Gas stoves, like gas anything, are a 20th century technology that doesn’t have a place in our clean century. They served their purpose over the last decades, but now that we have research showing how much they pollute in our homes and outdoors, and considering the excellent high-performing electric alternatives, it’s high time to give them the boot.
What Americans Currently Use to Cook
40 million Americans, or approximately one-third of American homes, use gas to cook their food. There is something satisfyingly prehistoric about cooking over a flame, but rapidly expanding research shows how using flames indoors leads to a host of problems for people and the environment (see below) so we must transition the world to clean electric cooking.
Most of the remaining two-thirds of homes in the US already use electric heating — the old school coils that get red and hot. This technology doesn’t release the indoor or outdoor pollution from gas, which is a score, but the cooking performance leaves a little something to be desired. Gas has looked good in comparison to old electric resistance cooking because it takes a long time for electric resistance burners to heat up and cool down.
But the electrification movement has a new superstar — the induction stove. One percent of American homes, including mine, have induction stoves that offer families superior cooking performance (heating up and cooling down much faster than gas) without the asthma-causing indoor air pollution or planet-warming methane leakage.
But before singing the full praises of induction, let’s look at the risks of cooking with gas.
Pollutants From Gas Stoves
Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide, which is a lung irritant, and can cause wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, asthma, and an increase in respiratory infections. A 2013 meta-analysis, which included 41 different studies, concluded that children who lived in a home with a gas stove had 42% more current asthma symptoms, and 24% more had life-time diagnoses of asthma. Even levels much lower than the EPA’s limit for outdoor nitrogen dioxide levels (there are no indoor standards in the US) have been shown to cause an increase in symptoms in children with asthma. Nitrogen dioxide is associated with increases in cancer, low birth weight, and all-cause mortality.
Particulate Matter & Other Pollutants
All cooking produces some particulate matter, but cooking with a gas produces about twice as much of the dangerous small particles (PM2.5) as cooking with electricity. Chronic exposure to PM2.5 is associated with premature birth, increased blood pressure, and problems with memory and judgment, as well as lung problems. Other fun pollutants that come from gas cooking include carbon monoxide (for which there is no safe level), formaldehyde, and sulfur dioxide.
Let me provide a quick plug — use a vented exhaust hood over your stove. Exhaust hoods that vent to the outside can decrease exposure and should always be used, even with electric cooking. Many rental and older properties don’t have vented hoods, and surveys show that fewer than half of respondents use their hood every single time they cook. If you do not have an externally vented exhaust hood, it’s a good idea to open a window whenever you cook with gas.
Methane Leaks From Stoves
Gas leaks from pipes all along the way to your house. Estimates vary as to how much, but some studies show this leads to gas having a higher environmental impact than coal. It also leaks from pipes, connections, and stoves in your house. A Stanford-led study released earlier this year shows that gas leaks from stoves even when they’re not in use (shameless plug: I’m co-hosting a free webinar with the study’s authors on April 27). This leaking gas has a climate impact comparable to the carbon dioxide emissions from about 500,000 gasoline-powered cars.
Researchers measured methane and nitrogen oxides released in 53 California homes while they were burning gas, and when the stoves were off, which is something most previous studies had not done. More than three-quarters of methane emissions occurred while stoves were off, demonstrating that “gas fittings and connections to the stove and in-home gas lines are responsible for most emissions, regardless of how much the stove is used.” It also didn’t matter how old or cheap the stove, they all leaked like a sieve.
Transitioning to Induction
With all this leaking and pollution, we’re fortunate that there is another amazing technology that allows better cooking control and performance than gas. Enter induction stoves. Amazingly, relatively few people know about them.
To read about how induction stoves work, check out my article from 2020 or watch this webinar with a professional chef cooking on an induction stove. For an idea on how well induction stoves perform, check out the slides below from Electrify Now.
So there you have it. Gas pollutes our lungs and the planet, and induction stoves perform better and run on clean electricity. You can even try a cheap, portable induction cooktop for under $100 before making the full leap (NYtimes reviews them here) to understand the greatness of this technology.
This Earth Day, and Earth Month, kick fossil gas out of your kitchen and go for clean electricity. Your body, the planet, and the people you feed will thank you for it.
This article was co-written with Dr. Melanie Plaut. Join me for a free webinar on April 27 as I interview Dr Plaut and Stanford Researcher Eric Lebelabout the Dangers of Cooking with Gas.
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