Teflon® is a brand of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a solid polymer that is considered to be one of the world's most slippery substances. Accidentally invented in 1938 a laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey, in the United States, Teflon® has applications in a wide range of areas, including household goods, the aerospace industry, electronics and industrial processes. Teflon® is produced by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, also known as DuPont.
PTFE is a fluorocarbon, a compound made up of carbon and fluorine, and it has the molecular formula (C2F4)n. A chemist named Roy Plunkett accidentally invented PTFE while trying to create a new chlorofluorocarbon in a New Jersey laboratory operated by Kinetic Chemicals Inc., a company that was co-founded by DuPont and General Motors. Plunkett discovered that the white, wax-like substance that was created during one of his experiments was extremely slippery and water-resistant. The substance was patented in 1941, and the Teflon® trademark was registered in 1945.
Teflon® has a coefficient of friction against polished steel of 0.05 to 0.1, which is one of the lowest for any solid that has been measured. This makes it suitable for use in applications that require reduced friction between two solids, such as gears or sliding parts. It also is hydrophobic, which means that it repels water instead of getting wet. Among PTFE's other qualities that make it beneficial for many uses are its high melting point and its electrical insulating properties.
In the 21st century, in addition to its widespread use in manufacturing and industry, PTFE is used on all sorts of everyday items. Many people are familiar with non-stick cooking pots and pans that have been coated with Teflon®. Automobile wiper blades also are commonly coated with PTFE, which helps keep the blades from squeaking as they pass back and forth across the windshield. PTFE also is used as a carpet or fabric protector because it repels liquids, allowing spills to be wiped up without leaving a stain. It has been used on all-weather clothing, to coat eyeglass lenses, as a fingernail protector and even in a line of haircare products.
There has been some concern about the safety of PTFE, especially in cookware. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stated that the use of this coating on cookware and other items commonly used by people does not pose a concern. DuPont has said that Teflon® coatings do begin to deteriorate at or above 500° Fahrenheit (260° Celsius), a temperature higher than that at which most foods are cooked. Teflon®-coated pans are not recommended for cooking techniques that require very high temperatures, such as broiling.