Does Cooking Poison Indoor Air?

February 18, 2016
Read time: 3 mins


Brett Singer, a scientist with the Indoor Environmental Group at Berkeley Lab explains how pollutants get into the air from cooking and his group's research to clear the way for a rating system for range hoods. 


So cooking is a great example of one of those things that we all do, but we don't think much about. Turns out that when you cook, you produce a lot of chemicals, some of which are pollutants that can mix into the air of your house. 

Here at Berkeley Lab, we have an environmental energy technology division. One of our big focus areas is that we make energy-efficient homes, but also that those homes have great indoor air quality and that they're very comfortable to live in. 


Pollutants come from stoves and food

When you cook, you can release pollutants in your home that can reach levels that the EPA says are not safe outdoors. That can be pollutants both from gas burners, but also from the cooking activity itself. 

Gas burners can produce carbon monoxide, Nitrogen dioxide—which is a respiratory irritant—ultrafine particles, formaldehyde—which is a carcinogen and also an irritant.

Electric burners also can produce ultrafine particles.

And the cooking itself produces a whole array of chemicals and particles that when they reach high levels can be hazardous to your health.


MPG for range hoods

We do experiments in the laboratory to understand how effective the range hoods are. We use a term called capture efficiency, which describes how much of the pollutants that are formed at the cooktop get removed outdoors.  By doing these experiments, we are trying to set up a test method that can be used to rate range hoods. 

Ultimately that will help consumers have the information that they need to pick the right products so they can keep their home safe. 


In the meantime, what can you do?

Figure out if your range hood exhausts to the outdoors. Very often there's a cabinet above that and you can open that cabinet and look for a piece of ductwork coming up. That's a good sign.

Second, once you have a vented range hood, use it. Turn that range hood on every time you light your stove and then leave it on for a few minutes after cooking.

The third thing is a really simple thing that can improve the efficiency of all range hoods, it is to cook on the back burners. A lot of times the range hoods don't cover the front burners, and by cooking on the back, it is easier for that range hood to be effective.

This is all part of Berkeley Lab's efforts to bring science solutions to the world. In this case, we're looking inside your home to make sure that we can make energy-efficient, healthy homes.

And something as simple as cooking could present a hazard, but by developing the technologies and the rating systems for these range hoods, we can make sure that people enjoy their cooking, and also have healthy homes.