Chopping Boards Near Oven Under Hood, showing air vent and air purifier

How Cooking Affects Indoor Air Quality

When you think of air pollution, you might think of busy city streets, industrial factories, or even dirty ductwork in the home or office. However, there is something else that has an even more significant impact on your exposure to harmful particles: your stove. Cooking can affect indoor air quality, and it is important to take note of ventilation and other parts of your kitchen to ensure high-quality indoor airflow.

Cooking is likely the most significant source of indoor air pollution in your home. While home-cooked meals are both healthier and less expensive, they can also expose you to some pretty significant air quality concerns.

Types of Air Pollution from Cooking

The stove and cooktop in your home puts out a variety of air pollutants when in use. Gas stoves have been proven to produce more pollutants, as they rely on combustion to create a heat source. Let’s look at some of the contaminants that come from gas stoves. 

  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a gas that is created during combustion. This gas can be found in car exhausts, fireplaces, heaters, and stoves. NO2 is a respiratory irritant that can cause airway inflammation, cough, eye irritation, and other respiratory-related symptoms. 
  • Formaldehyde is another byproduct of combustion. This is a known carcinogen. In small doses, it can cause skin, nose, throat, lung, and eye irritation. Long-term exposure may contribute to cancer of the nose and throat.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) is yet another byproduct of combustion. This is a more widely known concern, as it can be lethal in a large enough concentration. Carbon Monoxide detectors should be installed in all homes with natural gas or propane appliances. 
  • Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) are pollutants with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. These tiny particles are invisible to the naked eye, easily inhaled, and can even make their way into your bloodstream. Of the particulate matter classifications, these are the most dangerous. 

While electric stoves don’t emit most of the above pollutants, they still produce fine particulate matter when cooking and frying foods. 

The Biggest Problem: Lack of Ventilation

The biggest problem with pollutants caused by cooking is a lack of ventilation in the home. Many homes lack proper ventilation for air quality concerns in kitchen spaces. Most homes in the US are built to reduce heat loss through the walls. So, while you’ll be paying less to heat and cool your home, you will also be breathing a higher concentration of air pollutants from cooking. This is because pollutants don’t have anywhere else to go, and fresh air has no easy way in (unless windows are open!)

Important note: the self-cleaning option on your stove has the potential to emit high levels of dangerous pollutants while in use. This is due to the extremely high temperatures it uses to clean. While cleaning your oven by hand is less enjoyable, it is far better for indoor air quality.

How To Improve Indoor Ventilation When Cooking

The main issue here is not your stove. It is ventilation. You don’t have to stop cooking in your kitchen, and you don’t have to run out and replace your gas stove with an electric one (although an electric stove would be better for the environment). But, you do need to ventilate your kitchen space so the air pollutants can disperse. 

  1. Range Hood: A range hood is the best way to ventilate a gas stove. Range hoods are exhaust fans for your stove. They remove the contaminated air and deposit it outside. Aside from reducing harmful pollutants caused by cooking, they reduce kitchen odors and excess heat. If you have a range hood installed in your home, try to utilize the back burners more, as they are more directly vented. 
  2. Open Windows: If you don’t have a range hood, you can open windows for more ventilation. If you want to improve air circulation even more, you can take a cheap box fan and place it in an open window to suck out some of the pollutants while you are using your stove. 
  3. Purification: If your home has proper kitchen ventilation and you still have air quality concerns, a few well-placed air purifiers – fitted with HEPA and Carbon filters – can help with fine particulates (but may not reduce all VOCs). You need to use a purifier with enough power to perform five air changes per hour. A whole-home air purification system is even better, but it is a large job. But even with an air purification system, you should still be mindful of ventilation concerns when cooking. 
  4. Cooking Practices: Adopting healthier cooking practices can also make a difference. Using lower cooking temperatures, opting for boiling or steaming over frying, and minimizing the use of unvented gas stoves can help reduce the emission of harmful pollutants.
  5. Regular Maintenance: Regularly cleaning and maintaining kitchen appliances, especially gas stoves and range hoods, can prevent the buildup of grease and reduce the emission of harmful gasses.

Cooking can significantly affect indoor air quality through the emission of particulate matter, harmful gasses, and increased humidity. By understanding these impacts and implementing mitigation strategies such as improving ventilation, using air purifiers, adopting healthier cooking practices, and maintaining kitchen appliances, we can ensure a healthier indoor environment. Protecting indoor air quality is essential for our overall health and well-being, making it a crucial aspect of healthy living practices.

Lead Editor (IAQ), Clinical BacteriologistJessica Gunoskey
Jessie is the lead editor for Air Koality, overseeing all IAQ guides to ensure accuracy and quality. She holds a degree in Molecular & Infectious Disease Biology from Washington College in addition to working for multiple top-rated universities, such as UConn and UPenn. Not only does she write and edit, but she also is a STEM tutor and microbiologist!

Expertises: microbiology, infectious disease, biology, air quality

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