15 air fryer mistakes you’re probably making - and how to avoid them

These are the air fryer mistakes that you likely don't even realize you're making. Luckily, they're pretty easy to avoid when you know how...

a white air fryer and other kitchen accessories, and a plate of chips on a kitchen countertop, used to illustrate an article on air fryer mistakes
(Image credit: Getty Images/Future)

Air fryer mistakes are easy to make – and many of us make them without even realizing. But these mistakes can result in food that isn't quite as tasty, or in extreme cases, can even compromise your safety and that of your air fryer.

The best air fryers are quick and easy to use and will give you delicious food in an instant. But, like all other appliances, there are a few tips and tricks to using them that you may not even know about. For example, did you know that overfilling your air fryer is a bad idea if you want to achieve that classic, crispy air fryer texture? Or that you need to be careful with wet foods?

Though knowing how to use an air fryer in its most basic terms is simple, knowing how to use it to its very best, and without any potential mistakes, is another matter entirely. To help you use your air fryer safely and to its full capabilities, we’ve detailed all the air fryer mistakes – from chefs, air fryer experts, and people who simply love their air fryer and have made these mistakes themselves – that you’re going to want to avoid.

The 15 air fryer mistakes you might be making

1. You’re overfilling the air fryer basket

Once you know what to cook in an air fryer, it’s tempting to throw as much food into the basket as possible, but air fryer expert Clare Andrew, and author of The Ultimate Air Fryer Cookbook, explains that this habit could be resulting in a sub-par outcome.

“Overfilling is the easiest mistake to make,” she said. ”While it's often appealing to add as much as you can to your basket, this will increase your cooking time and means that your food may not cook evenly.

“To counter this, spread the food in a single layer only, and maybe shake or turn once or twice, depending on what you’re cooking.”

chips in a white air fryer on a kitchen countertop

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. You’re covering the entire tray with parchment paper, or tin foil

This is more of a safety concern than anything else, but one of the biggest air fryer mistakes you might be making isn't using tin foil or parchment paper in your air fryer (we’ve asked the question of 'can you put tin foil in an air fryer', and the answer, thankfully, is yes). 

No; instead, the mistake is covering the entire tray with it – as this could be a potential fire hazard.

Air fryer fan Jenny Ho explained to us, “I always use baking tray paper to line up the basket, but only halfway. Otherwise, the baking paper touches the heating element, which could start a fire. I made the mistake once of covering the entire tray, and thankfully, fire didn’t catch hold – but it did burn the paper!”

3. You’re applying the same heating rule to every air fryer you use

“It’s important to remember that not all air fryers are the same – for example, while one will suggest that you cook on 200C for 10 minutes, another brand could recommend 180C for 12 minutes,” advises Clare Andrew.

It’s true – each air fryer will have a different wattage (unit of power), meaning they will cook your food at different rates. You’ll be making a mistake if you assume that your new air fryer is just like the one you used at your parents, for example. By cooking your food for the same length of time, and at the same temperature as you would another air fryer model (perhaps by a different brand) you could be left with undercooked or overcooked (read: burnt) food.

“Spend some time getting to know what works for you and your air fryer," explains Clare.

4. Not cleaning the air fryer properly

Knowing how to clean an air fryer properly is essential. Because if you don’t, it could result in some fairly major operational issues. As such, not doing so is one of the most common air fryer mistakes.

This is because, over time, food crumbs, sauces, and oil, will build up in the smaller areas of the tray. If you’re not cleaning your air fryer after every use, or at least after every few uses, these leftover bits of debris can affect the taste of your food (e.g, your food may taste burnt, or of the leftovers!) And, in extreme cases, too much build-up in your air fryer may even lead to a fire, if the bits of debris catch on the heating elements.

soapy air fryer and air fryer components and a sponge

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Not drying potatoes before putting them in the air fryer

Fries (or chips in the UK)  are one of the best things to cook in an air fryer, but on a busy night, many of us are probably guilty of quickly chopping our potatoes, throwing them in, and forgetting about them for the next 20 minutes. 

And while there’s nothing wrong with that, Emily Jones, Senior Product Manager at Tefal, reveals that taking a few minutes to complete an extra step should result in even better-tasting fries.

“To get them extra crispy, we’d always recommend washing your cut chips or roasties and then drying them thoroughly with a paper towel. This removes the excess starch, and gives a better crisp finish.” So if you’ve ever wondered, why is my food not crispy in the air fryer? It could simply be that you’re not removing enough of the excess moisture before cooking.

6. Getting the wrong size air fryer for your needs

It's not a mistake per se, but you may regret buying the wrong size air fryer for your needs, especially considering the rapidly rising costs of energy.

air fryer on a kitchen counter top with samosas inside, and on a plate to the side

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Air fryers vary fairly significantly in size, and if you're cooking for just yourself (or two people), and buy a bigger air fryer than you need, the cost of running your air fryer will likely be much more expensive than it needs to be. 

If you're cooking for one or two people, an air fryer with a 2-4L capacity is generally fine. But those cooking for up to four people should look more in the 5-10L range – though of course, this will vary depending on how much you plan to use the machine.

7. You're putting 'wet' foods in the air fryer

It's probably best to avoid putting anything with a generally 'wet' consistency – be it foods with a wet batter, or foods with too much sauce on them – in your air fryer. This is because air fryers are simply not designed to properly deal with foods that are too wet. Because of the way they heat your food, instead of crisping it up and giving you that satisfying, crunchy texture, it's likely that food with too wet a consistency will instead just not set properly within your air fryer.

Food like this is often better placed in a deep fat fryer, where the hot oil can properly cook and crisp up the wet batter or sauce. Not only that, but there's a chance that, in an air fryer, the excess wet batter will slip off and drip down into the mechanisms at the base of the tray, leaving you with a very awkward clean-up job.

8. Using the air fryer to cook foods that are too small – or too light

While you can cook a huge range of different foods in your air fryer, there are some that are best cooked in the traditional way; and that includes foods that are lighter in weight and smaller in size.

For example, while bread can be expertly toasted in an air fryer, there's a risk that such a lightweight food will fly around the machine during the cooking process. This is because air fryers use a fan to blow hot air around to cook your food. Because of this, you may need to secure your bread to the tray; which often, is much more work than simply popping it in the toaster. The same is true of lightweight vegetables, such as kale or spinach; meaning you're probably better off frying them in a pan or placing them in an oven instead.

Similarly, it can be a mistake to place foods that have been cut up very small into an air fryer. Some air fryer trays have much wider holes at their base which means smaller foods – such as cut veggies, for example – will be at risk of falling down through the holes during cooking.

9. Not pre-heating your air fryer

a cake cooking in an air fryer on a smooth kitchen countertop

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the air fryer vs oven debate, air fryers often win because they don’t need to be used for as long as ovens, thus saving time and energy. But Christina Russo, chef and founder of The Kitchen Community, explained that you should still be pre-heating your air fryer – even if just for a few minutes.

She explains, "If you add food to the basket before your air fryer is warm and the hot air has started to move, then your food isn't going to cook evenly. Ovens take a while to warm up – however it takes just a few minutes to preheat your air fryer."

10. You’re using your air fryer whilst it’s against the wall

If you’re wondering where to place an air fryer in your kitchen, you’re not alone! But the one mistake you might make is thinking that you can use it while it’s up against a wall.

Due to the fact that air fryers can emit a lot of heat, placing your air fryer tightly up against the walls whilst it's on could do some serious damage to your kitchen – or worse, create a fire hazard. 

To avoid this, whenever you use your air fryer, be sure to pull it away from all walls, and ensure there is at least five inches of space around it. This will allow for proper air flow and ventilation. Opening windows and doors can also help! 

11. You don’t move your food around while cooking

You’re probably clear on the fact that you need to shuffle your food about in the oven as it’s cooking – but did you know you should be doing the same for the food in your air fryer? 

Though the heat in your appliance should be circulating expertly, it’s a great idea to rotate your food and move it around the basket intermittently throughout the cooking process, to ensure even cooking.

chicken thighs cooking in the air fryer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

12. You only cook using air fryer trays

There are plenty of accessories for air fryers out there, but Emily Jones says that it’s a mistake to think that these are absolutely essential. In fact, she explains that sometimes, they might even prevent you from getting that perfect crispiness we all want from our air fryers.

“Silicone trays may make the washing up quicker, but will actually stop the air flow around the food, meaning you have to spend more time turning or shaking your food to ensure an even browning and cooking,” she says.

“Air fryers have grids or plates that sit just above the base of the bowl which allows a gap to let your hot air circulate 360 around the food – and trays can prevent this from happening so easily.”

13. Using too much oil

The use of oil when it comes to air fryers is much debated (especially when considering whether air fryers are healthy or not). But if you do choose to use it, one of the key air fryer mistakes you might be making is dousing your food in oil – both before you put it in the machine, and when it is already inside the air fryer. 

Primarily, your air fryer is a device that crisps up your food using movements of hot air. It is not like a deep fryer, which uses oil to cook your food. As such, using too much oil in your air fryer could lead to your food being too soggy and too oily, rather than crispy.

person pouring oil from a bottle onto a spoon

(Image credit: Getty Images)

And, if you're not tossing your food in oil before placing it in your air fryer – and are instead pouring the oil onto your food whilst it is inside – you're also making a mistake. If you pour your oil straight onto the food in the tray, it won't be able to properly coat your food, and any excess will simply be wasted, and slip off into the base of the tray.

14. Or, using too little oil

And on the flip side, using too little oil is also a potentially bad idea too, and arguably one of the most common air fryer mistakes. This is due to the fact that the machine often needs some oil in order to properly crisp up your foods, and to allow any seasoning to stick to your ingredients.

Bear in mind though that an air fryer is designed to allow you to not use much oil – so even though some oil is advised for that crispy finish, if you don’t want to use any, you don't have to!

15. Cooking greasy food in an air fryer without using this trick

Finally, cooking greasy or fatty foods in an air fryer – be it sausages or bacon, for example – is a great idea. But if you're not employing this clever trick when doing so, you could be causing yourself unnecessary hassle.

Because of the fat content of these foods, it's likely that they will release grease and oil as they cook, which can interfere with the air fryer's heating element and create smoke. If this happens, don't panic! All you need to do is add a small amount of water to the tray (around two tablespoons should do the trick), before cooking, which should combat the effects of greasy foods in an air fryer.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.