How to Choose a Safe, Non-Toxic Oven, Cooktop or Range

Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

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Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.

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Most home chefs don’t factor in energy efficiency or indoor air quality when choosing a cooktop, but with new research emerging, it may be time to start. Here are some things to think about before buying a new stove, cooktop, or range.

Each year, household air pollution from inefficient cooking practices kills close to 4 million people. This is mainly related to the use of solid fuels and kerosene in countries without a stable and widespread electricity supply.

Household air pollution from these types of cooking causes a variety of health issues, including stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. And, if you think you’re immune because you use an electric stove, you’re not.

indoor air quality and cooking

In testing indoor air quality monitors recently, we saw major downgrades in indoor air quality when using a gas stove. Learn more in our Airthings Air Quality Monitor review, or have a look at our list of the best air purifiers.

Non-stick oven coatings and indoor air quality

It’s not just non-stick pans that you need to worry about when you’re shopping for your eco-friendly kitchenware. Some ovens also have residues of insulation resin from the factory. These should be burnt off before you use the oven for cooking. This initial ‘burn-off’ can release toxic fumes that can kill pet birds and cause nausea, headaches, and breathing difficulties in humans, especially in vulnerable seniors and children.

Thankfully, Teflon-type coatings are not typically present in ovens, for the simple reason that these would degrade very rapidly at regular cooking temperatures. Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), the chemical used in Teflon, has a melting point of 620°F. Self-cleaning (pyrolytic) ovens can reach 950°F. As such, PTFE would simply melt. Any oven made with a PTFE coating would, therefore, be ruined by regular use, forcing companies to recall their products.

So, the presence of PTFE non-stick coatings in ovens isn’t something to be overly concerned about. That said, some accessories sold with ovens, such as drip-catching oven liners, may contain non-stick coatings. This is why user manuals often stipulate that these should be removed before using an oven’s self-cleaning mode. For safety, always check and follow these guidelines.

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Are self-cleaning ovens safe?

Most self-cleaning ovens have a pyrolytic ground coat, with oven walls coated with heat- and acid-resistant porcelain enamel. At a temperature around 932 °F (500 °C), anything stuck to the wall or floor of the oven will turn to ash and release fumes. These fumes can contain a variety of nasty chemicals, and the ovens themselves are known to release acrolein and formaldehyde. Understandably, then, it’s a good idea to keep all members of the household, human and non-human, away from a self-cleaning oven and to ventilate the kitchen using extraction fans where possible. Or, ideally, don’t use this setting.

The debate over the merits of self-cleaning ovens is a complicated one. For some, the convenience trumps any concerns over the release of nasty gases and the excessive use of energy that goes into maintaining such high temperatures for several hours. However, some of the chemicals used to manually clean a regular oven are also downright nasty. These chemicals can release their own toxic fumes as you scrub away at stubborn, burnt-on food residues.

Buy a self-cleaning oven but clean it yourself

The best option might be to purchase a self-cleaning oven, but never use the self-cleaning mode. Why? Because these ovens are manufactured with far better insulation (and, therefore, better energy efficiency) than a standard oven. This insulation is necessary to reduce the possibility of fire, but has the added bonus of greater energy efficiency. I’ve already noted the key reason to not use the self-cleaning mode, but there’s another consideration too. Using this function may shorten the life of your oven or range, making it much less eco-friendly.

So, instead of relying on high heat to clean your oven, use natural cleaning products and a ‘steam clean’ at a lower temperature. Do this regularly to keep your oven in good condition. However you choose to clean your oven, the key thing is to do it regularly. Cleaning helps keep surfaces shiny, so they reflect heat back for optimal efficiency. Cleaning also helps avoid erosion of the oven interior that might affect performance. An oven that is cleaned regularly is less likely to need replacing, which is better for the environment (and your bank balance) overall.

It’s also worth noting that the same resin residue sometimes found in a new oven might also be present on glass-enamel cooktops. So, take take the same precautions as you would with a new oven: clean the surface before first use, ventilate the kitchen, and keep vulnerable members of the household out of the home until the fumes clear.

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Indoor air pollution and cooking

The materials used in manufacturing a cooking appliance make a big difference to the chances of toxic fumes being released into our homes. However, the simple act of cooking, and the fuel source used, also matter for indoor air quality. Without adequate ventilation, cooking fumes and particulate matter are trapped in the home. This exposes the whole household to a range of potentially hazardous chemicals and compounds.

Electric coil burners in stoves, ovens, and toasters can release fine and ultrafine particles that can irritate lungs. Meanwhile, gas stoves and ovens generate nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde. Even the pilot light can be a source of nitrogen dioxide (R). 

Burning organic matter when you fry, boil, or sauté food also releases acrolein, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and particulate matter (R). This makes a raw food diet start to look quite appealing! Radical dietary change isn’t the answer, though, and there’s no need to stop cooking entirely. Instead, prioritize a well-designed range hood to help clear indoor air pollution, whatever appliance you use. As we’ll see in a moment, switching your gas stove for an induction stove can also minimize fumes.

Do you need to do a ‘burn-off’ with a new oven?

If you’ve just bought a new stove, oven, or range, you might wonder if you should do an initial ‘burn-off’. This is very likely a good idea! New cooking appliances often harbor residues lingering from factory processes. Many times, the initial burn-off will result in some nasty fumes and smells, so make sure to ventilate the kitchen well and keep any vulnerable members of the household at a safe distance (typically outside, if possible). It’s also smart to clean the oven and/or stovetop before doing the initial burn-off as this can help remove residues to reduce fumes.

Depending on the type of range or oven you’ve purchased, you may choose to use the self-clean option. It’s always best to check the user manual for recommendations, however, as you may be fine just heating the oven to 500 degrees for 50 minutes or so. Be sure to remove racks, unless they are also self-clean racks.

In addition to opening all windows possible, using an effective ventilation hood, and using fans around the house, you might also want to use activated charcoal to absorb airborne toxins while doing a burn-off. Activated charcoal bonds chemically to some of the more noxious chemicals released from factory residues. Sprinkling baking soda on rugs and furniture can also help soak up odors. You can then vacuum up the baking soda after the burn-off smell has dissipated.

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Final thoughts on what to watch out for when buying a new stove or oven

Ideally, you’ll be able to find an oven, range, or stovetop that doesn’t contain undesirable chemicals. This can be difficult in the U.S. due to a lack of stringent safety regulations. As such, it is helpful to choose products made by companies based in Europe. Safety checks are more robust in Europe and companies tend to be more eco-friendly as a whole. 

To help, I’ve put together a quick list of relevant certifications to look for when buying a new stove or oven. And, if you’re wondering which is more energy efficient – gas, electric, or induction, I’ve done the math for you here. You can also read my recommendations for the most eco-friendly and safe ovens and stoves here:

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11 Comments

Join the conversation

  1. Do you have any recommendations on non toxic counter top ovens? I’ve been looking at the Breville counter top convection ovens but they all have a ptfe non stick coating on the inside.

    • Hi Michele,

      I included a couple of these in a piece on mini appliances for micro apartments (should be published shortly). From what I see, many toaster ovens (countertop type ovens) use a zinc coating and not a PTFE non-stick these days, which is far better for the environment and indoor air quality as I’m sure you know.

      Hope that helps,

      Leigh

  2. I have been looking for a new stove for a year and a half. It has taken me so long because of the California 65 warning that the material can cause cancer and birth defects. I mention this California 65 to the stores and they all tell me they never heard of it. These are sales people that claims they do not know the products they are selling can cause cancer and birth defects. It’s hard to believe. I have google stove without cancer and birth defects chemicals with no luck. Where in Michigan can I purchase a non-cancer – birth defect stove in white gas? Also, what is the best gas stove to purchase without any chemicals? What kind of a gas stove do you have for yourself / family and pets. Also, what are some of the safe non chemicals for a washer and dryer? Stainless steel have lead so I do not want that. Thank you in advance. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you

    • Hi,

      Did you ever find an oven that does not have the Prop 65 warning?
      I am also looking for a safe non-toxic oven. And I wanted to know if you ended up finding one.

    • Hi Greg,

      Great question.

      Pretty similar to self-clean ovens, in that steam-clean models are likely to be more robustly built and better insulated, so could be more energy efficient than models not offering that option. They also use less energy to steam clean than a regular self-clean cycle at high heat. And, on balance, if a person uses the steam-clean option instead of toxic chemical oven cleaners, that might be better for indoor air quality and overall health.

      All in all, I’d favor a steam-clean or self-clean oven but only use the function once (to bake off factory residues). After that, I’d clean by hand using natural non-toxic oven cleaners.

      Hope that helps!

      Leigh

  3. I’m trying to decide re: the least harmful option between the air pollution from gas ranges and the EMF from induction ranges. Any thoughts? Thanks

  4. I have a new GE white and Gold stove and oven…. This is the filth time I have tried to burn it off!…. I have not been able to actually cook in it because of the horrible toxic smell and it produces. Fire Department came and said not to use it it was dangerous and to have the company I bought it from take it back and replace with a new one! Anyone has issue with it to call them They we’re here and saw what it did, also examine it. DO NOT buy a GE OVEN RIGHT NOW TILL THE ISSUE IS RESOLVED!

    • So sorry to hear that, Irene! How did this resolve? Did GE take back the appliance? Was there any indication of the problem with your particular range? Sounds very odd that the initial burn-off didn’t eliminate any manufacturing residue. Hope you’re breathing easier now!

  5. Did you ever publish the piece on appliances for micro apartments? I’m looking for small toaster, are there better models? Thanks.

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