Gas cooking is highly in demand, sought after for the quick response time and precision with heating and cooling. The vast majority of our clients have a strong preference for gas cooking over either induction or regular electric cooking.
In recent years, studies have shown that gas stoves can be a significant source of indoor air pollution. When in use, the hood should always be in use to foster healthy ventilation. That part alone is often forgotten, but it turns out that gas ovens and cooktops may be polluting even when no one is cooking.
Health hazards of gas cooking
Last week, the New York Times published the findings of a Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and PSE Healthy Energy, a non-profit), study which found that in the 87 homes with gas stoves tested in Colorado and California, benzene was detected in every home, both in the kitchen and beyond, after just 45 minutes of using either the oven at 350 degrees or a single stove burner.
Benzene is a cancer causing agent and no safe levels of exposure to it are known. It is worth saying again: benzene was produced by gas cooking in every tested case.
In about a third of the tested homes, the benzene level exceeded what would be found with second hand smoke. The study also suggests that the smaller the home, the worse the results.
And it lingered for hours.
This isn’t the only place we can find warnings about gas cooking and air pollution. From the State of California, Indoor air pollution from cooking:
- “Natural gas stoves can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants into the air, which can be toxic to people and pets.”
- “If you have a gas stove, a qualified technician should inspect it every year for gas leaks and carbon monoxide.”
It’s not just gas cooking that produces indoor air pollution
A 2020 article from the Sierra Club states that “A new report by researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, ‘Effects of Residential Gas Appliances on Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality and Public Health in California,’ shows how air pollution from gas-fired furnaces, water heaters, and stoves increases rates of respiratory illness, cardiovascular diseases, and premature death.”
Most homes in Silicon Valley have gas water heaters and gas furnaces, and a huge percentage have gas cooking as well. The topic of oven types and pollution appears to be the tip of the iceberg with this conversation.
Frying foods and indoor air pollution, too
A couple of years ago, during all of the California wildfires, we purchased a fairly inexpensive air quality monitor to see what the pollution was like at our home, indoors and out. Not surprisingly, the findings matched what we saw online with sites such as Purple Air.
One day, my better half, Jim, was frying chicken and I started to cough. I thought to check what the air quality monitor said about the fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5. It turned out frying foods caused a shockingly high amount of indoor pollution in our home (using an electric stove, we don’t have gas cooking). We tested it a few times and the result was the same each time.
The state’s website, linked above, confirms that cooking fats, oils, and perhaps other ingredients at high temperatures causes unhealthy indoor air. And the same is true for self-cleaning ovens (both electric and gas cooking appliances).
Below is an image of our air quality monitor before cooking and while my husband was frying something (briefly) with our hood on and windows open. You can see that the PM 2.5 level rose from 4 to 136.
Ventilation is key to combating unhealthy indoor air. Air filtration may help, too.
Good ventilation is extremely important with gas cooking and in all of these situations (other gas appliances indoors, frying foods or cooking at high temperatures, using the self cleaning function on the oven): opening windows, using a good hood or vent, or if you have a whole house fan, perhaps utilize that if the weather permits, too, to bring in the fresh air and push out the polluted air.
Most of my clients, family, and friends prefer using a gas stove top, and I would be surprised if this new study changed their devotion to gas cooking. I hope that it will spur all of them to find the best range hood for their needs, though, and that they will get it tested annually, so that their homes can be both happy and healthy. (The best gas stove is the one that doesn’t make you or your loved ones sick!)
Learning about frying and its impact on air quality was a surprise to me. We don’t eat a lot of fried foods, but when we do, we’re trying to remember to not just use the hood, but also to open up windows etc.
Another help can come with using high quality filters if you have a forced air furnace and simply running the furnace on its “fan” function. We have done that quite a lot when there was smoke from wildfires or pollen in the middle of allergy season and it’s been a big help.
Older studies pointed to gas appliances and unhealthy air quality
With a little digging, I found much older studies about the risks of gas appliances for elderly people, asthmatics, and increasing the risk of children developing asthma, too. It seems that some of this info isn’t news so much as it is a broadening of the known risks that were previously hinted at.
Air pollution monitors in every home?
After reading several articles for this question about indoor air pollution and gas ranges or ovens especially, I’m thinking that just as every home has (or should have) smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, why wouldn’t we all also want to have indoor air pollution monitors? Most of us spend half of each 24 hour period in our home. To me it makes sense to care about the quality of the air we breathe.
I don’t have a favorite air quality monitor to recommend, and don’t love mine as it only gives the temperature in Celsius and cannot be changed to Fahrenheit, but I am glad to have it for the other features. Over time these should become more affordable and I suspect that their popularity will grow.