, small maintenance costs now help prevent big repair costs later on.

teflon peel
Image by Fotoos van Robin and shared under the CC 2.0 Attribution Share Alike license.

I also replace things that might be harmful to myself and to others. This is where things like the Teflon pan come into consideration. While a bit of a Teflon peel might not necessarily mean immediate danger, it does mean that the bonding between the Teflon and the metal of the pan is starting to wear out. This means the Teflon will begin to come off in pieces and inevitably wind up in your food and Teflon is a toxic material.

This is the same logic by which I often replace electric devices that are shorting and so forth. Although the issue might be repairable, it’s an indication that more serious problems may be at work and those problems, if realized, pose a legitimate danger to those around me.

If I’m not absolutely sure I can repair an item in such a way that it will become completely safe for my family to use, I have no qualms about upgrading a damaged item.

teflon peel
Image by A Geek Mom and shared under the CC 2.0 Attribution license.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge advocate for reusing and recycling things. I (somewhat infamously) wear my socks until they’re falling apart. I’m constantly checking out Goodwill stores and salvaging all kinds of things.

However, I also know the limits of reuse. When reusing an item too often can result in an expensive disaster or when it might result in harm to the people I care about, I back off. In fact, I tend to use the opposite approach – I stick fiercely to maintenance schedules and the like.

For me, it’s all about value, and the best way to maximize the value of a large purchase is to maintain it. The best way to maximize the safety and health of my family is to sometimes let go and replace an item a bit earlier than I might otherwise do.

The end result? I save a lot of money and protect the things important to me at the same time.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Shannon says:

    Not liking the random pictures in your posts today…

  2. marta says:

    This reminds me I need to throw away my wok, as the Teflon is peeling…

    Anyway, why the unnecessary “hot” in “hot water heater”? I have seen this a lot here and it’s been bugging me!

  3. Nicole says:

    We’ve had really good luck not using Teflon anymore at all. I didn’t think it could be done, at least not for eggs, but it turns out that a really nice high quality Caphelon or All Clad pan is pretty easy to clean and more non-stick than you would think. It also turns out that it takes a lot less time to get a pre-seasoned iron skillet ready to cook eggs than it does a non-pre-seasoned iron skilled.

  4. Josh says:

    Totally agree with marta. ‘Water heater’, not ‘hot water heater’. Drives me crazy too.

  5. Kathy says:

    @Marta perhaps it’s a regional thing? We call them Hot water tanks or hot water heaters where I am which may be the case for Trent as well.

  6. triLcat says:

    better yet, call it a boiler.

    And I’ve seen it with my parents’ car. They have a ’99 Corolla. Aside from a dead battery, a few blown bulbs, and a side mirror that some punk intentionally damaged, they haven’t had to make any unscheduled repairs because they’ve been 100% about making every single scheduled maintenance repair on time.

    That’s the one advantage to buying a new car – people who intend to keep a new car for a long time can be sure that their car is kept in very good condition. If you intend to ditch your car after three years anyway, how careful will you be to make every oil change, etc on time?

  7. chacha1 says:

    I know a lot of (even professional) cooks use nonstick, but the only thing I ever used it for was eggs, so I gave it up in favor of cast iron. Which never, but never, wears out given proper care.

  8. Michelle says:

    OK, what is the first picture? I keep thinking bracelets, but I’ve never seen any like that. Air filters? Part of a pan? It’s driving me crazy!! Trent, lose the pictures. They aren’t doing you any favors, your posts are good enough to stand on their own.

  9. Gretchen says:

    Since I don’t like scrambled eggs or omlets, I cook single eggs in a ramekin in the microwave.

    The picutres are distracting, not only because I can’t figure out what the first one is, either. Something with ball barings?

  10. MP says:

    Replaced all my teflon pans with cast iron or ceramic. Much better.

  11. Maureen says:

    My husband tells me the first picture is of ball bearings.

  12. imelda says:

    I thought the first picture was of bracelets? Like, “intertwined” pearls representing the sentence just above it?

  13. Brittany says:

    Yeah… random pictures were confusing and distracting. Pictures of your adorable kids and of tasty food — good. Random creative commons pictures that only have a vague link — irritating.

  14. Bill says:

    The first random picture is of a Ceramic Ball Bearing Ring. Not sure how that fits in.

  15. CB says:

    I have pet birds and learned that if one allows a non-stick pan/pot to reach a certain temperature, the bird dies. Just takes longer to affect humans. A woman on a bird list wrote that her father was a scientist on the team that developed non-stick cookware and refused to have it in his house. Most people aren’t aware that it degrades, which makes it even worse. I usually add a little olive oil to my pans…healthful alternative.

  16. Michele says:

    Booooooo-pictures in the posts. Boooooo-Teflon. Yaaay- cast iron vintage Griswold skillet found at a garage sale for $2 and properly seasoned.

  17. deRuiter says:

    Dear Trent, “I immediately tossed the pan into the trash.” Why?” Remove handle and toss handle in garbage. Put handless metal pan in metal recycling. Take yourself to a few yard sales and replace all other Teflon lined pans with vintage cast iron, scrub the cast iron pans, season them by rubbing with cooking oil and baking in the oven at 350 for half an hour, then turn off oven and leave pans in there until cold. Your family won’t be subjecxt to the Teflon fumes or the flaking. Recycling the old teflon lined pans for remanufacturing keeps them out of the waste stream. Sadly in America, so many things which can be recycled are tossed into the trash. Cheap new cast iron pans are useless, you can feel the cooking surface and it is rough and pebbly, YOU DON’T WANT THIS. The vintage pans have a silky smooth cooking surface, like the Griswolds. The old cast iron pan MAY be cakes with old grease outside to the point you need to wire brush it with an electric drill, but once you get a vintage pan clean, scrub with hot, soapy water, and season, you’re set for life. Old is better for the environment than buying new pans, and better for your health, cheaper too!

  18. koilie says:

    @triLcat – ‘hot water heater’ contains a small redundancy whereas ‘boiler’ is outright incorrect as the water never boils.

    ‘Pedants do it properly’

  19. Matt says:

    @deRuiter: Soapy water on cast iron!? AHH! I sure hope you mean only if it’s disgustingly dirty and you’re doing that to get it clean, and then never soapy water again(?)
    I agree, though, no more non-stick in my house anymore. And if you do insist on using it, please don’t turn your stove past a “4” or so when cooking with it…

  20. MattJ says:

    Ball bearings are almost a perfect example of his point, since, if you allow your ball bearings to wear out completely, the moving parts that are connected by them may be damaged, leaving you with a very large repair bill.

  21. reulte says:

    I liked the ball bearing picture!

    Another vote definately for well-seasoned cast iron although I currently use a Calphalon Nonstick Omelette pan for omelettes — which I treat gently: no metal utensils or arosol spray oil, no going directly from stove to water, no excessive heat while cooking, no use of scrubbies (even plastic ones), no dishwasher. Why do I use a non-stick when I have a lovely cast iron? It’s in storage.

    Also, I change my car’s oil filter with every OTHER oil change and clean the air filter thereby lengthening replacement time. However, your car does not abruptly fail due to the filters; they’ll start acting up first and respond well to immediate action. Teflon, on the other hand, simply kills birds and sickens people with no warning.

  22. Stephen says:

    I dislike the pictures. If you’re looking to add something with stock photography, knock it down to 1 (maaaybe 2) picture per post. Take the time to find a picture especially relevant to the post or skip it.

  23. I have a cast iron pan that my father-in-law seasoned for me. It’s so smooth that you can easily cook eggs in it. I’m lucky!

  24. Elizabeth says:

    I have to second the comments about pictures. They don’t add any value to your writing or give us a better understanding of where you’re coming from or the vibe you want to convey. I understand limiting the use of family pictures for privacy reasons (though I think your children are adorable!), but frankly, these are distracting rather than enriching.

  25. Marle says:

    I thought the first pic was of bracelets. A tarnished bracelet and then a new one to replace it (yes, it looked really silly to me). If it had a caption of replacing parts on your car it might be one thing, however if you know cars enough to find that specific part you probably don’t need a picture and short caption to tell you about it. The pan pic is ok if you really need a pic to break up the space, because it’s obvious what it is and fits in context nice. The other pics don’t belong at all, and even the pot pic would have fit better if it was a pic of *your* pot instead of a random one.

  26. Marc says:

    The first picture is definitely ball bearings. It’s appropriate because worn bearings may look totally normal but tiny cracks or imperfections can cause them to fail suddenly, and damage whatever machine they are in.

  27. anne says:

    I have bad wrists and can’t lift cast iron. Anybody have an idea for an affordable alternative?

  28. SLCCOM says:

    Try looking up tefon toxicity. It is very toxic if it is overheated. Otherwise, if eaten, it is completely harmless.

    Anne, go ahead and use a good Silverstone pan. Very affordable and light.

  29. The only thing I’d disagree with is following auto maintenance schedules.

    Some are simply ridiculous. And, I’d imagine, set up by the people who sell you the stuff you need to do the maintenance.

    Oil does not need to be changed every 3000 miles, unless you do a ton of stop and go driving.

    Its more like 5000. And so on and so on.

  30. Kai says:

    I would suggest going with official schedules for any product you don’t know well enough to analyze yourself. If you *are* a car buff, then you might be able to check the degradation and replace as needed, but for most people, the schedule makes it simple.

    For me, when things start to wear down, that is a good time to start looking for sales on a new one. And then when i find a good deal, it will go in the closet until the dying one actually kicks the bucket, at which point I’m ready with a replacement.

  31. matt says:

    with all the cast iron love I recommend people look at carbon steel, I have cast iron but my SO doesn’t like them b/c they are too heavy for her, carbon steel is just as slick when seasoned, and more lightweight. They have become my favorite pans.

  32. mehrzahl says:

    Agree with #29. In Europe where I live, we only need to change the oil every 12000 miles, even longer for new cars (up to 20000 miles). Air filters can be easily inspected and cleaned for longer use. A lot of maintainance is scheduled for worst case use (lots of short trips, very high/low temperature, dust etc) so not always necessary for your situation.

  33. Guy G. says:

    I’m a huge fan of cooking and my new skillet is my best friend.

    They recently developed ceramic skillets. I can do a hole batch of pancakes and not have to spray the pan once.

    They don’t stick and they last longer. They are also supposed to be healthier.


  34. Joe says:

    There is zero metal in Teflon.

    Teflon is a polymer of fluorinated carbon. There haven’t been strong cases in either direction in terms of teflon toxicity. Pyrolysis occurs at higher temperatures, so to have a longer lifespan and fewer pieces or sublimates in your food, keep it close to 200 C.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *