How to Improve Indoor Air Quality While Cooking, Even Without a Range Hood

Are you thinking more about the indoor air you breathe? If you are, you aren’t alone. Awareness of indoor air quality has surged over the past few years, though for very different reasons. Most recently, millions in the Northeast U.S. looked for indoor air solutions as smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed the region and led to a decline in outdoor and indoor air quality. During the COVID-19 pandemic, air cleaners were held up as a main line of defense against illnesses spread by bacteria and viruses.
Cooking’s effect on indoor air quality, and how cooking-related pollutantscan be reduced, has also been getting more attention. All cooking, whether done on gas, electric or induction cooking appliances, emits pollutants. An externally vented range hood may be the most effective way to minimize cooking-related pollution like grease, steam, smoke and odors.

Making sure you have proper ventilation should be part of your cooking process. But what if a range hood isn’t an option? While they are great tools for improving indoor air quality, installation and venting of a range hood can also involve significant costs and sometimes structural work. The good news is that there are still plenty of options available. While the solutions listed here aren’t all equal, they all will help improve your indoor air quality while you cook:

Downdraft ranges and cooktops: These appliances come with built-in ventilation that can capture grease, smoke and steam. Some, but not all, are externally vented. Others utilize a filter that removes pollutants before the air is recirculated back into your kitchen.

Over-the-range microwaves with built-in fans: If it’s time to replace your microwave, consider a model with a built-in fan. When installed above your range or cooktop, microwave fans filter and recirculate air. Many also can be converted to vent externally.

Ceiling fans: When combined with open windows, ceiling fans can help reduce pollutants while cooking by improving airflow.

Air cleaners: Many air cleaners are designed to remove cooking pollutants. Look for models with PM 2.5 CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate). CADR is the value of clean air the air cleaner has been tested to deliver when looking at specific pollutants. PM 2.5 refers to particles 2.5 microns or less, the most common size of pollutants produced by cooking.

Beyond taking advantage of these appliances, home cooks can take a number of steps to improve their indoor air quality while cooking.

  1. Make sure your entire cooking area, from the range to surrounding counters, is free of grease and food residue.
  2. If you do have a ventilation hood or downdraft, turn it on before you start cooking and leave it on for at least 10 minutes after you finish cooking.
  3. Whenever possible, open windows while cooking.
  4. Take advantage of all the tools at your disposal to improve indoor air quality. For example, if you have a ceiling fan and microwave fan, use both, along with opening your window.
  5. Match the ventilation settings to the type of cooking you will be doing. For example, if you are using multiple burners or cooking with high heat, set your ventilation hood or other ventilation appliance to the highest level.
  6. Match the burner size to the size of the cookware, and don’t allow the flame to extend beyond the pan’s bottom surface.
  7. When possible, cook on back burners, where ventilation from ventilation hoods or over-the-range microwaves will be more effective.

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