Cooking is something that is not only necessary but also a pastime you may enjoy. However, the unintended impact on your indoor air quality, or IAQ, might hinder that enjoyment. Keep in mind that airborne contaminants go beyond particulate matter that gets caught by filters. Rather, this category can also include gases and biological substances. Discover exactly how cooking affects your indoor atmosphere, the contaminants it can release, and what you can do to improve your IAQ.
Consider Your Heat Source
The first thing to consider for possible airborne contaminants while cooking is your heat source. Whether you’re using a cooktop or your oven, how it generates heat may add contaminants to the air that may be problematic. The most obvious example is when you’re burning any sort of fossil fuel, which is most commonly natural gas. Fossil fuels produce gases that become toxic at high enough concentrations. Electric element stovetops and ovens may seem like cleaner options than their gas-burning counterparts. While they do not produce contaminants every time you turn them on, they will produce them if there’s anything on the element that burns off when it heats up. This is especially true for self-cleaning ovens, whether gas or electric.
Cooking until your food is properly heated through makes it safe to consume, but the cooking process itself also releases a small amount of biological contamination. Actually burning any sort of food while preparing it releases far more airborne contaminants. Food is considered organic material, and all organic material has carbon as its base. When carbon-based materials get hot enough, they release toxins that contribute to household air pollution. When you burn these materials in a confined space, such as a kitchen, those pollutants can linger, posing problems for extended periods.
Consider Your Ingredients
There is nothing more comforting than walking into a space and smelling some food that has been prepared. On the other hand, the smell of other food cooking may repulse you and even cause problems such as allergies. Some ingredients are more obvious than others, but the key to remember is that many ingredients can release particles and gases while you’re preparing them. Keep in mind that it’s also not just the smell in your kitchen; airborne contaminants from food will collect on clothing, upholstery, paint, carpeting, and so much more. This is why you may have aromas that linger for days at a time when you cook with strong ingredients. The more you use those strong ingredients, the more impact they’ll have on your home environment. Residual contaminants can even impact how future foods come out, affecting everything from how sourdough starter ferments to how some foods taste. This is because your olfactory sense is deeply integrated with the gustation sense.
Your dishes play an integral role in both serving and storing your food; however, they can also contribute toxic contaminants to your air. It’s common knowledge that many dish materials will leach various chemicals into your food when you heat them up, including using them to serve food. What is not so commonly considered is the release of these chemicals into the air. Plastic products are notorious for off-gassing when they heat up, allowing contaminants to leach into your food and into the air you breathe.
There’s nothing more comforting to many people than fried foods. Whether you like fried cheese, French fries, or bacon, the frying process can contribute to degrading your air quality. The oil that’s used for frying becomes hot enough that it releases chemicals into the air. These chemicals can have a number of effects on your body. Further, the oil can become airborne for a short time, most often affecting your range hood and fan. Over time, the buildup of this oil can degrade the exhaust fan’s performance, reducing its ability to effectively ventilate your kitchen. Air frying is a better alternative to oil frying for many reasons, including not contaminating the air with many of the pollutants released from cooking oil. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t affect your IAQ in any way. While you’re not using additional oil or fat to fry the food, many of the foods you’d normally fry already contain a lot of fat. The high heat used by air fryers can melt that fat, resulting in it becoming airborne and causing some of the same issues as frying with oil.
Your Cookware Is Important Too
The dishes you use to cook are also prone to off-gassing, depending on the kind used. Teflon is especially challenging, off-gassing toxic particulates starting at temperatures of around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which your pan will reach between the medium and high settings.
Cooking’s Airborne Contaminants
There is a multitude of airborne contaminants your kitchen may produce through your cooking endeavors. Here’s a highlight of some of the more prominent ones you should consider as you think through mitigation options. Carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas that can lead to asphyxiation and death in high concentrations. This is one of the chief concerns over using a gas stovetop or oven, especially if it’s not burning the fuel as efficiently as it should. Your burner flame should be blue when it’s working correctly. A yellow flame indicates the burner is likely producing carbon monoxide, and you need to have it evaluated before continuing to use it. Another potential contaminant from using a gas cooktop is nitrogen dioxide, raising NO2 levels an average of 25% to 33% in the summer and 35% to 39% in the winter. Nitrogen dioxide can cause respiratory irritation, lead to bronchitis, and exacerbate asthma. Formaldehyde is a chemical most people are somewhat familiar with because of its preservative use in biology classes. However, it’s also found in various things around your kitchen, including some very common ones. It occurs naturally in various food like meat, fish, and even produce and coffee. When cooking, or brewing in the case of coffee, you may release formaldehyde into the air as it warms up.
How to Improve Your IAQ and Still Cook at Home
There are several steps you can easily take to control your home’s air quality so that you can continue using your kitchen for whatever it is you enjoy cooking. Start by making sure you have sufficient ventilation in your kitchen. Use your range hood vent fan whenever you’re cooking. Next, start using an air purification system. You can use a smaller room-sized purification unit; just make sure it’s suitable for the size of your kitchen. Alternatively, you can install a whole-house unit as part of your HVAC system. Activated charcoal is exceptionally effective at removing odors from the air. You’ll also want an efficient filter to remove all of the particles. Another option is an ultraviolet light purifier, which can work to purify the air moving through your HVAC system. These special purifiers use UV-C light to break the molecular bond of the particles that cause odors, making them inert. The beauty of ultraviolet purification is that it’s also extremely effective on viruses and bacteria. For more than 20 years, when people around Bastrop wanted to improve their indoor air quality, they’ve turned to our experts at Blue Ribbon Heating & Cooling. Our team provides a full range of IAQ solutions, from humidity control to air purifiers and scrubbers. We also perform IAQ, heating, and cooling equipment installation, repair, and maintenance. Call us today to schedule your consultation with one of our indoor air quality experts.