Improve Indoor Air Quality And Increase Productivity

While doing research on productivity tips the other night (because, that’s what I do in my free time…), I came across a rather incredible statistic from the Harvard Business Review. 

It turns out, there is a significant relationship between air quality and a person’s productivity levels. And I’m not just talking about employees working in factories, plants, or on farms. I’m talking about teachers in classrooms, entrepreneurs working from home, and office workers in a cubicle.

In fact, the HBR study found “that better air quality in your office can facilitate better cognitive performance.” I don’t know about you, but being able to improve the quality of my work by simply breathing cleaner air sounds pretty darn good to me.

Now, if you’re like me, you might be asking yourself: “What causes bad air?’ and “What can I do to ensure good air quality?”

Well, good news! That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. We’ll consider the cause of poor air quality and what we can do to improve it. Tackle these steps, and watch your productivity rise!

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Improve Indoor Air Quality And Increase Productivity

Common Causes of Air Pollution

From poor ventilation and harsh cleaning chemicals, to appliances like furnaces and space heaters, there are a surprising number of offenders when it comes to poor indoor air quality. According to OnHealth, some of the biggest offenders include:

  • New Carpet Fumes
  • Paint and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Toxins in nonstick pans (when heated too hot)
  • Art supplies
  • Cleaners, sanitizers, and disinfectants
  • Dry cleaning
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Gas stoves
  • Fireplace (smoke and soot)
  • Furnace
  • Air conditioner
  • Radon
  • Air fresheners (Yes, really)
  • Formaldehyde fumes in furniture
  • Pesticides
  • Copy machines/printers
  • Pet dander
  • Mold
  • Dust

It’s a pretty extensive list, isn’t it?

Well breathe easy, because there are many simple solutions to improve indoor air quality, and increase your productivity levels in return.

15 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality and Increase Productivity

Open the Windows (trickle ventilation)

One of the easiest and most effective solutions is to simply open the windows and let in fresh air. Of course, if your office is on a busy street, or you live in an area with poor outdoor air quality, there are some things to keep in mind.

According to Neil Schachter MD, we should use something called “trickle ventilation.” Basically, trickle ventilation “is a 10-inch high screen with extra filters…[it] adjusts to most windows and allows fresh air in [and] helps escort indoor pollutants out.”

Turn on the Air Purifier

For a long time I didn’t use an air purifier, but when I moved out to Boston, I developed seasonal allergies; that purifier became my best friend shortly after that.

There are many different purifiers out there, and I just recently updated mine after reading this review of the Honeywell HPA300. Combine that with Amazon’s 1,600+ raving reviews, and I was sold.  

Regardless of what brand you choose, however, I definitely recommend considering an air purifier to improve indoor air quality and boost your productivity in return.


This may seem like a given, but it’s an easy one to overlook, especially when we’re busy.

Whether you’re working in an office cubicle or your home office space, it’s helpful to keep your area free of dust. And for best results, use a damp (not dry) cloth to do the dusting, as it helps capture the dust and prevents it from simply swirling back into the air.

Use air conditioning or dehumidifier

In the summertime, it’s a great idea to use an air conditioner or dehumidifier. As Schachter explains, “Many pollutants are water-soluble, and as air conditioners remove water from the atmosphere, they remove these pollutants.” Plus, “[a]ir conditioners also remove pollen and particulate matter.”

So be sure to turn on that A/C or dehumidifier when the humidity spikes. You’ll improve indoor air quality and be more comfortable. It’s a double win. 🙂

Clean filters

Cleaning your filters is another simple, yet often overlooked solution to improve indoor air quality. These filters play a key role in helping “remove microscopic particles like dust, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, plant and mold spores, and even smoke from the air in your home.” So follow the standard rule of thumb and change your filters every 60-90 days. (I try to change them with the start of each season.)

Use a HEPA filter

High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are some of the most effective filters for cleaning the air. They are available for furnaces, air conditioners, air purifiers, and even vacuums. Use a HEPA filter for best results.

Ventilate bathrooms and kitchen

This tip applies more for a home office and general clean indoor air, but it’s important to include nonetheless.

When you shower, be sure to use a ventilation fan (or open the window if you don’t have a fan). Because showers produce high humidity situations, it is an easy place for mold and bacteria to grow. Ventilate as much as possible to help reduce the risk.

Similarly, when cooking in the kitchen, (especially with gas stoves) keep the window cracked or the exhaust fan running to avoid nitrogen dioxide buildup.

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Avoid products with harsh chemicals

Many cleaning products, especially those with beach, chlorine, and ammonia, have harsh chemicals called VOCs. You can also find these VOCs in things like wall paint, floor polish, and shellac.

As Harold S. Nelson MD suggests, “you can cut down on VOCs by choosing products that say ‘low VOC’ or ‘no VOC’ or buying fragrance-free cleaners.” He also suggests using liquids or pastes for cleaning, rather than sprays, since they don’t put as many particles in the air.  

Wash towels and mats

These are two items that easily collect dust, mold, pollen etc. Clean them once or twice per week to help reduce those allergens.

Mops the floors

According to Derrick A. Denis, an expert in indoor environmental quality control, “The most effective way to clean the air is to clean the floor.” Since gravity pulls allergens in the air downward, they ultimately settle on your floor. By sweeping them, you’re picking up some, but you’re also pushing a lot of other particles back up in the air. By mopping once a week, however, you help reduce that problem.  


For areas you cannot mop, get out that vacuum (equipped with a HEPA filter, if possible). And remember, don’t just focus on the floors. Get the bookshelves, your office chair, and anywhere else where dust can settle.

Wash bedding and pillows

Again, this tip applies to home situations rather than your typical office space. Nevertheless, it’s an important element to keep in mind if you want to improve indoor air quality. Wash your bedding and pillows in hot water to help get rid of those pesky dust mites.

Aim for clean bedding once a week and washed pillows once per season. (Check out Martha Stewart’s tips on washing your pillows here.)

Wash window dressings

If you’re like most of the population, you probably don’t think too much about the window dressings around your office or home. With that being said, curtains and drapes are easy areas to collect dirt and pollen – especially if you have your windows open.

If possible, remove the window dressings and wash them once a season. If they are not conducive to that treatment, however, grab your trusty vacuum and give them a good cleaning.

Remove/reduce carpeting (if possible)

While lovely to walk on, carpeting has the tendency to “trap unhealthy particles – including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi.” Reducing these areas is a great way to improve indoor air quality.

Of course, not all of us has the option to simply remove the carpeting in our office building. If that’s the case, then make sure your space gets vacuumed frequently (with a HEPA filter, if possible).

Avoid second hand smoke

While this is likely a given, it is still an important reminder. Avoid second hand smoke at all costs.

My office is on the third floor, but it sits over the entryway of the building. Because of this, people occasionally stand outside the doors and smoke. A colleague of mine and I put up signs to remind smokers that they must be 30 feet from the building when smoking, and that made a huge difference. Be proactive, and protect your clean air.

There you have it, friends: 15 tips to improve indoor air quality and increase productivity. I’ve created a free cheatsheet just for you of the most common air quality offenders as well as my 15 simple tips to clean up your air. Download it here, and keep it for easy reference!

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Have you noticed that air quality impacts your productivity? What tips do you have to keep your air clean? Do you use any kind of air purifier or filtration system? Let me know below!

8 thoughts on “Improve Indoor Air Quality And Increase Productivity”

  1. I’ve heard of that study too and in fact just ordered a humidifier for the bedroom. Now, if I could only convince my husband to rip out all the carpets…

    1. Don’t give up! I pestered for about 1.5 years, and we finally just put in wood floors, ha! He’ll break down eventually 😉

  2. These are all wonderful suggestions. Many people don’t think about trickle ventilation and regularly changing or cleaning air filters in air conditioners, stove hood vents and room air filters, One thing that is also worth mentioning is the use of house plants in improving air quality. I love having houseplants around, not only for the aesthetics but for there efficiency in removing harmful substances (such as benzene and formaldehyde) from the air.

    1. That is a WONDERFUL tip, Lindsey! Thank you so much for adding it. I agree – houseplants not only create a cheerful, green living space, but they also promote healthy air 🙂 It’s a double win!🙌

  3. This is so interesting! I had NO idea that air quality made such a significant difference on productivity. I can’t wait to try these tips 🙂

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