According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend 87% of their lives indoors. Whether you work in an office, a school, or any other indoor facility, air quality is crucial to ensure a good work environment for everyone. Air quality is a broad term usually encompassing bad smells, contaminants, bacterias, allergens, and even the proportion of the gases composing the air itself. Here are 7 tips to improve air quality and ensure a productive work environment.
1. Clean the invisible.
This is one of the most underrated solutions to improve air quality. Just because the space looks clean does not mean it is. Bacteria might be invisible to the human eye, not because they are small, but because they might form in isolated areas such as under a sink, behind a fridge or underneath carpets. A common type of bacteria is mold. Mold can be toxic and spread through the air. If you don’t get rid of the source, it can cause serious health problems such as fatigue, or skin irritation. So make sure to perform an in-depth cleaning of your workplace at least every other month. It will prevent the build-up of such bacteria and have a direct impact on long-term health.
2. Avoid endocrine disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that are contained in all kinds of products such as furniture, pesticides, and artificial air fresheners. Don’t be fooled by the nice smell! Endocrine disruptors can contribute to a lack of focus, less productivity, disrupt your hormones, and even provoke some types of cancers. At the office, you will see air fresheners in the bathroom, corridors or lobby. They are placed on the sink countertops or on the floor. Some are installed on the upper part of the walls and spray their product every few minutes to keep spreading scent continuously. Some are even added to the HVAC system at the source. Some natural air fresheners are not harmful though. Check with your property manager or cleaning provider and try avoiding endocrine disruptors as much as possible.
3. Don’t mess with the trash
Use specific trash cans and appropriate bags to avoid bad smells. More importantly, make sure to remove all trash from the office. When trash bags start to pile up somewhere in the office, no matter how well they are tied up, they will start to smell, provoking inconvenience to the employees and potentially attracting rodents. If your office building does not have a chute or refuse room, try to get rid of the trash and recycles as soon as bins are full or find a place where odors cannot escape.
4. Open the windows
The best way to clean the air every day is still to open the windows. Not anytime, though. If you live in a dense urban area, try to open the windows before the morning rush hour, when air is not yet contaminated and generally colder. Cold air creates a convection that can freshen an entire office space in minutes. During the day, high levels of CO2 can build up over time, making people nervous and decreasing their ability to focus. Ever noticed a meeting literally heating up? Under ventilated meeting rooms are subject to high levels of CO2 especially when overcrowded, so make sure to crack a window open once and a while to keep everybody calm and focused.
5. Clean the HVAC
Air filters are a crucial part of the indoor air quality. One of the biggest mistakes made by property and office managers is forgetting to check the HVAC air filters regularly. Whether your office heating and cooling systems run via wall-mounted units or underneath the ceiling, filters are an integral part of any HVAC unit. They must be cleaned and changed three to four times a year so they can continue to filter dust, contaminants and even allergens. They help you breathe better and ensure a healthy workplace.
6. Get an air purifier
If you live in a building where windows cannot be opened or you feel like the HVAC system is underperforming, you may want to look into an air purifier. They can be very effective to get rid of bad smells and some types of chemicals. Portable air purifiers are known for being a cheap and effective way to clean the air continuously. You will have to change the filter regularly as for your HVAC unit.
But the best air purifiers are still the most natural: plants. Any greenery will generally clean the air day after day, and some plants are known for cleaning specific chemicals we deal with in indoor environments. Space agencies such as NASA performed extensive research on the matter and any good local plant store will show you the best plants for indoor air cleaning. In addition to cleaning the air for you, plants will make your office zen and relaxing.
7. Get an ozone ionizer
If all of the above is not enough for you, you can move on to a more drastic but still cheap solution: the air ionizer. I personally had to deal with a persistent indoor smell of cigarette smoke and, after leaving the windows open for days and trying all kinds of air purifiers, decided to get an ionizer. For a small price, the ozone ionizer will neutralize the molecules responsible for the bad smell and get rid of it. Be careful though, breathing ozone is harmful so make sure to activate the ionizer after hours when the office is empty, and allow plenty of time to ventilate and clean the space before anyone comes back.
Hopefully you won’t have to deal with #7, and cleaning the air will be an easy task for you and your coworkers. Remember that cleaning the air sometimes starts with cleaning the surfaces and avoiding indoor chemicals as much as possible. Do not hesitate to talk to your coworkers, office manager and property manager about the best solutions to improve air quality.