The kitchen is the heart, mouth, and nose of a home—so needless to say, it’s worth taking care of. Here, two toxicity experts with decades of experience testing home air quality between them share four faux pas they look for when walking into someone’s cook space. Once you clean them up, you’ll be well on your way to a safer, healthier, even more delicious kitchen:
1. Don’t forget about your dish soap.
There’s lots of talk about switching over to nontoxic pans these days, and while the experts agreed that it’s important, they add that the way you care for your cookware is even more essential.
Caroline Blazovsky, the founder of My Healthy Home, says it’s her “biggest pet peeve” when people shell out for new pans but continue to clean them with dish soap laden with chemicals that will eventually make their way into food.
This is common, seeing as a whopping 56.3% of dish soaps tested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) scored a D or F safety rating. (They contain ingredients that either haven’t been tested for safety or have been associated with respiratory irritation, skin allergies, or other toxicity concerns.)
“Make sure you’re using dish soap and dishwashing tablets that are certified by the EWG and don’t have these chemical compounds in them,” Blazovsky recommends.
2. Don’t cook without a fan on.
When heated, gas can release small particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde into the air. If left to build up, these pollutants can reach levels that exceed EPA air safety standards and could pose health risks.
According to one toxicity model out of California, “During a typical winter week, 1.7 million Californians could be exposed to CO2 levels that exceed standards for ambient air, and 12 million could be exposed to excessive NO2 levels if they do not use venting range hoods during cooking.”
For this reason, Blazovsky and building biologist and environmental consultant Ryan Blaser say it’s imperative to always, always, always use an exhaust fan when you cook. Blaser says that you can easily tell if yours is running properly by cooking up some bacon, fish, or anything else particularly fragrant, and turning the fan on. “If you can smell bacon across the room or in another room, the fan’s not doing its job.”
In this case, you should get it checked out by a technician. In the meantime, open up those windows and put on another fan when you cook to allow for some cross ventilation and improve airflow. And once your gas stove reaches the end of its life, dispose of it responsibly and consider replacing it with a safer, more eco-friendly option like an induction one.
3. Don’t sleep on water quality.
Tap water is another potential source of pollutants in the kitchen, and Blazovsky recommends getting yours frequently tested if you can swing it. “If you’re using water from your tap to eat and drink, you need to have it tested every three years because it changes,” she tells mbg.
To reduce your exposure to two notable chemical groups of concern, PFAS and chlorination byproducts, the EWG suggests using an NSF-certified water filter. (Here’s our guide to finding the right one for your needs and budget.)
4. Don’t store your food in plastic.
We know, we know, it’s tempting—but Blaser says that plastic takeout containers and baggies are not suitable storage for your food (especially if it’s hot!) because they can leach endocrine-disrupting compounds. Instead, he puts hot food in glass containers and uses reusable food-grade silicone bags for cold items.
There are lots of ways to ensure that your kitchen is as healthy as can be. Experts agree that some of the most important include airing out the room when you cook, cleaning dishes using nontoxic soap, getting your water tested, and swapping out plastic food storage.