Are gas stoves supposed to produce a sticky residue?
December 31, 2008 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I know a couple of folks with gas stoves, and they have trouble with a sticky residue coating their walls and ceiling around the range. They describe it as inherent to cooking with gas. (It's really disgusting.) Yet other folks I know who cook with gas don't report any such problems. Is this a known problem? Any idea why it would affect some people, but not others? Different types of gas (natural vs. propane)? Badly-tuned stoves? Something they're cooking?

FWIW, my wife and I are gearing up to build a house, and though we'd like to cook with gas, we don't want to deal with the residue. After extensive googling and asking around, nothing, hence asking MeFi.
posted by waldo to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've never heard of gas creating sticky residue. Home piped natural gas burns very, very clean. What will certainly create sticky residue is grease from cooking. The best solution for that is a good vent hood along with regular cleaning of the filter.
posted by Nelson at 2:58 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well first of all, I'm not really sure, but I dont think that's a case of gas - hehehe. Or at least not necessarily. That's just normal cooking residue (oils mostly that precipitate out from steam). It may be that gas stoves (where you have a lot more control over the heat) tend to heat up quicker, causing more steam or smoke - heck I dunno. Sounds more like a cover-up of a poor cleaning schedule of the stove and hood. I wouldnt worry about it overly much as long as you arrange to have good ventilation and clean your area well.

Or what Nelson said.
posted by elendil71 at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had gas ranges all my life (piped natural gas and propane both), and it's not inherent in cooking with gas (I rarely use the vent hood, either). It may be that they're cooking over too high a flame or with a lot of oil and the grease is spattering -- cooking over too high a flame is a common mistake for people who switch from electric to gas ranges. I'm still trying to get Mr R to understand that you don't need to use anything above 6 unless you're boiling water or quick-searing a roast.
posted by jlkr at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2008

I've had this happen to me, two apartments ago. It was a 1970's era gas stove. The residue is greasy, sticky and hard to get off. If I recall correctly, I don't believe it was a result of cooking with oil. I didn't have a problem with it getting on the walls, but it did cover the stovetop pretty good.

I'm curious to see if anyone can corroborate or knows what this yellowish sticky film is and what caused it.
posted by plasticbugs at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2008

It's almost certainly spattered grease. Use a spatter screen, turn on the (cleaned!) vent hood, and wipe down the walls when you clean your kitchen, and you will be fine.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:16 PM on December 31, 2008

Its oil or grease. What Nelson said.
posted by Max Power at 3:17 PM on December 31, 2008

I think a good vent hood -- not just present , but effective -- makes a difference. I used a small electric stove (next to a wall, weak little vent hood) for over 10 years in an apartment. The walls and ceiling would get quite greasy if they weren't cleaned regularly.

I've been cooking on a large gas range in a house with a decent vent hood for over three years now. My cooking includes stir-frys and other high heat dishes, as well as gentle stews. The hood itself certainly requires regular cleaning, but the tile backsplash, cupboards and ceiling don't get that residue.

Get a gas range! Cooking is a lot more fun that way.
posted by maudlin at 3:19 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Found this on Chowhound. I think it solves the mystery.

Definitely get the actual hood. We recently moved houses and went from a natural gas range without a hood of any kind to a smooth-top electric range and a mid-level hood (mid-level by price, not quality, that is) and the difference is astounding. The hood does such an effective job of keeping cooking smells, oils, water vapor and such out of the rest of the kitchen and house that we're constantly surprised. Further, a gas or propane range has the added issue that the by products of the combustion can temporarily bind to cooking oils and vapor and carry them further in your kitchen owing to heat and convection. That is, everything in your kitchen will be coated with an eventually sticky layer of stuff and then dust (well, everything horizontal, anyhow). A good hood can prevent almost all of that.

If you've got the space, money and such, go for it. I love gas.

posted by plasticbugs at 3:19 PM on December 31, 2008

I've cooked with gas all my life, and don't have this buildup. However, I have seen it in other houses - but I've also seen it on electric stoves. it's cooking residue, mostly oils. No matter what cooktop you have, you have to clean it thoroughly if you use it a lot. I wipe down the stove after dinner every day. About once a month, I scrub the stovetop with an abrasive cleanser or baking soda - and do the same to the surrounding walls. No buildup.

A hood will definitely help, but I don't have one right now, and still no buildup. It's just a question of regular maintenance. Just like the bathtub, if you never wipe the thing down, it's gonna get gross. The oven might be 'self-cleaning' but the stovetop isn't.
posted by Miko at 3:22 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am a notably lax housekeeper, and I never have that residue in the kitchen. I think it's because I never fry anything. Like, not ever. The grossest kitchen I've ever been in (a relative) has a visible orange coating on every kitchen surface. They cook ground beef nearly every day and I'm positive that's the source. I concur with those who say the main cause is grease.
posted by peep at 3:55 PM on December 31, 2008

Now that you mention it... my old, gas-stove kitchen did always have a sticky film on the walls and stove. My new electric stove kitchen doesn't, despite the fact that it's being used much more frequently.
posted by footnote at 4:01 PM on December 31, 2008

Best answer: I disagree with the general thrust of the other answers: I think it could be residue from the gas.

A freely burning gas flame from a gas stove does generally burn very cleanly (leaving aside for the purpose of this post the hydrogen sulfide which is a component of much natural gas at the wellhead, and the sulfur-bearing odorants added to all natural gas in the US).

However, gas flames have definable zones containing various combustion products, and often when you cook on high heat with gas, the flame is not burning freely; it impinges directly on the bottom of the pan and can run up the sides. Before the pan heats up thoroughly, at least, the flame is playing across metal far below combustion temps and I think this can cause some precipitation of partially burned combustion products from some of the internal zones of the flame-- including carbon particles-- onto the cool metal surface. Later, when the pan heats up a bit, I think such precipitates can evaporate or smoke off and redeposit on kitchen walls.
posted by jamjam at 4:11 PM on December 31, 2008

Later, when the pan heats up a bit, I think such precipitates can evaporate or smoke off and redeposit on kitchen walls.

But with electric stoves, pans sit directly on the heating element, and all of this could still happen if you're correct; warmer air still rises and particulates are still deposited.
posted by Miko at 4:14 PM on December 31, 2008

It's bad wood. It also happens in bathrooms. Bad primer, using the wrong wood, heat and steam make it weep.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:17 PM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster:
It's bad wood. It also happens in bathrooms. Bad primer, using the wrong wood, heat and steam make it weep.
One of these kitchens has lots of doo-dads on top of the cabinets (statuettes, decorative plates, etc.) and these get covered with the stuff, too (as does the drywall; no wood involved), so I think we can safely eliminate "bad wood" as a possibility.

plasticbags, that excerpt from Chowhound is just great. And jamjam, your answer is really interesting; though counter to all other responses, maybe that's why I like it. :) This is very educational!
posted by waldo at 4:55 PM on December 31, 2008

@waldo, so does my bathroom... only room in the house that does it.... crap seeps out of the walls, covers everything, drywall isn't immune, you have wood behind it. This has been pissing me off for ages, I've seen it in many houses... my bathroom bleeds like a bad horror movie. Dripping from the wall, only seen in bathrooms and kitchens, it's using the wrong wood and bleeding through the paint.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:54 PM on December 31, 2008

Sorry for the derail, but zengargoyle, you should check out this thread which explains the goo in the bathroom.

I don't think that's what's happening in waldo's kitchen, though. I agree with those who say that it's at least partially grease.
posted by cabingirl at 6:20 PM on December 31, 2008

Its grease. Everyone with a broken hood knows this sticky stuff all too well. Cook for a couple of week with the hood blocked. You'll be amazed how quickly this stuff piles up.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:35 PM on December 31, 2008

I'll confirm. It's not spatter, it's not from cooking with too high heat. It's from having an insufficient or broken (in our case) hood. We have sticky shit all over the cabinets, the ceiling and the light fixture over the stove. Yellow, nasty sticky shit that traps little flying bugs. It's an absolute bitch to clean.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:55 PM on December 31, 2008

I've got it too, with an electric stove. We have a pretty crappy vent that is rarely used. Very sticky residue. Cleaned the top of the vent a few weeks ago, removing a number of trapped bugs.
posted by alexei at 6:58 PM on December 31, 2008

Yeah, make sure your hood is working and clean and the residue should be minimal. I've found that it's relatively easy to clean the residue with a degreaser like TSP (although it is pretty gross).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:59 PM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: Hey, I've seen that bathroom goo! I never stopped to think about it, though. FWIW, it's not even vaguely like what I'm describing here—that stuff is basically liquid, whereas the residue that we're all describing here is more of a film. But, hey, thanks for the semi-derail about bathroom goo. That's really interesting.
posted by waldo at 7:04 PM on December 31, 2008

It's grease- I've worked in all-gas kitchens and all-electric kitchens (commercial) and neither had any difference in the amount of residue.

If there was that kind of stuff in natural gas, the pipes would clog. Or, looking at it the other way, many of us use natural gas to heat our homes. That burns FAR more gas than cooking does, and there's never that sort of buildup on the furnace or chimney. Heck, the newest furnaces vent out the side of the house- no buildup on those, that's for sure.
posted by gjc at 7:07 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's grease or or food residue. Gas burning stoves (the heating/ fireplace kind, open or sealed) never ever have "sticky residue" inside.
Sometimes there is soot and/or white sulfur deposits in the units or on the vent caps, never anything sticky.
Cooking stoves burn cleaner then hearth products as they are not burning with a yellow flame (if properly adjusted). Even if the range was completely screwed up it would coat the wall with soot long before any pipeline residue (pipe threading oil for example) could build up as it would burn and contribute to the soot problem that you do not have.

Even if (as jamjam suggests) the pots were impinging the primary issue would be still be soot, not grease/sticky crud.

Install a proper hood and make sure the hood discharge venting has proper clearance to all combustibles inside the walls in case it sucks up a range top fire.
posted by blink_left at 9:12 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I never had a problem with my gas stove being covered in a nasty residue until I had a lazy roommate who fried a lot things on the stove and never cleaned up. That shit was nasty and it disappeared as soon as he moved out and I did a thorough cleaning.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:37 PM on December 31, 2008

I have had both electric and gas stoves, both with and without vent hoods, and have encountered the nasty, sticky buildup with both kinds of stoves where there was not adequate ventilation.

I suspect you hear about the buildup more in relation to old gas stoves, because they tend to be installed in older homes where the kitchens were badly ventilated. (The really terrible apartments I've had, where the kitchens had zero ventilation, almost universally had gas stoves because they're cheaper than electric ones.) In places where there were vent hoods, electric stoves were more common except in the last apartment or two I've rented, where they'd been refinished recently enough to have gas, because that's now back in style.

I lived in a house once with an electric stove and no ventilation whatsoever in the kitchen, where there was enough grease on the upper cabinets (above about 5' or so) that you could write your name in it with a coin. In all seriousness, if they'd scraped all the flat surfaces in that room down with a paint scraper, there probably would have been a pound of grease attached to the cabinets, walls, and ceiling. Truly disgusting. It is not a phenomenon limited to gas stoves.

So anyway, I think it's because of ventilation. It doesn't matter what kind of heat source you're using — you could be cooking over a coal stove and your cabinets and ceiling will still get disgusting and greasy over time if you don't have a good vent. Depending on what you cook, it may only take a few weeks before you can start to feel the grease buildup on cabinets and other surfaces; if you do nothing but boil water, it might take years.

Personally I'll never again live in a place (or at least use the kitchen to any significant extent!) without an externally-vented hood over the stove. With a good vent hood you can sauté and pan-fry to your hearts' content, night after night, and never worry about grease buildup (except in your arteries, of course). In a poorly-vented one (even with one of those crappy recirculating non-vent fans, such as the type built into many over-the-range microwaves) you can start noticing grease buildup on small applicances and cabinets in a few days of heavy cooking. Ugh.

If a real vent is not an option, consistently using a spatter screen will help remove some grease, but there's still a lot of aerosolized fat that's going to end up floating around until it sticks to something.

I really do not think there is any basis to the gas stove theory; I suspect that it just seems like gas stoves are dirtier, because of the circumstances where they're typically installed. It wouldn't surprise me to find that (non-restaurant) kitchens with gas stoves were dirtier than electric ones, but just because many of the gas ones were in older homes with inadequate ventilation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:11 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Having considered it, yes, what these kitchens have in common is that they're badly ventilated—they've got internal vents. Which, BTW, I'd never heard of until about a year ago, when our architect explained why our new house will have an externally-vented hood. There's an alternative? It seems to me that if it's not externally-vented, it's just decorative.
posted by waldo at 9:30 AM on January 1, 2009

Best answer: In addition to the effect I posited above, gas stoves have another, probably much more significant, and as far as I can see almost inevitable set of oily/sooty emissions problems all to do with the air intake system.

Natural gas is mostly methane, and one volume of methane requires two volumes of pure oxygen to burn completely. Air is only about a fifth oxygen, however, so every volume of natural gas passing through a stove requires at least ten times as much air in order to burn completely-- and that air must be thoroughly mixed with the gas before it reaches the burner, otherwise the flame will be yellowish and very sooty.

How is the air mixed with the gas? Every stove I know of relies upon the Bernoulli effect to draw air through small openings in the gas line ahead of the burner. But pulling in ten times the volume of gas using the Bernoulli effect requires a pretty healthy flow, and I don't think the gas pressure from the pipes can supply that without assistance, especially since the air holes would have to be smaller than the holes in the burner, or the gas would tend to emerge from the air holes instead of the burner holes (it may emerge from both at first, anyway; I'm not sure):

When the gas reaches a customer's meter, it passes through another regulator to reduce its pressure to under ¼ pound, if this is necessary. (Some services lines carry gas that is already at very low pressure.) This is the normal pressure for natural gas within a household piping system, and is less than the pressure created by a child blowing bubbles through a straw in a glass of milk. When a gas furnace or stove is turned on, the gas pressure is slightly higher than the air pressure, so the gas flows out of the burner and ignites in its familiar clean blue flame.

So only after the gas ignites and has burned for a brief period does the suction generated by convection at the burner draw enough air in through the air holes for complete combustion. During the moments convection takes to be established, the flame will inevitably be sooty, and over time that could build up on kitchen surfaces.

Also, as cooking proceeds in the kitchen, organic vapors from the food will get into the air, and some of that air will pass through the flames. Some of the organic vapors will burn completely, but I think the oils and fats do not always burn completely and will end up contributing to a residue on kitchen surfaces.

If spills and direct precipitation from the vapors in the air partly block the air holes, as they will tend to do over time, combustion will have no hope of being complete and a flm will build up rapidly.
posted by jamjam at 12:17 PM on January 1, 2009

It seems to me that if it's not externally-vented, it's just decorative.

Well, the internally vented ones contain a filter which catches most of the particulate. Every now and then you are supposed to remove and wash, or replace, the filter.
posted by Miko at 1:23 PM on January 1, 2009

I'm slightly hijacking the thread here to ask - well, what if you live in an apt or rental unit where you have no control over the ventilation? I have this problem also and the stuff is a real s.o.b. to clean -- I never feel like I really have cleaned it. Are there any cleaning tips for cleaning the grease off?
posted by katyjack at 6:10 PM on January 1, 2009

I'm with those who think it is something from the gas, because I never experienced this before I cooked with gas and it's happened in all four apartments I've had gas stoves in. Only one of those had a decent ventilation system and it still was a slight problem.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:27 PM on January 1, 2009

Are there any cleaning tips for cleaning the grease off?

1) Don't cook with oils or fats as often. good for other reasons too. In addition to oils and fats, anything saucy in an open pot - like tomato sauce or curry - sends out tiny globulets of liquid that settle onto your surfaces. Cover pots while simmering if you don't need to reduce the sauce.

2) Wipe down every day after cooking, and give things a good scrub once a week. It takes maybe 10 minutes to remove the stove burners and wipe the whole stove down with an abrasive cleanser. I like Soft Scrub but if you don't like bleachy chemicals, Bon Ami or plain baking soda made into a paste with water does the trick.

3) If you have buildup that happened over months or (ick) years, then you need degreaser solvent. Simple Green is good on light buildup. So is Citrol. For anything that doesn't respond to that you might want to head to a hardware store and get something for industrial or restaurant use.

The easiest thing is just not to let it build up in the first place. Ventilate your kitchen if you can, wipe down daily, clean thoroughly frequently. Then you won't have the sticky, solidified grease crap to remove in the first place.
posted by Miko at 8:04 PM on January 1, 2009

GooGone takes the greasy buildup off of plastic pretty well (I used it to clean my small appliances the last time I moved from a kitchen with an internal "vent"); not quite a one-wipe clean but pretty close.

Metals are pretty easy. Personally I prefer solvent-type cleansers to emulsificants, because I think they take less scrubbing. For really nasty grease on metal I have actually used unleaded gasoline on a rag. (This was before MTBE; probably not such a hot idea now, especially in the kitchen.) Denatured alcohol works okay as an alternative, and leaves little residue. I've used it on a really disgusting kettle to good effect. A certain amount of care is obviously necessary when using flammable/volatile solvents…be sure to turn off power to anything you're cleaning, ventilate well, wear gloves, always look both ways when crossing the street, etc.

Simple Green is also a fairly good degreaser when used in concentrated form, but it doesn't dissolve grease the same way strong solvents do — you have to scrub and break up the fat layer mechanically.

The other thing to do is, though it's really gross, use a paint scraper or razor blade to take off the worst of the grease layer before attacking it with cleaners, if it's thick enough to scratch. On plastic, a spatula designed for nonstick pans works similarly. (This can be helpful if you ever find yourself cleaning the interior of a really disgusting microwave. Ugh.)

Unfortunately I have found some types of plastic that once covered in grease, especially smelly cooking grease, never seem to get clean or odor-free again. I think the fat actually bonds to it or something. Just something to keep in mind — sometimes you may just need to throw in the towel.

It's probably not a good sign that I'm this familiar with cleaning up filthy kitchens.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:02 PM on January 12, 2009

« Older The shame of cancer?   |   "5 hour energy" product does more than keep me... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.