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Pass the Pollution? How Cooking Affects Indoor Air & How We Can Help

by Alen Editor November 28, 2019



Summary Would you believe that cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner can make your air dirtier than a busy street in the world’s most polluted city? This article digs into the ground-breaking study that uncovered that fact. We also share Alen’s recipe for healthy indoor air and an end to lingering food smells.


About a mile from Alen headquarters here in Austin, TX stands a very unusual house. It’s got a doormat that says ‘Hello,’ but no one has ever lived there. And unlike most homes, one of its nearest neighbors is a prototype nuclear reactor. One day last summer, the house was packed full of people cooking two huge Thanksgiving dinners.

“I used to think, Wow, this house smells so good—it smells like Thanksgiving,” researcher Caleb Arata told  the New Yorker . Now, he thinks, “This house smells so good—I wonder what I’m inhaling?”

That peculiar house is actually one of the world's most sophisticated indoor air quality labs. On the University of Texas at Austin’s JJ Pickle Research Campus, this modest 1,200 SqFt prefab house (known as the UTest House) is packed with over $4 million of air quality monitoring gear.

When most people think about poor air quality, outdoor pollution and pollen come to mind. But across the developed world,  people spend about 90% of their time indoors.  Today’s homes are much more air-tight than those built decades ago. So it’s critical that we understand what particles are circulating—and being inhaled— in the average home. And that brings us back to our test house. 

The Science of Indoor Air 

Dubbed  HomeChem  (House Observations of Microbial and Environmental Chemistry), the July 2018 study marked the world’s first large-scale collaborative investigation into the chemistry of indoor air. Over 20 research groups from 13 universities used a range of high-end atmospheric chemistry instruments to understand the air-quality aftermath of cooking up a storm.  

What researchers found was startling. For nearly an hour, fine particulate matter was within the range that the  Environmental Protection Agency ’s Air Quality Index defines as “ very unhealthy,” the  New Yorker  first reported. If outdoor air reaches those levels, a public alert is triggered, warning that even healthy individuals are at risk of damage to the heart and lungs.

Further, the  study  found that cooking combustion and everyday cleaning products were a significant source of harmful airborne chemicals like VOCs ( Volatile Organic Compounds ) and fine particles—the same kind of pollution that makes wildfire smoke so dangerous. 

A similar  EPA study  also established the significance of cooking as a source of exposure to particles and toxic air contaminants.

But perhaps HomeChem's scariest finding:

The moment when food smells the most delicious—when a turkey is browning, toast is toasting, or steak is searing—is when it’s releasing the most toxic particles into the air. 

 Don’t worry! Clean air and delicious cuisine aren’t mutually exclusive. 

Best Air Purifiers for Indoor Air Pollution

Breathing air that’s polluted with particles triggers an immune system response. Breathe enough particles, and you’ll eventually start feeling bad. Clean air has a direct relationship to wellness. So it’s crucial to remove harmful particles from your air. But doing it right takes a particular type of purifier and filter.

To clean up pollution from cooking and cleaning, Alen’s proprietary carbon FreshPlus True HEPA filters combine the power of activated carbon and enhanced True HEPA material to:

  • Capture harmful fine particles from combustion
  • Remove airborne VOC toxins 
  • Neutralize lingering food odors to leave air smelling fresh 

Here in Austin, Alen designs the world’s most user-friendly air purifiers—stylish and customizable devices that remove 99.97% of harmful particles from the air more quietly and efficiently than competitors.

With purifiers for large and small spaces, you can enjoy Alen’s exclusive 3-stage carbon filtration anywhere from tiny apartments to open-concept living areas for whole-home wellness. 


Alen BreatheSmart FIT50 + FreshPlus Filter (optional oak panel pictured)
Coverage:  900 SqFt twice an hour




Find out more about how to pick the perfect purifier for the rooms you use most. And read about how Alen’s carbon filtration can transform even the toughest pollution in wildfire zones into healthy indoor air.

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Happy Thanksgiving from Alen!

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