I am not an avid baker, which means it wasn’t until this year that I used parchment paper for the first time, and only because I was at my sister’s house and her silicone mat was otherwise occupied at the time.
What is this obviously plant fiber-based material that doesn’t shrivel up and burn in the oven? What is this quick-release ability, where cookies popped off instead of needing to be spatula-scooped? Sorcery! I thought. Or just parchment paper, my sister scoffed, before asking me what kind of food writer I was. (Again, not the baking kind, clearly.)
But fortunately, I am the inquisitive, researching, nerdy kind, which is what brings me to our titular question: Is wax paper the same as parchment paper?
The Similarities Between Wax Paper and Parchment Paper
If you’ve confused wax paper with parchment paper and vice versa, don’t worry—you and I aren’t the only ones! In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two papers:
- They’re visually similar with the dull sheen of their respective coatings, which adds a slightly shiny, slightly opaque quality to it.
- They’re both coated papers used to prevent sticking, are both found in the baking aisle, often side by side, and sold in rolls.
- They’re both derived from plants, foundationally.
- Both can be used to line counters or create barriers between sticky doughs and your rolling pin, with wax paper being the more cost-effective choice.
In fact, wax paper is ideal for rolling out pie crusts, cookies, or kneading bread. It helps to avoid making a mess and creates an additional barrier for general surface cleanliness. It’s also great for cold food storage, particularly to keep chilled or frozen foods from sticking to one another.
Wax paper will gently adhere to items that have some moisture to it, such as sticky candy, deli meat, or cheese. You can also use wax paper to separate fudge or burger patties in the freezer; the plasticine coating helps protect your food items from freezer burn since it’s resistant to moisture.
However, despite sharing a nonstick character, there's one key difference that makes wax paper and parchment paper not like-for-like substitutions for one another.
Can Wax Paper Go in the Oven? No, It Cannot.
Herein lies the biggest difference between parchment paper and wax paper: parchment paper can go in the oven; wax paper cannot.
Parchment paper is chemically treated to withstand reasonable exposure to heat, liquids, and oils. Modern parchment paper is also typically treated with silicone, which enhances its heat resistance and makes it even more nonstick. This practice began in the 1950s.
Wax or waxed paper, on the other hand, is tissue paper that is typically triple-waxed with food-safe but not heatproof beeswax, soybean wax, or paraffin, which is forced into the pores of the paper to create a moisture-resistant structure and also spread across the outer surface on both sides. This coating will melt if it’s put in the oven, even on low heat. More alarmingly, it will catch fire at high heat.
So, if you’re planning to do some baking, make sure you line your baking pans with parchment paper (or a Silpat), not wax paper. Parchment paper’s heat resistance—up to 420 degrees Fahrenheit—make it appropriate for most baking. It’s also as a good substitute for aluminum foil for lining baking sheets.
But wax paper? Save it for lining a countertop or wrapping up foods. It makes a good work surface for dry materials, too! You can curl wax paper up in a cone for a makeshift funnel to return excess ingredients to their containers.