gas stove top burner fueled by methane gas

Can Gas Ovens Really Make You Sick?Valerii Vtoryhin - Getty Images

  • New research published in 2022 has linked gas stove pollution to negative health effects, prompting federal regulators to consider potential legislation.

  • Health experts say that gas stoves may pose an elevated risk to respiratory health due to a byproduct of burning methane gas in kitchens, known as nitrogen dioxide.

  • A leading environmental pollutant, nitrogen dioxide has been linked to increased asthma and lung disease for decades — but scientists are now looking at how gas stoves may contribute to the issue.

  • Our experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute share ways you can reduce any potential health risks associated with gas ovens without purchasing a new stove.

Recent headlines about the potential for an outright ban of gas ovens and stoves in the U.S. may have you concerned that federal regulators are coming for your oven.

But despite sparking a political debate among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, White House officials said Wednesday that new legislation concerning gas stoves and ovens won't be officially considered any time soon, CNN reports. In short, open gas flames in home kitchens won't be banned outright — and that it's unlikely any potential future regulations would affect someone who already owns a gas stove top.

But concern remains over new research regarding the potential drawbacks of using gas burners at home, with some experts arguing that it's just the latest study to back up years of evidence suggesting gas stoves may worsen respiratory health over time — and potentially trigger asthma.

In a December 2022 report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the use of gas stoves in home kitchens was linked to an increased risk of asthma among children, in particular.

The evidence presented by researchers estimated that nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. may be traced back to exposure to chemical byproducts of burning gas. This purported link was prefaced by a similar report released by the American Medical Association in late 2022 that formally recognized "the association between the use of gas stoves, indoor nitrogen dioxide levels and asthma."

These recent developments — as well as additional data from the 1990s to as recent as 2014 — prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to announce it would consider new forms of regulation on gas stoves.

Lawmakers are currently debating whether or not regulation should be implemented that could require gas stoves to be sold with a hood that vents to the outdoors among other proposals, per Bloomberg, but others in the healthcare field are seizing the moment to educate American families about ways to improve their kitchen hygiene.

If you're among the more than 40 million American households currently using gas ovens in their kitchens, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association, there are several ways you can improve indoor air quality that doesn't include quitting your stove altogether.

Many risks can be reduced by better ventilation in your kitchen, explains Nicole Papantoniou, the Good Housekeeping Institute's Kitchen Appliances & Innovation Lab Director. That all starts with the hooded vent above your oven, which should be turned on well before you begin cooking — and regularly cleaned to avoid poor circulation.

Read on for more tips and to learn about the potential risks associated with gas ovens, plus what you can do right now to reduce them while cooking at home.

Why are experts worried about gas stove tops?

Believe it or not, there are many ways in which health experts say cooking at home may lead to poor air quality issues, which can impact your health over time. But a gas burner may indirectly pose more of a threat than an electric stove top, due to the byproducts that are released into the air as methane gas burns while you cook; namely, nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to respiratory issues as well as cardiovascular risks, explains Huawei Dong, M.D., pulmonology and critical care medicine professor at the University of California, Irvine's School of Medicine and pulmonologist at UCI Health.

"When we breathe that in, it causes irritation and local inflammation into the bronchial tubes and the airways," Dr. Dong says, which you may not even notice if you've never experienced prior respiratory issues like asthma. "One of the key things that happens in asthma patients, whether you're a child or an adult, is that the airways become inflamed and they become narrower, causing things like wheezing and shortness of breath."

It's important to note that nitrogen dioxide is produced whenever fossil fuels are burned, which means the overwhelming majority of this particular pollutant comes from vehicles and nearby power plants, adds Dr. Dong. And while there are established guidelines released by officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that dictate appropriate levels of nitrogen dioxide, especially as it relates to vehicle emissions and other factors, there aren't guidelines for indoor settings just yet.

In fact, researchers have established that gas stove tops produce considerable nitrogen dioxide when they're in use. A Stanford University study published in early 2022 suggests that the amount of nitrogen dioxide emitted from gas stoves and ovens exceeded EPA standards within minutes. But since there isn't any regulation for indoor appliances just yet, this is where CPSC officials want to step in.

How can gas stove tops impact your health?

Gas ovens aren't likely to be the sole reason that you develop a respiratory issue, including asthma — Dr. Dong tells Good Housekeeping that most asthma cases, including those in children, are considered "multifactorial" by doctors who treat them.

After all, genetics often play a heavy hand in how likely it is for someone to develop asthma or other breathing difficulties. But available research on nitrogen dioxide and other commonplace air pollutants indicates that there is a link between poor respiratory health and increased exposure, and the December 2022 report only further suggests that impactful exposure may be occurring indoors more frequently than we realize.

"Some of the risk for asthma certainly may come down to what we're exposed to in the home, as well as where we live and the outdoor environments we spend time in due to air pollution," she says. "We've known that for decades in seeing the development of worse asthma and lung disease — but, most of that effect is cumulative over time."

Translation: Sitting beside an open gas burner in your kitchen for a few minutes won't significantly increase your asthma risk, even for children and their developing lungs and immune systems. What healthcare experts are more concerned about is the exposure effect over the course of months and years — and how gas ovens may exacerbate breathing issues for someone who is already asthmatic or seriously hampered by their respiratory health. This is when Dr. Dong says more immediate, short-term symptoms are noticeable (and the need for prevention is key).

Despite the recent research, the need for more evidence on how nitrogen dioxide triggers respiratory issues indoors is needed, as there is some conflicting research on the childhood asthma link that CPSC officials referred to earlier this year. A 2013 Lancet Respiratory Medicine study that touts data collected from 500,000 children globally indicates that researchers couldn't determine "an association" between gas stoves and self-reported asthma diagnosis or symptoms.

In the end, future regulation on gas stoves may simply focus on the sale and manufacturing of gas ovens; back in October, a peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Science and Technology illustrated that some gas stoves may leak methane gas and benzene, another pollutant, even when not in use. New manufacturing regulations may prevent this from happening, as well as encourage the use of properly installed vents that effectively remove airborne pollutants from kitchens entirely.

Are gas stoves unsafe?

CPSC officials have clarified that a ban on gas stoves and ovens isn't on the table currently — and you shouldn't feel the need to rip out your gas stove ASAP over air quality concerns, as both Good Housekeeping Institute pros and healthcare officials agree that there are many ways to reduce any inherent respiratory risks.

Raj Dasgupta, M.D., a pulmonary critical care specialist at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, tells Good Housekeeping that nitrogen dioxide build-up can largely be dissipated through the use of an exhaust hood, or range hood, in addition to odors, smoke and grease. Additionally, opening windows for fresh air can better assist range hoods that don't vent directly to the outdoors.

Of course, not every kitchen has a hooded vent over a gas stove top, which is the best way to ensure air pollutants don't hang around your kitchen. If your space is only equipped with a vented fan, opening windows and providing fresh air supply is even more important, Dr. Dasgupta says.

You may also want to consider investing in an air purifier. "There aren't a lot of downsides to having an air purifier in your home, aside from the financial investment — they help remove various contaminants from the air in your kitchen, namely smoke and odors," he adds, as well as dust, pollen and pet dander, all of which may contribute to asthmatic risk and on-set symptoms over time as well.

Regular maintenance of your gas oven and stovetop is also crucial to ensure that air pollution remains as minimal as possible while you cook. Our experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute's Kitchen Appliances & Innovation Lab recommend doing the following:

  1. Turn vents or fans on before you start cooking. It takes time for high-speed fan settings to kick in, and smoke and other pollutants in the air simply hang suspended if air flow isn't strong enough. Putting your vent or fan on before you begin cooking ensures this won't happen

  2. Keep your gas burner clean. Grease, splatter and other kitchen residue can easily build up over the gas burners on your stove top, which may delay or prevent the complete ignition of a burner, which could contribute to potential gas leakage over time, according to Papantoniou. Keeping your burners clean can help prevent this from happening.

  3. Replace fan filters and have vents serviced regularly. You can do this with the help of your oven's manufacturer. Replacing filters regularly ensures grease and other airborne pollutants are captured effectively, leaving less work for any air purifiers you have elsewhere in your home. And if it's possible, work with a professional

If you're able, consider investing in a vent hood that has an optimized capture efficiency range — even if that means replacing an outdated model, advises Dan DiClerico, the Good Housekeeping Institute's home improvement and outdoor director. "It should be within the 70 to 80% range, and is usually included as a spec on many newer models, though manufacturers aren't required to list it," he adds.

The bottom line:

It's unclear when and if federal consumer safety regulators will introduce new rules for oven and stove manufacturers. Americans should rest easy knowing that there won't be any changes required for those who currently use gas ranges in their home — though, research is clear that these types of ovens likely pose an additional health risk compared to electric models.

Focusing on improving the ventilation in your kitchen is key if you're worried that cooking is adding to poor air quality at home. Simply working to open as many windows or doors as you can while cooking can offset poor air quality, and is essential for anyone who is already facing established respiratory issues. And taking the time to have any hooded range vent or kitchen fan regularly serviced by HVAC professionals may reduce the risk of suspended smoke, odor and other pollutants above your stove top.

Additionally, air purifiers can work to combat pollutants in your kitchen as well as other airborne factors in your home contributing to respiratory irritation. Experts say dust, pollen, pet dander and odors are often targeted by air purifiers, but the best air purifiers also work to reduce volatile nitrogen dioxide released into kitchens over time.

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