Gas Stoves Are Bad for the Environment Even When They're Turned Off

kitchen illo

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Key Takeaways

  • Stanford researchers found that gas stoves and ovens release methane even when they're not in use
  • When a gas stove is turned on, the level of nitrogen oxides—air pollutants that could be damaging to health—surpasses the outdoor safety exposure limit within minutes.
  • Kitchen vents can help reduce nitrogen oxide exposure, especially in smaller homes, but this is not a perfect solution.

Gas stoves release concerning levels of methane and air pollutants into residential homes, according to a new study published by Stanford University.

Researchers measured methane emissions from 53 California homes and found that the greenhouse gas was leaking from the gas stoves, ovens, and broilers even when they were off.

Methane leakage from all U.S. stoves over a 20-year period may have the same impact as the carbon dioxide emissions from half a million cars every year, according to the study. In the course of two decades, methane is 86 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.

When a gas stove is in use, methane is converted to carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. But it only takes about a decade for methane to break down. This means that reducing methane emissions can help curb global warming in the near future.

Eric Lebel, PhD, lead author of the study and a senior scientist with PSE Healthy Energy, initially focused on methane emissions from storage and tankless water heaters before moving on to investigate kitchen appliances.

"Stoves are directly in people's homes. They're not required to have a vent like other appliances are," Lebel told Verywell.

Nitrogen Oxide Exposure From Gas Stoves

Researchers also measured nitrogen oxides, a group of gases that can be toxic, especially for people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or, heart disease.

Chronic nitrogen oxide exposure may also increase the risk of permanent lung disease or other respiratory infections in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unlike methane emissions, nitrogen oxide levels were proportional to stove usage, the researchers found. Lebel said that the size, intensity, and quantities of the gas burners can all contribute to higher concentrations of nitrogen oxide output.

The United States has not set exposure standards for indoor air pollution, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a nitrogen dioxide limit for outdoors. As of 2018, the EPA's one-hour outdoor exposure limit for NO2 is 100ppb.

The study suggested that houses with poor ventilation can surpass the safety limit within a few minutes of stove usage, especially in smaller kitchens.

Safer Ways to Use Gas Stoves

Lebel suggested limiting nitrogen oxide concentration by turning on the vent, if you have one, otherwise opening a window or turning on a fan could help too.

However, Lebel explained, other studies have shown that the effectiveness of kitchen vent hoods varies. For example, exhaust fans are not as effective as vent hoods at controlling pollutants.

"A vent is not going to necessarily completely solve the problem," Lebel said. "We need to have better vent standards to accommodate for these emission rates from the stoves."

Due to COVID-19 precautions, researchers were not able to take nitrogen oxide readings from many smaller, multi-family homes for this study. But generally, higher emissions are reported in tighter kitchens.

"People in lower-income neighborhoods typically have smaller kitchens and often lower quality ventilation systems," Rob Jackson, PhD, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University and co-author of the study, told Verywell.

While efficient vents can reduce the risk of nitrogen oxide exposure, they can't really reduce methane emissions. Lebel said that the methane levels reported in this study aren't health-threatening, but they do affect the environment.

"We’re systemically underestimating the climate impact of gas appliances," Jackson said. "We found that stoves emit far more methane than the EPA estimates, up to 1.3% of the gas they consume."

Switching to electric stoves can eliminate these methane emissions. Some cities, like Seattle, San Jose, and New York, have even started to ban natural gas in new buildings in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from stoves and heating units.

Moving towards cleaner electricity is an important step in addressing the current climate crisis, Lebel said, and the U.S. is trending toward this type of energy. Gas stoves are concerns related to both climate and health, he added.

"It’s really not just a conversation about one or the other but it's about both simultaneously," Lebel said.

What This Means For You

The methane emissions recorded in this study were generally low enough to not cause a fire or impact health. Try to turn on the vent whenever you cook on a gas stove to reduce the level of nitrogen oxides.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lebel ED, Finnegan CJ, Ouyang Z, Jackson RB. Methane and NOx emissions from natural gas stoves, cooktops, and ovens in residential homesEnviron Sci Technol. Published online January 27, 2022. doi:10.1021/acs.est.1c04707

  2. UN Environment Programme. Methane emissions are driving climate change. Here’s how. Published August 20, 2021.

  3. Lebel ED, Lu HS, Speizer SA, Finnegan CJ, Jackson RB. Quantifying methane emissions from natural gas water heatersEnviron Sci Technol. 2020;54(9):5737-5745. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b07189

  4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical management guidelines for nitrogen oxides.

  5. U,S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fact sheet: Final rulemaking: Review of the primary national ambient air quality standards for oxides of nitrogen.

  6. California Energy Commission. Effective kitchen ventilation for healthy zero net energy homes with natural gas. Published January 2021.