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Improving Indoor Air Quality in Art Studios: Do You Need an Air Purifier?


You might be shocked to learn that the air quality in buildings across the United States is often two to five times worse than the air outside, and sometimes up to 100 times more polluted. Whether you are an artist with a dedicated professional art studio, or you dabble in your home studio, there is more bad news — those frightening statistics don’t apply to you. Your art studio is nothing like a typical home or office space, and you face, as an artist, more diverse threats to indoor air quality than most.


What sources of indoor air pollution do you need to have on your radar when you have an art studio? Do you need an air purifier to raise the air quality in your studio (spoiler alert: ideally, yes), and what other steps can you take toward cleaner, more breathable, air?


What Sources of Indoor Air Pollution Do Artists with Art Studios Need to be Concerned About?


You, your art, and the materials you use to create it may all be unique, but the indoor air pollutants that threaten your health are probably not. Any artist who uses physical media will face some of the same sources of air pollution.


Volatile Organic Compounds


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals that can evaporate into gases or liquids under normal temperature conditions, after which they may remain suspended in the air for long periods of time, forcing those who are exposed to breathe them in. Once VOCs are emitted, they may also be dissolved in water, from which they can once again be evaporated.


Volatile Organic Compounds are all around us, no matter where we live and work; they may even be emitted by the building materials embedded in our homes and workplaces. Carpets, mattresses, air fresheners, fuel, and appliances like printers can all release VOCs in a process called off-gassing. In an art studio, however, you are likely to be exposed to much higher concentrations than your average person. Paint, paint strippers, varnishes, resin, treated woods, glue, ink, and dyes are just some examples of products artists are bound to encounter that also happen to release large concentrations of VOCs.


Long-term exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds can have severely negative health consequences that range from kidney and liver damage to cancer. Even short-term exposure can cause symptoms like nausea, headaches, respiratory discomforts like coughing and shortness of breath, confusion, and loss of balance.


Particle pollution


Particulate matter of diverse sizes, from coarse enough to see with the naked eye to ultra fine, represents another universal threat to indoor air quality. A combination of environmental sources, like pollen and sand, and pollutants caused by human activity, like wildfire smoke, particles emitted to vehicles and industry, and dust created by construction materials, can make its way inside from outdoors. Harmful particles also originate within buildings, however, for instance those released while cooking or dusting.


In an art studio, harmful particles may be released into the air when sanding wood, resin, or other materials, when using charcoal, or by pastels. Artists are almost certainly aware that spray paints release VOCs, but did you know that they can also release particulate matter into the air? In addition to this unique risk, art studios will, of course, also easily fall victim to the buildup of household dust — just like anyone else.


Biological pollution


Biological pollutants — like mold, bacteria, viruses, pollen, and pet dander — are another major threat to indoor air quality. Being especially concerned about the dangerous VOCs creating art may release, artists may overlook this common source of indoor air pollution.


Mold and dust mites can both easily proliferate in paper-rich environments with high humidity levels, which makes these two infestations a risk for artists working with paper, but also those who sculpt or make pottery. Exposure to dust mites and mold often leads to characteristic allergy symptoms like:


  • Frequent sneezing
  • Nasal congestion, a runny nose, or sinus pressure
  • Irritated, red, and swollen eyes
  • A sore throat
  • Coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath
  • Possible skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue


Not all of the hundreds of thousands of mold species identified to date pose a risk to human health, but because can cause systemic infections and have toxic effects, it is crucial to take action quickly.


Bacteria and viruses are especially likely to circulate in art studios where multiple artists collaborate, and where people are free to come in and out. Pet dander and similar organic irritants may be a problem in art studios where artists work with materials such as leather and wool, meanwhile.


What Type of Air Purifier Is Best for Art Studios?


Artists can protect themselves from the effects of indoor air pollution by wearing a high-quality respirator while they are working on art projects, of course, but they can also take steps to systematically improve the quality of the air inside their art studio.


As air purifiers have steadily risen in popularity, you may think that buying and using an air purifying system is the answer. Air purifiers can absolutely play an important role in fighting indoor air pollution, but ideally as part of a broader plan.


The broad purpose of air purifiers is to remove indoor air pollution from the space they operate in, while circulating cleaner air back into the room. With such a wide variety of air purifiers on the market, choosing the best air purifier for your art studio may be a challenge. Because artists working in art studios are exposed to many of the same pollutants as everyone else in higher quantities, and because they are additionally likely to have contact with pollutants that others may not have to worry about, you will want the very best. That means that you should choose an air purifier that:


  • Has a true HEPA filter. These powerful mechanical filters successfully remove over 99 percent of particulate matter from the air, including those particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter — the most difficult size to effectively filter out. A true HEPA filter will tackle particles such as pollen, mold spores, household dust, and dust created by traffic and industry. These filters will remove the majority of particles directly produced by your creative activities from your art studio.
  • Is additionally equipped with a carbon filter. As effective as true HEPA air purifiers are at eliminating harmful particles from the air, these filters do not combat the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds — which are almost certainly suspended throughout the air in your art studio. Air purifiers that also have a carbon filter can help with this source of air pollution. The carbon filters do need to be replaced frequently, however, as they are quickly saturated.


As other air purifiers, such as ionizers, ozone generators, and “HEPA-like” air purifiers are either less effective than this winning combination, or directly produce pollutants themselves, these cheaper but inferior alternatives are not recommended.


What Other Steps Can You Take to Improve Indoor Air Quality in an Art Studio?


In addition to wearing protective gear as you work and using a true HEPA air purifier with an additional carbon filters, artists can implement several other measures to fight indoor air pollution.


Considering that the air outside is almost certainly less polluted than the air in your art studio, increasing ventilation by opening all the windows in your studio frequently is an excellent step toward better air quality. You can open your windows routinely, every time you enter your studio, for at least 15 minutes and employ a box fan to encourage further air circulation. As an extra step, you can open your windows immediately after working with solvents and other materials that release Volatile Organic Compounds. Simply by doing this, you will allow pollutants released by art materials and biological pollutants like mold and viruses to escape from your studio.


High humidity levels pose a threat to your health as well as, potentially, your art. Not only do people naturally begin feeling uncomfortable when the relative humidity levels in a space rise above 50 percent, such conditions also encourage mold and dust mites to accumulate. If you are not sure whether your art studio is too humid, try purchasing an inexpensive humidity monitor to find out. Is your humidity meter telling you that the air in your art studio is excessively humid? A dehumidifier can help you solve that problem.


Does Your Art Studio Need to Be Inspected for Mold?


Mold is a surprisingly widespread problem in buildings. Residential homes, office spaces, workshops, and art studios can all fall victim to a mold infestation. The primary cause? Dampness and high humidity levels. Mold — filamentous fungi — reproduces by releasing tiny spores, settling in areas where it has access to the organic substances that sustain it, like decaying plant matter, wood, and even cellulose (which you’ll find not just in wallpaper, but also all over your typical art studio).


A mold infestation can immediately be apparent. In an art studio, you may spot mold around areas where you work with wet media, on stacks of paper, or around pipes that may have small leaks. Even in cases where you are not able to see mold, you may recognize its musty odor and know that you have a problem.


Mold can also be hidden, on the other hand, and your only clue that you may have a mold infestation could arrive in the form of respiratory distress. Artists who start sneezing and wheezing as soon as they enter their art studio may immediately suspect that Volatile Organic Compounds are the cause, but they could also have a mold problem.


Whether you know that your art studio has a mold infestation, or you only suspect that you could have mold, having a professional mold inspection carried out will help you find answers. MI&T is, as a nationwide mold inspection only company, your trusted partner. Our thorough visual mold inspections uncover even the concealed spots that you will have missed, and the air samples we take leave no questions about the types of mold that may be present in your studio.


Not only can mold threaten your health, it can also ruin your art work. Once you know what types mold you may be dealing with, however, you can take steps to remediate your mold problem — and enjoy the healthiest possible air in your art studio.