How and Why to Use Your Kitchen Exhaust Fan

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Many of us never think to turn on our kitchen exhaust fans until something starts
smelling too strongly or burning. However, the exhaust fan is one of our most useful tools for improving indoor air quality and can have a larger impact on your health than you may think.

I’m sure most of us heard of the controversy surrounding gas stoves recently. If you have a good kitchen exhaust system, then using it will certainly help reduce indoor air pollution associated with gas stoves. But even if you don’t own a gas stove, just the act of cooking produces many unwanted air pollutants that can be quite dangerous to your health over time. Fine particulate matter and gasses like nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde can contaminate your air as a result of cooking. That is why restaurants are required to purchase large and expensive exhaust systems meant to protect their employees from cooking related air pollutants (and accidental cooking fires). For better or worse, there is no such requirement in the building codes of private homes. That means some of us may not even have a kitchen exhaust system. If you don’t have an exhaust system, opening doors and windows during cooking can help. And if you are lucky enough to have a good exhaust system, here are some tips for how to use it.

1) Exhaust fans connected to a duct which leads to the exterior of your building are the best option for keeping your indoor air clean. However, many apartments and other small buildings simply rely on a fan (often in the microwave or oven hood) which lightly filters and then recirculates the air without pumping it outside. These fans are better than nothing, so long as you remember to clean the filter frequently and consider opening a door or window to add in some extra ventilation.

2) Turn on the exhaust fan every time you cook, and use its highest setting. The noise of the fan can be annoying, but it is better than inhaling dangerous gasses and particles.

3) Cook on the back burners to increase the distance between you and any air pollutants coming off of your cooking, and to increase the chances that they get pulled into the exhaust fan.

4) Keep your exhaust vent on for about 15 minutes after you are done cooking. This helps to ensure that any remaining cooking related pollutants have a chance to be pulled out of your indoor air.

At the end of the day, air pollutants from cooking and gas stovetops are certainly not the most pressing threat to our health. However, if you can reduce them with a simple flick of a switch then why not?