Wax, Parchment, Foil, Plastic – When to use what

With so many different types of thin sheets of material used in the kitchen, sometimes it’s easy to mix up which to use when. Believe me, I have dealt with the consequences of using the wrong one! Don’t make the same mistakes; Use this guide to help determine what you should be using when cooking. We go through what each type of sheet is, what you SHOULD use it for, what you SHOULDN’T use it for, and what to do if you used it for something you shouldn’t.


What is it? Wax paper is a wax-coated paper that is both water-resistant and non-stick. It will feel glossy to the touch.


What is it? Parchment paper is a paper that has been treated to make it non-stick. It will feel like regular paper or a thick tissue paper.


What is it? Modern foil is made from aluminum (it used to be made from tin). It is shiny, and when crumbled, it is near impossible to get it to lay flat again without any creases.


What is it? Plastic wrap, or cling film, is transparent and sticks to itself using static electricity. Once stuck to itself, it is not impossible, yet difficult, to get it to unstick.

What is it good for? Wax paper is great when you don’t want something (room temperature or cold) to stick to a surface. It is commonly used as a surface on which to cool chocolate-dipped items such as strawberries or cookies.

What is it good for? Parchment is great when you don’t want something (warm or hot) to stick to a surface. It is commonly used in the bottom of pans for baked goods like cookies and cakes.

What is it good for? Foil is great when you either want to protect a surface from a food or if you want to cover food for which there isn’t a better lid. Common uses are to line baking sheets to expedite clean-up or to cover food in the oven to prevent browning or moisture loss.

What is it good for? Plastic wrap is great for creating an airtight covering for which there isn’t a better lid. Common uses are for odd-shaped items such as dough to be refrigerated or single slices of dessert items.

What isn’t it good for? Wax paper should NEVER be used for hot items. The wax will melt off and stick to the hot food item. If the hot food item is permeable, wax may even leach into the food. Instead, use parchment paper for warmer items.

What isn’t it good for? Parchment is safe up to 420 degrees – any hotter than that and you can set fire to the parchment. Use foil instead for hotter temperatures. Also, never let parchment paper touch the walls of the oven even at lower temperatures.

What isn’t it good for? Foil deteriorates with acidic food, so you shouldn’t use foil on anything acidic for possibility of leaching aluminum into your food. Also, just like any metal product, aluminum foil is not microwavable!

What isn’t it good for? While plastic wrap can be used in the microwave (as long as it doesn’t touch food while in there), it CANNOT be used in the oven. The plastic will melt onto the food. User foil instead for oven purposes.

HELP! If you have accidently put wax paper in the oven or put a hot food on it, you can remove the paper and slice off the affected portion of the food. The rest of the food is still safe to eat.

HELP! If you’ve got burning parchment in the oven, DO NOT OPEN the oven. Turn off the heat and keep an eye on the flame through the door. Without oxygen, the flame should die out, at which point it is safe to open the door (you may want to open a window and temporarily disable your smoke detectors first!). If the fire does not go out or spreads, exit your house and call 911.

HELP! If you have used aluminum foil with acidic food, it isn’t the end of the world. High levels of aluminum aren’t great for you, but a little bit isn’t too much of a risk.

HELP! If you accidently put plastic wrap in the oven, take it out as quickly as you realize. If you are able to remove the plastic wrap from the food, it is safe to consume the food after. If the plastic has integrated with the food, you should discard the food.

Hopefully the information above can help prevent making the same mistakes we have! Have a horror story you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below (we already put ours so no one has to break the ice!).

3 thoughts on “Wax, Parchment, Foil, Plastic – When to use what

  1. When covering some corn bread for storage, we used foil, for no other reason than “the cornbread was hot at one point”. Well, lessoned learned that cornbread is acidic and ate mini holes in our foil! We thought a mouse had walked all over it, the holes were so tiny and abundant. Turns out we should have just covered it with plastic wrap, as the cornbread was no longer warm.

  2. Once while making a carrot cake (https://economicaleats.com/recipes/mimis-carrot-cake-with-cream-cheese-frosting/) for a family member, we mistakenly used wax paper to line the cake pans. I can’t tell you how mortified I was when they came out of the oven and the wax had seeped up into the cake. What was supposed to be a 6-8 inch tall, 3 layer cake turned into a measly 4 inch cake once we cut off the affected parts of each layer. Thankfully it still tasted fine, but it is one mistake I sure won’t be making again!

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