Are Gas Stoves Dangerous?
Is your gas stove making your home's indoor air quality worse? Recent studies say yes. Is it time to get rid of your gas stove?
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Gas stoves have long been popular with professional and home chefs. But as our planet warms, the need to decarbonize our energy sources means cooking with gas is falling out of favor. Governments across the nation are offering incentives to make the switch to cleaner, more efficient appliances.
Now consumers may have another reason to reconsider gas: indoor air pollution.
Recent studies indicate gas stoves contribute to asthma and other respiratory health issues. Most recently, a peer-reviewed study published in December by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 12.7 percent of current childhood asthma cases in the United States can be attributed to indoor air pollution from gas stoves.
One-third of U.S. households cook with gas, so making the change to energy-efficient, no-emission alternatives like induction stoves will take some doing.
Should you replace your gas stove? We asked Jonathan Levy, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University, about this important issue.
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Do Gas Stoves Pollute Indoor Air?
Yes. When you turn on your gas burner, natural gas combines with oxygen to create a controlled flame. This combustion creates heat for cooking, but also byproduct gases like nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In addition to the most recent study, prior studies of children with asthma have found that gas stove NO2 emissions contribute to increased severity of symptoms and increased nighttime inhaler use.
Nitrogen dioxide is a key component of smog, so homes near roadways often have elevated levels of NO2. Gas stoves are a major contributor to indoor NO2 pollution. Levy points to a study in California where more than half the homes studied exceeded acute-health standards for NO2 exposure, mostly due to their stoves.
Nitrogen dioxide isn’t the only pollutant gas stoves release. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes heavily to climate change.
Methane from gas stoves isn’t released via combustion but from leaks. One study found gas stoves emitted enough methane in one year to rival the heat-trapping emissions of half a million cars. And most of those stoves were off!
It’s not just emissions from stoves, either.
“Cooking itself can also contribute to poor air quality, especially through the generation of particulate matter,” says Levy. “Frying and grilling can generate more particulate matter than steaming and boiling.”
What Should I Do If I Have a Gas Stove?
One option is to replace your natural gas stove with an induction stove.
“Induction stoves use electromagnetic waves to heat pots and pans, so they don’t have fuel combustion like gas stoves do,” says Levy. “Induction stoves are more energy efficient and transfer more of the energy to the food than electric or gas.”
Indeed, Energy Star data indicates induction cooking transfers 85 percent of its energy to the food, compared with 32 percent for gas. Levy says switching to induction “would still generate any pollution related to cooking style, but not to fuel combustion.”
Some cities are banning natural gas stoves in new construction. Municipalities in California, New York, Minnesota and other U.S. states are pushing to electrify buildings to reduce carbon emissions as the planet warms. Here’s everything you need to know about gas ranges being recalled. It is due to the potential risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Weatherization Assistance Program, residents can receive grants to upgrade their gas venting systems. And incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act give lower-income households up to $840 toward a new electric stove, starting in 2023.
What If I Can’t Afford a New Stove Right Now?
If you have a range hood, use it. “Ensuring that you have a working ventilation hood, or open[ing] windows while you cook, are important steps,” says Levy.
Avoid the front burners, too. This study of vent hoods found that capture efficiency, which describes how well an exhaust device removes pollutants, is best on the back burners. That’s true no matter what kind of exhaust device you have.
Venting devices that lack hoods, like flat-bottomed microwave exhausts, capture fewer pollutants, so changing to a hood-style vent can help.
One thing to note from the study: Many hoods had measured flow rates much lower than advertised in the product specifications. Using the back burners and turning the vent hood on “high” substantially improved the capture efficiency of all styles of exhausts, although you’ll have to put up with more noise.