Kitchen ranges and gas stove cooking can be hazardous to your health.
Several types of air pollutants are common in homes, including mould and mildew from water-damaged bathrooms and basements, dander from pets, and infiltration of outdoor traffic pollution. But the kitchen can be the most polluted room in many homes. The main culprit – pollutants emitted on the kitchen cooker.
Common gas stove air pollutants
Cooking on a stovetop – especially a gas range – can produce high levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas byproduct of combustion at high temperatures. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can reduce lung function and increases the risk of other respiratory conditions such as asthma. Other gases produced by the cooking process include formaldehyde and carbon monoxide (CO).
A 2012 study conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and published in Environmental Health Perspectives estimated that 60% of homes in California that cook with gas at least once a week reach indoor pollution levels that would violate federal outdoor air quality standards. That would include:
These results are consistent with other research, such as a study released in 2012 and published by the Journal of Indoor and Built Environment. The study found nitrogen dioxide levels in kitchens with gas stoves to be three times higher than the United Kingdom’s outdoor air quality standards.
In 2022, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that gas-powered appliances emit unburnt methane gas, a greenhouse gas pollutant – even when the appliance is turned off.
Health impacts of gas stove emissions
Gas stove air pollutants are linked to a wide range of dangerous health outcomes.
Gas stoves emissions are linked to childhood asthma. A 2023 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health attributed 12.7 percent of childhood asthma in the U.S. to gas stove use. Separately, over 700,000 cases of childhood asthma in the European Union were linked to gas cooking.
Acute or long-term exposures to nitrogen dioxides and carbon monoxide are strongly connected to numerous health conditions, including:
Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to death. According to the Canadian Safety Council, CO poisoning is the leading cause of fatal poisonings in North America.
In the United States, around 50,000 people are accidentally poisoned and require emergency medical assistance, while an estimated 430 people die in the country each year. Of 140,000 CO poisonings in Europe between 1980 and 2008, nearly 55 percent were the result of unintentional inhalation. In addition to being a greenhouse gas, methane contributes to ground-level ozone, a pollutant that can impact breathing and increase asthma attacks.
Ultrafine particles and gas stove cooking
Another danger of cooking air pollution is the generation of ultrafine particles (UFPs). Both gas and electric burners produce ultrafine particles, according to the Berkeley Lab study.
Electric burners aren’t sources of carbon monoxide and produce little nitrogen dioxides. However, electric burners create ultrafine particles through a process called “volatilization,” or vaporization. The process is similar to that used in toasters and electric heaters.
Even high-quality range hoods that vent kitchen air pollution to the outdoors were found by Berkeley Lab to have a “capture ratio” of 80% for the back burners but only 60% for ovens and 50% for front burners. The capture ratio measures the percentage of the indoor air pollutants that are successfully removed from the indoor environment.
Unlike larger particles, ultrafine particles are deposited in the lungs, where they have the ability to penetrate tissue and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. And cooking can have an immediate health impact on those exposed to UFPs. A study published in Science of the Total Environment in 2021 found that ultrafine particles from cooking led to a systolic blood pressure increase for up to two hours after exposure to cooking aerosols (10).
Regulations and recommendations of “safe” levels of ultrafine particles do not yet exist for indoor or outdoor air, as research is still emerging. Current kitchen ventilation systems do not adequately and consistently provide a remedy.
How to cook safer and breathe better
The Berkeley Lab research team has recommended the use of kitchen range hoods that exhaust to the outside. Even modest improvements in levels of indoor pollutants would help significantly.
However, range hoods have to vent outdoors and not just recirculating to be effective.
A high-performance air purifier, such as the IQAir HealPro 250, with an optional gas and odour filter can also help make a difference in controlling kitchen air pollutants. This is the most effective air purifier for a kitchen with a natural gas cooking burner as it is able to filter particles (especially ultrafine particles) as well as gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde.
If possible, switching out gas stoves for induction stoves can improve air quality. A pilot program run by the New York City Housing Authority in the Bronx provided residents with induction stoves as part of an air quality improvement project. The results after 10 months: those households experienced a 35 percent decrease in daily concentrations of NO2. Daily concentrations of carbon monoxide were also reduced by 43 percent.
Cooking is an essential element of survival, and it’s not practical to stop all cooking activities. But to enjoy better indoor air quality, it’s important to outfit the kitchen with the right equipment to minimize exposure to dangerous pollutants.
To best enjoy cooking and dining in the kitchen, control kitchen air pollution by installing outside venting, a high quality air purifier and switching away from gas burning stoves to electric stoves when possible.
IQAir is a Swiss technology company that empowers individuals, organizations and governments to improve air quality through information and collaboration.