Unless they’ve recently burned something on the stove, most people don’t realize cooking can be a major source of indoor air pollutants. But studies have shown that cooking-related contaminants can cause health problems such as respiratory illness and asthma attacks.
How are harmful pollutants emitted when cooking?
A gas burner almost always produces significant quantities of nitrogen dioxide, which is a respiratory irritant. Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is a byproduct of combustion and will be emitted when using gas stoves. Depending on the burner configuration, it can also produce carbon monoxide, which is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. In general, newer cooktop burners don’t produce much carbon monoxide because of design improvements. Finally, the gas produces ultrafine particles, smaller than 100 nanometers, which are dangerous because they can move around your body in ways that larger particles can’t.
Electric burners don’t produce carbon monoxide and produce only small amounts of nitrogen dioxide. But an electrical coil burner can produce ultrafine metal particulates, particularly when you first turn it on.
Cooking food on either type of burner also produces fine particles and some organic chemicals, including acrolein and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons that are known to be hazardous. Frying, broiling and other cooking at high temperatures generally produce more pollutants.
However, these pollutants can be easily addressed with good kitchen ventilation, which is especially important if you live in a small home.
Tips to help you minimize these cooking pollutants.
The first tip is to ventilate when you cook, and to ventilate more the more you cook. Range hoods are the most effective way to do this, if your range hood moves air out of the kitchen. If you have a range hood that just recirculates air back into the kitchen, you need to use another exhaust fan — for example, from a nearby bathroom — or open windows.
People report not using them because they’re noisy, because people forget to turn them on or because they aren’t needed unless removing smoke, odors and moisture — like when frying something stinky. Those are good reasons to use ventilation, but people can’t sense pollutants, so they may not be ventilating sometimes when it’s really needed.
Beyond that, almost any range hood works better if you cook on the back burners. If you put it on a low speed and cook on a single back burner, then you’ll typically capture 50 to 70 percent of the pollutants.
It’s up to you to you put these kitchen ventilation tips to use so you can cook all you want – with gas or electric – without exposing yourself to harmful air pollutants.