Xtrema has long been one of our top choices for greener cookware. We stand by our previous ratings that Xtrema cookware is safe to use. That doesn’t mean we don’t take accusations about Xtrema greenwashing seriously. Here’s our take on the toxicity of Xtrema cookware.
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A concerned reader wrote in to ask our opinion about Xtrema, given the issues raised elsewhere on the internet over heavy metals in Xtrema cookware.
Here’s the question:
Hi, I just bought the Versa Xtrema pot based on your recommendations that this is safe. However, I just ran across several posts from Lead Safe Mama on how toxic this cookware is and the greenwashing this company is doing. I would love your take on this as I rely heavily on your site for safe, non-toxic brands!
The toxicity of Xtrema has become rather a thorny issue in recent years. And there’s no easy answer to the question of whether Xtrema cookware is truly non-toxic. After all, there’s no legal definition of ‘non-toxic’, so what this phrase means to me and you might not be what it means to Xtrema, other consumers, or other professional reviewers.
My quick take is that there remains no evidence that Xtrema cookware leaches heavy metals or other harmful chemicals into food when used as intended.
Does Xtrema overstate its benefits? Maybe.
Is Xtrema greenwashing? I don’t think so. At least not in the past four or five years.
Could Xtrema be better at responding to criticism? Yes.
Does Leaf Score still recommend Xtrema? Yes, with some caveats.
In fact, there is more than a decade’s worth of third-party testing to show the opposite: that Xtrema cookware does not leach harmful chemicals. This is in addition to testing showing no PFAS in Xtrema.
Is that the end of the story, though? Not quite.
What’s the problem with Xtrema?
An independent blogger using handheld XRF testing alleges that Xtrema cookware contains lead and other heavy metals.
This is concerning from a transparency perspective; Xtrema began by marketing its products as ‘lead-free’ and ‘metal-free’.
However, these test results don’t necessarily mean that Xtrema cookware is unsafe or toxic.
The devil is in the details. And in this case, that means the type of testing.
I dig into this issue in my piece about Caraway Home cookware and the limits of XRF testing.
For our purposes here, I’ll just say that it’s possible to use XRF testing on a product and get readings showing the presence of metals even while leach testing shows no risk of exposure to such metals with proper use of the cookware.
The kicker with the XRF testing of Xtrema cookware is that there appear to be appreciable differences in the presence of heavy metals in the glaze and the ceramic substrate. This raises questions over Xtrema’s claim that any metals present are there in minimal amounts and are naturally occurring rather than part of the glaze recipe.
Is Xtrema cookware safe?
Independent testing seems to show that the Xtrema ceramic glaze contains far higher levels of lead and other heavy metals than the ceramic beneath.
This is a potential problem. After all, it’s much more likely that a glaze chips and migrates into food than it is for us to be exposed to the substrate beneath.
Xtrema itself says that the black glaze comprises:
- Various inorganic oxides.
Xtrema claims that the ceramic is non-scratch, meaning it shouldn’t come loose from the ceramic substrate and end up in your food.
In John’s experience, the glaze is non-scratch. This also seems to be the consensus among other reviewers and long-term Xtrema users.
The company also claims that it does not use any lead or heavy metals in its ceramic or ceramic glaze recipe.
We don’t know the exact recipe for Xtrema’s ceramic or glaze and probably never will. However, Xtrema’s third-party testing by SGS supports the company’s claims that the cookware is free of extractable lead, cadmium, nickel, chromium, etc. If the cookware didn’t pass those tests, it would require a Prop 65 warning label.
And yet, the independent XRF shows that these metals are present.
Honestly, I don’t know how to square that circle.
This isn’t a case where a cookware company says its products are safe but doesn’t offer any independent testing to support the claim. We don’t have an XRF machine (or the accreditation to use it), nor a broken Xtrema pot to test. And even if we did, this would still just boil down to a ‘he said, she said’ quandary.
Does cookware need to be ‘metal-free’ to be non-toxic?
If you’re aiming to find cookware with absolutely no possibility of lead or other heavy metals anywhere in the product, you’re going to be really stuck for options.
The gold standard test for safe, non-toxic cookware isn’t XRF testing; It’s leach testing. After all, a chemical can only cause toxicity if we ingest, inhale, and absorb a big enough dose of it.
The dose makes the poison.
If a potentially toxic chemical is securely bound to something else that makes it impossible to ingest or absorb, it is not toxic.
Stainless steel cookware toxicity
Let’s think about stainless steel for a moment. This material is made using chromium and nickel. Both are toxic if sufficient amounts are ingested and absorbed (or come into contact with the skin). This means that any cookware made with stainless steel must carry the Prop 65 warning in California.
However, when these two metals are part of a stainless steel alloy, they are largely inert and don’t leach into food in any significant amount. This means that for most people, stainless steel cookware, when made and used properly, is safe and non-toxic.
The trouble, of course, is that if you test stainless steel using an XRF machine, you’ll detect nickel and chromium. Again, that doesn’t make it unsafe. It all depends on how you use the cookware, whether it leaches any significant amount of potentially toxic substances, and your personal health situation.
On the flip side, there is no safe level of lead in the human body. And lead is, unfortunately, much more present in soil, water, and the air than before the industrial revolution. Humans extracted it, polluted the earth, and are now suffering the consequences.
That means doing everything we can to avoid exposure to lead, including:
- Testing and filtering water
- Choosing organic food
- Avoiding toys and furniture with lead in the paint
- Minimizing contact with electrical cords
- Using air filters at home.
If you have young children, pets, or other vulnerable people at home, being proactive about lead exposure is even more important.
What does this mean for you and Xtrema cookware? Even if XRF testing shows the presence of lead and other heavy metals, this doesn’t mean you’re actually being exposed to them. Unless you plan to pulverize your ceramic cookware and inhale or ingest the dust, it still seems extremely unlikely you’ll be exposed to lead from Xtrema cookware.
Fallout from the Xtrema concerns
Xtrema built a reputation for its high level of transparency about test results, and for the longevity of its cookware.
In the past few years, the company has come in for criticism due to its response to independent toxicity testing using XRF.
Perhaps due to those tests, Xtrema changed how it markets its products. For the last few years, Xtrema has typically avoided claiming its cookware is ‘lead-free’ or ‘metal-free’. Instead, it falls back on the absence of PFAS in its cookware and leach testing for its products, which consistently shows no leaching of dangerous chemicals, including lead, cadmium, and so on.
Is Xtrema greenwashing its products?
We started the Leaf Score site in 2018 and largely missed the Xtrema ‘scandal’ from a few years earlier.
When we began recommending Xtrema, it was based on its marketing practices and test results at the time, and our team’s experience with the cookware.
For us, Xtrema has been consistently transparent about California Prop 65 testing. The company claims its cookware is non-toxic, and based on leach testing, it is.
However, if you have a very strict definition of non-toxic, I can see why you’d want to avoid Xtrema. Based on XRF testing by a credible independent blogger, it does seem that the cookware may contain lead and other heavy metals, even as the company claims these are not part of its recipe.
Again, that doesn’t mean these have been shown to leave the cookware and get into food.
Xtrema also claims that its non-stick cookware is healthier than non-stick PTFE pans and better for the environment. With absolutely no PTFE in Xtrema, and no sign of heavy metals leaching into food, I believe this is the case.
Why I don’t personally use Xtrema
I’m also not a delicate cook, and am rather clumsy, on a budget, and quite petite. These things do not lend themselves well to working with slightly fussy, all-ceramic, heavy cookware.
I also have concerns about the overall longevity of Xtrema cookware and how it is packaged for shipping (with plastic, unfortunately).
Do better options exist for non-toxic, non-stick cookware? Yes: The best non-stick frying pans.
Should you continue to use your Xtrema pots if you already have them? In the end, that’s up to you.
Given the independent testing they’ve undergone, over many years, I would feel safe using these pots if I owned them.
This is a complicated issue, though, and mine won’t be the final word on it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re for or against Xtrema, or right in the middle!