We commonly think of the kitchen as a comfy, cozy zone and “the heart of the house,” but according to a recent Department of Energy-funded study, cooking with a gas stove as little as once a week regularly emitted levels of pollutants that would be illegal outdoors. And gas isn't the only concern: Electric stovetops and even toasters create nitrogen dioxide, a toxic by-product of combustion. No wonder experts say improving kitchen airflow should be a “public health priority.” Fortunately, proper range hood use and other simple measures can see toxicity levels drop by more than half. So breath easy and employ these techniques to bring better kitchen ventilation-and, more generally, healthier air-into your home.
1. Use Range Hoods Properly
To mitigate odors and improve air circulation, plus trap particulates from burned food and greasy cooking, turn on the range fan at the start of cooking-not midway through or afterwards. Improving kitchen ventilation also requires homeowners be conscientious about the maintenance that keeps a range hood functioning efficiently, including changing the filter regularly. How often depends on how much and how heavily you cook, but a minimum of once annually is recommended. And if you notice excessive grease build-up, punctures, warping, or corrosion on the filter, clean or replace it immediately. Metal mesh and baffle filters can be removed and cleaned with dish soap and a wire brush; other filters are disposable.
2. Control Grease with a Splatter Screen
Minimizing grease in the kitchen can reduce airborne, breathable particles and keep cooking smells at bay-and it all starts with a splatter screen that has a carbon lining to absorb odors. This inexpensive problem-solver is available at kitchen and cooking supply stores everywhere and won't take up valuable space in smaller kitchens. While many are dishwasher safe, all it takes is a sponge and hot soapy water to hand-wash this wise air quality tool.
3. Operate Fans Effectively
Fans are musts for kitchen ventilation if your space lacks a range hood. A wide range of window fans are available-some with three fans in a single unit and the option of reversible airflow, too-but a basic box fan can do the trick. Fit a sturdy, square-edged fan into a kitchen window, closing the window to sit snugly against the top of the fan and blocking any additional gap with a bundled towel or other “stop-gap” solution. Be sure to position blade direction so that the fan will blow fresh air into the room while sucking stagnant, smelly air out. If you don't have a kitchen window, open windows in nearby rooms and bring a fan into the kitchen, positioning it in your doorway, facing out, to suck air from the kitchen. Consider an oscillating fan with an ionizer feature to aid air purification: The oscillation moves the air better, and the ionizer filter traps allergens.
4. Invest in an Air Purifier
Range hoods aren't regulated, and some only filter as little as 15 percent of particulates. Air purifiers, however, are government-rated, and hospital-quality HEPA-filtered models clean over 99.7 percent of particulates above 0.3 microns in size. If you're cooking with gas, or suffer from asthma or other cardiovascular ailments, look for an “MCS” HEPA filter to remove “multiple chemical sensitivities” and station it in your cook space in order to improve kitchen ventilation. To ensure that the unit you buy can handle the volume of air in your space, figure out the room's square footage (multiply length by width) and then check manufacturer's specifications.
5. Open Windows
Of course, opening windows adds fresh air to a house, but it's how you do it that will most impact airflow-and, during meal prep, improve kitchen ventilation. Ideally, keep interior doors open, and then open a combination of windows and/or exterior doors to create a draft. This way, you ensure the air doesn't just enter your house, but moves through it to push stagnant, polluted air out.
Ultimately, fresh or filtered air is the best way battle bad airflow in any kitchen, so avoid the temptation of simply spraying “air fresheners” to mask odors-these products actually raise pollutant levels without addressing the underlying cause.