PTFE vs Teflon: What’s The Difference?

Teflon is a well-known term. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know what a Teflon pan is. They’re the nonstick frying pans that people have used for decades.

It’s less common to know what PTFE is, and that it has anything to do with the word Teflon.

If PTFE is something you’re just learning about, the first thing most will need is a close look at comparing PTFE Vs. Teflon. What’s the difference between these two?

At first, the answer appears fairly simple: there isn’t a difference. PTFE and Teflon are the same things. Both words are being used to talk about polytetrafluoroethylene.

However, a closer look reveals an interesting difference between the two in the world of marketing, consumer knowledge, and the social circles these terms may be used.

What Is the Difference Between PTFE and Teflon?

PTFE and Teflon are the same things. Both are terms used to refer to polytetrafluoroethylene.

PTFE is the shortened acronym for referring to the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene since the full term is both difficult to pronounce and spell.

Meanwhile, Teflon is the trademarked name for polytetrafluoroethylene.

Polytetrafluoroethylene was discovered by accident in 1938. Since the chemical was created by accident, they weren’t sure what to do with it at first.

By 1945, polytetrafluoroethylene was trademarked as Teflon, and in 1946, it was being marketed as the name for the nonstick coating on frying pans being sold around the world.

So what is the difference between PTFE and Teflon? As mentioned above, both terms are referring to the same chemical. The main difference between the two is in marketability.

If an item is being sold with Teflon mentioned in the product description, consumers will quickly recognize the name and have expectations for that product.

If a product was instead sold with PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene in the product description, there would need to be an added explanation of what makes PTFE a great feature in the product, since consumers are less likely to be familiar with those terms.

Another key difference many may need to keep in mind when it comes to PFTE vs Teflon is that the trademark needs to be paid for.

A company can use PTFE in its products. If they want to use the word Teflon in their own marketing and gain that recognition with consumers, they will need to pay for a license from the current holder of the trademark, the Chemours company.

Why Do Most People Know the Word Teflon and Not PTFE?

Shortly after discovering polytetrafluoroethylene, the company called DuPont registered the trademark for Teflon. This was a smart move by a company that wanted to be the known name for PTFE and what it can do.

Great comparison here is acetaminophen. Many people don’t know that term, and yet, almost everyone has taken acetaminophen at some point.

This medication is most commonly known as Tylenol in the United States of America.

Even when someone is buying the generic version of the painkiller, they will frequently call the medicine Tylenol, since that’s the name people know it by. However, Tylenol is just the trademarked term for acetaminophen.

Because no one owns the term PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene, there is no company putting out marketing campaigns attempting to educate the public on how great PTFE is. There is, however, a company behind Teflon.

Currently, the company that owns the Teflon brand is Chemours. For over 75 years, marketing dollars have been put to use educating the public about Teflon.

They rarely tell the public that Teflon is the chemical solution polytetrafluoroethylene.

Instead, they tell the public about what makes Teflon a strong and durable product. The company wants consumers to know that they can trust Teflon, especially when used in nonstick pans.

The Teflon is safe for cooking food, makes pans easy to clean, and will be worth the money they spent on that pan.

The power of a trademark like Teflon is that a consumer may see two different pans on a shelf. One-pan may be slightly cheaper than the other. The cheaper pan may use terms like “easy to clean” and “nonstick”.

The more expensive pan says “Teflon” on the box. While the cheaper pan is promising that it will offer the same benefits as the one labeled with Teflon, the consumer has learned to trust the brand name over the years and may believe that it is worth spending a little more money for the peace of mind that buying the well-known brand name offers them.

What Makes PTFE So Special?

Thanks to the marketing of Teflon for nonstick pans, many people have a rough idea of the benefits of polytetrafluoroethylene, even if they don’t know the chemical term.

As mentioned above, Teflon is known as something that makes pans easy to clean and is safe to use when cooking. However, there is a lot more to polytetrafluoroethylene.

PTFE operates well in a large temperature range. This chemical is so temperature stable that it can be used in temperatures ranging from as low as -328ºF and as high as +500ºF without degrading.

This makes it an ideal solution for cooking, but also for electrical equipment and other industrial uses.

Many low-cost electrical products will use polyethylene instead of PTFE, and while polyethylene has a lower price point, it is also a weaker product and has a lower melting point than the higher quality PTFE.

Polytetrafluoroethylene is also highly flexible. Many other polymers will grow weak and degrade when exposed to low temperatures. PTFE remains strong and flexible, giving it a huge edge over the competition.

PTFE is hydrophobic. This is another benefit to using PTFE/Teflon for nonstick pans. The chemical doesn’t change when exposed to water or any substances containing water.

Teflon/PTFE is extremely low fiction. This means that when a frying pan coated with PTFE is exposed to heat and then met with a fresh bone-in steak scraping against the surface, it doesn’t get scrapes in the Teflon or have the meat stick to the surface.

Another benefit of polytetrafluoroethylene, especially for electrical applications and other industrial uses, is that the chemical is inert.

This means that when hazardous or corrosive substances come into contact with PTFE, the PTFE doesn’t react or change.

Electrical companies especially love PTFE because it has high electrical resistance and dielectric strength.

Is It Better to Buy Teflon Trademarked Products Over Generic PTFE?

What makes one purchase “better” than another is often determined by the needs of the consumer. What do you ultimately need from your purchase?

A common scenario where someone may need to make a decision when it comes to PTFE vs.

Teflon is when creating a product. A company may need to decide whether they want to purchase a license so they can use the Teflon trademark in their marketing.

Many companies may decide that paying for the license to use the Teflon trademark is worthwhile, especially if the product is being sold to consumers.

On store shelves, the word “Teflon” may go a long way toward buying consumer confidence in the product.

However, companies making products that will be sold to other companies may find that the acronym PTFE is well-known enough that the Teflon trademark isn’t necessary.

For example, an industrial company manufactures wires from PTFE polymer and sells them to technology companies for use in their products.

The purchaser for the technology company is likely to be familiar with the term PTFE, its benefits and applications, and does not require the recognizability that Teflon buys with the average consumer.

While the above scenarios apply to industrial products, what about the everyday consumer?

When it comes to PTFE versus Teflon, should someone buy Teflon-marketed nonstick frying pans for their own home use?

Buying generics versus brand names is often a personal decision. When it comes to buying Coca-Cola versus generic colas, many have a strong preference when it comes to taste.

Some people are confident that generic acetaminophen doesn’t work as well as the Tylenol brand due to the recipe used for the medicine, while others feel they get comparable results.

The Teflon brand has certainly gained confidence with consumers over the years. Many feel that the brand creates nonstick frying pans that last longer. Some consumers just want something that works now.

Checking online reviews for any individual product is a solid way to help decide on your purchase for yourself.

What Is Polytetrafluoroethylene Used for?

Teflon has made its name with nonstick frying pans, but PTFE is actually used for many other products. As mentioned, the benefits of PTFE make it great for use in industrial and electrical items.

Some surprising uses for PTFE include waterproof clothing, catheters, plumber tape, and firefighting equipment.

PTFE tape
PTFE tape

The medical field has made use of polytetrafluoroethylene as a great coating on various equipment that won’t corrode when exposed to medicines or bodily fluids.

Since PTFE is hydrophobic, it makes a great high-grade material for these needs.

The same benefit has made it great for coating pipes and used as a sealant for plumbers. A coating applied to clothing can make waterproof fabric casual consumers buy every day.

Bolt and nut in blue coated with PTFE
Bolt and nut coated with PTFE

While PTFE isn’t commonly mentioned, it’s something that businesses have been finding valuable uses for over the past several decades.

Clearly, polytetrafluoroethylene is a lot more than the nonstick frying pans that Teflon is known for. However, at the time of its discovery, no one was sure what to do with it at all.

How Did PTFE Become Known as Teflon in The First Place?

Roy J. Plunkett didn’t mean to discover Teflon. He wasn’t trying to find a polymer to use on nonstick pans. Plunkett, a chemist working for an American chemical company called DuPont, wanted to find a new refrigerant.

At the time, the chemist was working with tetrafluoroethylene (TFE). While working, he noticed that the gas had been released from the bottle.

The bottle still weighed like it had something in it, and he discovered a slippery and strong substance left inside. Today, we know this white solid material as polytetrafluoroethylene.

Plunkett’s accidental discovery was made in 1938 while he was working for DuPont Company. It took a few years for them to fully realize the uses of their discovery. DuPont was managed by Chemours, who filed the trademark for Teflon in 1945.

crape cake cooking on electric teflon pan

In 1946, Teflon hit the market for nonstick frying pans, and the rest is history. Today, Chemours remains the trademark holder for Teflon.

Teflon Vs PTFE Vs Polytetrafluoroethylene: The Differences in Terms

Language is used differently in different situations. Words have subtler meanings based on the context of where they’re used, and when it comes to comparing Teflon and PTFE, that may be the biggest difference.

A consumer in a box store will recognize the brand name Teflon on a pan and it will have an effect on their purchasing decision. To a consumer, Teflon means nonstick frying pans.

If a chemist in a lab used Teflon instead of polytetrafluoroethylene, their contemporaries may find that an odd choice. Like many others, they know Teflon as the brand name.

PTFE is the same thing, but for a chemist, there is a much broader understanding of the many uses for this valuable chemical.

At the end of the day, while Teflon, PTFE, and polytetrafluoroethylene are realistically all referring to the same chemical, the biggest difference between them may simply be the circumstances where they’re used.

The most important thing to know about Teflon is that it’s a brand name like Coca-Cola, Tylenol, or Kleenex.

The most important thing to know about PTFE is that it’s the same thing as the well-known term Teflon and that it’s used in a lot more than just nonstick frying pans.

The chemical is hydrophobic, temperature resistant, and has extremely low friction. While there are less expensive materials that many may use in place of PTFE, it’s generally considered to be a superior solution for many industrial uses.

In the future, inventors will likely continue to find more ways to use PTFE in products we use every day.