Keeping the Indoor Air Quality of Your Home Safe While Using Appliances

ByMarc Silberberg


When your oven is in self-clean mode, or your clothes dryer is turning, or your gas stove is cooking what do you do? Do you leave the house on purpose to avoid the odor and heat or stay home and end up inhaling some really ugly smells?

How can we safely use the newest state of the art appliances while keeping our home safe from caustic fumes and fire hazards? Although there are no straight yes or no answers to questions regarding the safety of inhaling the fumes of our home appliances there are some safety options that we can all try to take on while our appliances are working.

Who would stand next to a barbeque grill whether electric, gas or charcoal unless we have to turn over the meat and corn? Yet, we spend hours in our homes while our heat producing appliances are functioning.

Did you know that hundreds of years ago the kitchen was only used to prepare food and located in the basement of the house? The cooking was often done outside to prevent fire and harmful fumes from escaping. In our neighborhood of Lawrence, New York there is a wonderful quaint museum that is a preserved home from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Young children are amazed when learning about the ways the people lived in those days, without electricity, air conditioning and heat (only fireplaces in every room). I have been there several times to show my young relatives how folks lived hundreds of years ago, and they were all fascinated by the lack of the basics we all take for granted, refrigerators, dishwashers, and even stoves.

Are Self-Cleaning Ovens Dangerous?

Most people today will attest that their oven is a self-cleaning one. Although many of us are used to bringing home ready-made dinners, some of us still do bake and even those of us who like heating the food in the oven rather than the microwave will eventually have to turn on the self-cleaning mode.

Even though the self-cleaning oven is a relief for most folks who find cleaning the oven one of the most hated chores, there is hesitation to turn on this option. Is a glistering oven with just a touch of a button your dream? Can it be hazardous to your family’s health and air quality?

Food accumulations are burnt away without the use of any cleaning fluids such as Easy- Off oven cleaner with a full cycle taking several hours to complete. The oven temperature can rise to over 930 degrees Fahrenheit while altering the leftover food, and the ashes just need to be wiped off with a damp cloth when the oven cools and unlocks.

Anyone walking into your home will know that you are self-cleaning your oven or will be calling the fire department. A dirty oven in the middle of a cleaning cycle has not only a strong burning odor but unhealthy air quality that should not be inhaled. When deciding on the type of oven you want to purchase, it is more important to spend your money on a powerful exhaust system that can clean the air efficiently. Spending excessive money on those sophisticated ovens, some which will include grill tops and air fryers and not investing in a super powerful exhaust system will put your home and family in potential danger.

Oven fumes from the cleaning process can be dangerous and give off carbon monoxide, which is invisible, odorless, yet poisonous. These fumes can dramatically affect the air quality in the home and those occupants who are innocently breathing in this harmful gas. (There is a new product on the market at Costco and on Amazon which claims to be a smokeless indoor grill. According to some reviews it produces only a little smoke.)

Another type of dangerous fumes come from ovens that are Teflon coated to protect the oven from permanent staining. This Teflon coating is vulnerable to very high temperatures and causes coughing and breathing issues, specifically with people who already have respiratory challenges such as asthma.

Another danger of a self-cleaning oven is the oven door. Before purchasing a new stove with a self-cleaning cycle, make certain to read objective reviews of people who have used the self-clean mode of that specific model numerous times to make sure the glass door cannot shatter or burn little fingers. Most models are safely made to avoid these two dangerous pitfalls.

However, a regular salesman might not be privy to complaints or hazards of a specific model unless the retail company was notified by the customer since often, especially with warranties the customer will go straight to the manufacturer.

Many folks clean their oven just once a year because of a holiday such as Passover when the oven must be self-cleaned before baking Passover food. Or another scenario is if grease such as oil or chicken fat spills on the oven floor and this is where another danger lurks.

Grease can spark a fire even in a relatively clean oven because the cleaning temperature reaches such heights that all it needs is some grease to ignite a fire. It’s ironic that the very reason you would activate the self-clean mode is because it is quite unpleasant to cook with grease on the floor of your oven. The fumes that come from even a normal temperature of 350 degrees can cause unsatisfactory indoor air quality and unpleasant odors. Try baking an angel food cake in an oven that was used to broil a steak. Forget about vegan or kosher eaters, the fumes of the steak can permeate the cake and all the hard work of separating the eggs will not only be for naught but your whole house will smell.

The trouble with the Teflon coated self-cleaning oven models is that you are not allowed to use any caustic cleansers or steel wool to clean them. Once you remove the Teflon coating, the self-clean mode will not work right. Anyone who has any experience with Teflon frying pans will understand that they need to be disposed of after a certain amount of time. With these types of pans, you will be throwing out twenty or so dollars but with the deluxe models today of these ovens it will amount to thousands of dollars.

Interestingly, there are now companies who are taking advantage of the dangers of self-cleaning ovens and can come into your home and clean your self-clean model safely. Such a business will use non-caustic cleaners and give the gift of a fume-free home. The most important rule of self-cleaning an oven and using an electric or gas dryer as well is never leaving the home while these appliances are on.

Are Gas and Electric Clothes Dryers Hazardous?

Surprisingly, even with the newest and cutest dryers on the market no one has yet claimed that they are completely safe to keep on when leaving the house or sleeping. The hazards of dryer vent clogging is a constant danger especially when having outside cleaning help in your home. No one but you will be as diligent as cleaning your dryer and vents accurately and often this includes getting your clothes dryer cleaned professionally. Different dangerous occurrences such as a blocked outside vent or too much lint inside your lint trap can make the difference in the fire safely in your home.

As We Get Older Appliances Need to Be Checked Before Leaving the Home or Going to Sleep

Has your parent or grandparent ever left their gas stove flame on at night? Or do they constantly recheck to make sure they have turned it off before going to bed? This can be frustrating for all of you and your parents. In most cases the flame has been turned off, but I have heard of stories personally when a frying pan with oil in it has been left unattended and the guilty party was a young married woman. So, forgetting to turn off your gas flame can have nothing to do with age and more to do with too much on the mind to remember. Not only is oil burning at high temperatures dangerous inside a self-cleaning oven but also on top of the stove as well and even if you catch the pan in time before it catches on fire the fumes can bring the air quality in your home to an unhealthy level. Please don’t wait to turn on your kitchen vent when this happens but turn it on when any cooking is done on top of the stove or in the oven. At least the air quality will be mixed with fresh air until the fumes dissipate.

Final Words

Since carbon monoxide can be a dangerous byproduct of a self-cleaning oven it is crucial that you have open windows, a good ceiling venting system and a carbon monoxide detector in your home that works. Although these ovens claim to burn out all particles large and small it would be smart to eliminate any large pieces of food and make sure there is not a buildup of grease on the bottom of the oven. Toxic fumes can aggravate people with respiratory issues, and it is much better to clean the oven when most of the family is not around. This is a dilemma because someone must be present when the self-clean mode is on in case the oven heats up and can ignite.

So, the question remains, are self-cleaning ovens a double-edged sword? Limited smoke is expected but if you see fire in your oven do not try to open the door, it should be in locked mode anyway and make sure to call the fire department immediately. (Ovens such as GE have smartphone apps that can turn off the oven when the homeowner is out of the house.)

Some old-fashioned folks choose to forgo an oven with a self-clean mode and try their utmost to keep the oven clean and free of grease, no easy task for serious foodies. On the other hand, clothes dryers are a must in homes since few people will go back to the olden days of clotheslines to hang their laundry. The wisest idea is to make sure your dryer vents are cleaned regularly just as you have your HVAC system serviced annually. You just never know when something can catch fire. As far as gas burners on top of the stove, make sure you either set a timer to check the action, keep the flame on low or stay in the kitchen or somewhere near it to monitor the cooking. Even if there is not enough burning to cause toxic fumes, your delicious stew or soup can burn on the bottom giving your family a burnt taste that they may only appreciate on the barbecue.

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