We spend 90% of our time inside, where the concentration of air pollutants can be two to five times higher than outdoors. One 2019 study from the University of Colorado found roasting meat and vegetables for just a few hours can produce higher amounts of air pollutants than the streets of Delhi, India, one of the most polluted cities worldwide.
It doesn’t need to be this way. Follow these five steps for better kitchen air quality.
1. Check Your Stove
We know the lure of the blue flame of the gas stove. But do you know their dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde, and other pollutants? A 2020 UCLA report found levels of NO2 and CO when cooking with natural gas appliances exceeded national and state air quality standards. In addition, children growing up in households with gas stoves were 24% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and 42% more likely to have asthma symptoms than kids who grew up in homes with other types of stoves, according to a 2013 study from the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Gas stoves are also associated with bad climate outcomes, as even gas stoves that are turned off release methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The methane emissions of gas stoves in the US is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of half a million cars per year, according to a study in Environmental Science and Technology in 2022. Another 2022 study, from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, confirmed these findings and determined gas fittings and connections in gas lines are responsible for emissions, not age of the appliance or amount of use.
A New York Times article originally recommended not ditching your gas stove yet but was retracted in September 2022, for these health and climate reasons, and because of new government rebates for electric stoves.
The lesser-known induction stove uses electromagnetic energy, making it the safest choice and the best for air quality. However, it also comes with a high price tag.
Electric stoves are a great option that pollute less than gas and are more affordable than induction. If electric is your choice, choose an Energy Star model to meet strict Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy standards. Finally, if you aren’t replacing your gas stove, invest in a range hood that covers the entirety of your stove, to collect and vent or filter fumes. If you can’t install a hood or new stove, simply opening the windows will help improve the air quality and consider a portable induction or electric cooktop, both of which can be found for around $100, to reduce air pollution or see to which you’d prefer to switch.
2. Avoid VOCs
Just like any room, you want the kitchen to be a space that fits your vibe. But before you paint it a bright, sunflower-yellow, make sure you get VOC-free or low-VOC paint.
Many traditional paints contain VOCs, which emit as noxious fumes as the paint dries. The EPA has identified numerous health effects—headaches; damage to liver, kidney, and the central nervous system; possible carcinogen—of VOCs in the air and they are believed to contribute to negative environmental air quality.
Luckily, VOC-free and low-VOC paints are available at regular hardware and paint stores for not much more than their noxious counterparts. Shop the Green Business Network for eco-friendly paints and stains.
3. Swap Cleaning Products
A healthy kitchen is vital—no one wants bacteria as a side dish, and the cleaning products you use are key.
Less is more: For daily cleaning, water and unscented soap will do the trick. When using harsh chemicals, apply only as much as you need. Stay away from air fresheners and scented products. Scents are chemically manufactured and add toxic chemicals to the air.
Wet mop—don’t sweep. While sweeping moves dust around, mops capture it. Chemicals emitted from paint or plastics can collect in dust, making it toxic and close to little hands or paws in your home.
4. Ditch Nonstick
Do you know how cookware becomes nonstick? Manufacturers apply fluoropolymer coatings, or, as you may know it, Teflon. The main chemical in Teflon is PTFE (see p. 14), which breaks down and releases toxic fumes when met with hot temperatures.
The safest bet is switching your cookware for safer material. Better options include cast iron, stainless steel, and ceramic.
5. Refresh the Air
There are many tools big and small to better your home’s air quality. The simplest? Your windows. Provided the outdoor air quality is good (most weather apps provide information on this), open them wide! Windows will vent bad kitchen and other indoor fumes while letting the fresh air in. And your neighbor will be jealous of that delicious paella dish you’re making.
It’s not just you who has to do all the work, though, which means it’s time to invest in a high-efficiency filter for your air system and vacuum. Most filters use the MERV rating system, which stands for “measure particle removal efficiency.” The higher the MERV number, from 1 to 20, the more efficient the filter is at removing fine particles. The best of the best are filters that meet the high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) standard, though they are not compatible with every system.
In rooms that have particularly bad air—like a kitchen—you can also get a portable air purifier.
Want to take the next steps? Consider growing plants that clean the air in your home. Or read the issue of Green America Magazine devoted to "Your Home, Detoxed."
Updated December 2022