Why Your Kitchen Air May Be Surprisingly Hazardous
Your home was built to shelter you from the outdoor elements. Unfortunately, the walls and roof that keep rain, wind and the sun’s midday rays out of your house are also great at keeping airborne pollutants inside. In fact, the EPA estimates that indoor air quality can be two to five times worse than outdoor air quality. One of the main contributors to poor indoor air quality? The kitchen.
Your kitchen air quality can vary depending on which type of home you live. Factors to consider include:
Which pollutants can be found in your kitchen?
The different heating processes that you use while you cook produce different airborne emissions. These gases and particulate matter (PM) can have harmful effects on your health. Even if you cook once a week with a gas stove, it is possible for your kitchen to reach pollutant levels that the EPA would deem very harmful if found outdoors. This means that you, your family and your pets could possibly be exposed to concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide that exceed federal standards. According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, this exposure can be especially concerning for children, people with asthma, and those with heart or lung disease because they are more susceptible to the health effects caused by indoor air pollution.
While both gas and electric ovens can produce pollutants such as particulate matter and formaldehyde during regular use, self-cleaning ovens have the potential to emit the highest levels of airborne pollutants. As food waste is burned away, potentially harmful concentrations of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde are released into the kitchen air, according to the 2001 ARB study. Though gas-powered and electric ovens both produced high levels of pollutants during cleaning, gas ovens were the biggest offenders. High-heat oven activities, such as broiling fish or overcooking food, were found to produce concentrations of formaldehyde similar to those formed during oven cleaning.
While the oven and stove are probably the most significant sources of airborne pollutants during cooking, many appliances that use heat, such as toasters, deep fryers and woks, can release particulate matter and VOCs into the air. This is especially true of appliances that are not used very often, because while heating, the device burns away any dust that has gathered on the surface, which then recondenses in the air as particulate matter.
Which cooking activities cause the most indoor air pollution?
Now you know that cooking can create particulate matter and VOCs, but did you know that how you prepare your food can influence the levels of pollutants are produced in the kitchen? For example:
Deep frying involves heating ingredients in oil or fat at high temperatures, creating an array of unhealthy air pollutants in the process. The oil used in frying emits high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can cause a range of health effects including eye and respiratory irritation. Stir-frying, in particular, has been found to emit significant concentrations of particulate matter (Apte & Solvi 2016).
Browning — such as grilling steaks or toasting bread—may seem like the time when food smells the best, but that smell is caused by compounds released while you cook, including brown carbon (a type of particulate matter) and VOCs formed during incomplete combustion.
Multitasking may seem like an efficient way to utilize your time in the kitchen, but certain combinations of activities can exponentially decrease your indoor air quality. For example, cleaning with bleach while cooking with teriyaki sauce can produce chloramines, known to cause respiratory inflammation, according to research performed by HOMEChem, as reported on by The New Yorker. HOMEChem also found that cleaning with bleach while using a gas burner can create nitryl chloride, a key component of coastal smog formation.
In addition to how you cook, what you cook can impact the air quality in your kitchen. For example:
Tips for maintaining your kitchen air quality when cooking
Just because cooking can produce air pollution in your kitchen does not mean that you should completely switch over to take-out. Though you may not be able to make all of the changes below, any step that you take, no matter how small, can help increase the air quality in your home while you cook.
While it is true that pollutant concentrations in your kitchen can quickly reach harmful levels while you are cooking, it should not keep you from savoring a home-cooked meal. Making mindful choices in the kitchen—especially when it comes to ventilation—can help maintain the air quality in your home while you prepare all of your favorite dishes.