10 Ways to Detox Your Sustainable Kitchen
You’re eating less meat and using less energy, but don’t stop now. Tackle the products that pollute your indoor air.
With so many things to worry about when it comes to your safety and the health of the planet, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Reducing your energy use is a step in the right direction, but there’s more you can do to stop poisoning the planet and your household. You may be surprised to find that your kitchen could be a dangerous source of chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Whether you’re building a new house or remodeling your kitchen, use the opportunity to make smarter choices for a healthier, eco friendly house. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a total makeover, you can cherry pick some of the simpler and less costly ways to detox your kitchen. Here are ten options:
1. Install Formaldehyde-Free Cabinets
Kitchen cabinets typically contain formaldehyde, A VOC that has a pickle-like odor, which can release into your home at room temperature. Formaldehyde is typically found in glues and engineered wood such as particleboard, fiberboard and plywood and over time, it can be carcinogenic.
Zero formaldehyde cabinets are notoriously hard to find. Even the ones certified by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) typically still contain some formaldehyde. Aside from a few European imports (Ikea’s cabinets, however, still receive numerous odor complaints), most people who want odor-free cabinets end up working with a local cabinet shop, or installing solid wood, reclaimed wood, bamboo or pre-owned cabinets that have already outgassed for several years.
2. Choose Induction Cooking
If you’re concerned about indoor air quality, consider choosing an induction stove over a gas stove, suggests Mallory Micetich, a home expert at Angi, a home services platform with consumer reviews.
“Gas stovetops release carbon monoxide, benzene and other air pollutants that can decrease air quality and trigger respiratory issues ” Micetich says. “Induction stoves don’t release gasses into the air and are generally regarded as a safer alternative to gas stoves.”
Induction cooktops, like this one from Whirlpool, provide precision cooking similar to gas but the surface remains cool to the touch and is easier to clean. And, of course, you’re not burning fossil fuels while you cook your impossible burger lowers your carbon footprint.
3. Vent Properly and Persistently
One of the biggest point sources of pollution in your home is cooking: all cooking. If you’re not venting, you’re filling your home with carcinogens at every meal.
“I recommend installing a good vent above your stove if you don’t already have one,” Micetich says. “The vent will remove any lingering fumes or smoke from your home.”
That’s a bit too broad a suggestion, however. You need the RIGHT kind of vent system. Too many homes come pre-equipped with recirculating vent fans such as those found in over-the-stove microwaves. Research shows that these filter only about 20% of pollutants.
Replace these or install a vent fan with an external outlet, preferably one that turns on automatically with a heat or particle sensor every time you cook or bake. Be sure to provide a source for fresh air to replace the smoky air being exhausted.
4. Add Air Filtration
Range hoods often don’t catch 100 percent of the pollutants from cooking. If you store cleaners under your sink, they’re also slowly offgassing all the time. That’s why the added impact of a good air purifier or filter system may be worth the money.
Micetich recommends placing an air purifier near your kitchen. If it has a high quality filter media, such as HEPA or MERV 13 or higher, it will not only remove many dangerous particulates, it may help reduce odors. If you want to filter very small particles, such as viruses, however, you’ll need to use a MERV 16 level filter.
5. Know Your Cookware
Most nonstick cookware made in the U.S. since 2006 do not contain the PFOA and PFOS, compounds known as “forever chemicals.” These can linger in the body and the environment with serious health effects.
If you have older pans, you should replace them. Ceramic, stainless steel and cast-iron pans are safe options. Only buy new nonstick pans that have labels that show they’re free of those forever chemicals.
6. Check Your Spices
While you may watch your intake of carbs and fat to stay healthy, you could be missing a possibly more dangerous threat to your health: your spice cabinet.
Consumer Reports tested a variety of dried herbs and spices in 2021 and found that about one-third had heavy metal levels–high enough to be a health concern for both adults and children. The study found high levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium, enough that they could be bad for your health even when consumed at normal levels.
Some of the brands tested were safe, but every brand of thyme and oregano had levels of metals that Consumer Reports called “concerning.” Check out their list to find the safest brands for specific spices you use, or, better yet, grow your own herbs and spices.
7. Step Away From the Plastic
While hopefully you’ve converted from plastic shopping bags to reusable ones, you can do more. Eliminating plastic wrap, plastic containers and plastic storage bags at home is better for the environment.
Most of these products have a chemical (bisphenol A) that is harmful to your endocrine system, too. Use glass containers and washable fabric bags for storage instead.
8. Consider a Water Filter
While you may keep a filter for your water in your refrigerator, a better option is to install one on your kitchen faucet. That way you’re using cleaner water when you wash your fruits and veggies, your hands and your dishes. Most municipalities use chlorine, and some include fluoride in the water, both of which can be disruptive to your body.
9. Dump the Chemical Cleansers
Clean your kitchen with organic cleansers like vinegar, baking soda and lemon to avoid adding more items to the chemical stew in your household. Numerous toxic chemicals are found in common household cleaners, and they can be hazardous to your health.
10 Most Common Toxic Chemicals in Products to Avoid: Phthalates, Paraben, Lead, BPA/BPS, 1,4 Dioxane, SLS, PVC, Triclosan, Oxybenzone, Diazolidinyl or Imidazolidinyl Urea sd
10. Tear Up Your Paper Towels
While you’re thinking about cleaning, it’s best to stop using paper towels and paper napkins in your kitchen. Not only are they wasteful for the environment, many of them include chemicals such as bleach, chlorine, formaldehyde, or bisphenol A that can be carcinogenic. Substitute cloth napkins and dish towels, or, better yet, recycle your old t-shirts and towels.
Whether you’re making a major choice about an induction stove or a minor choice about your kitchen clean-up practices, looking at the big picture can have a larger impact than you realize.
Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Homeowner Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool, Carrier and Jinko Solar. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.