If you store and work with aromatics you may want to look at your options for maintaining good indoor air quality. Particles like the smoke from burning resins and incense, and volatiles from aromatics like essential oils, CO2 extracts, and absolutes can over saturate the breathing space while formulating, blending, consulting, teaching, or diffusing during a treatment. In my studio I use air purification methods to keep particles out of formulations a la good manufacturing practices (cGMP), and prevent overdosing myself, my students, and my clients with volatiles.

Here’s an outline of what I use that works well for my studio:

  • Mechanical filtration – air scrubber, HEPA filter, HVAC filter;
  • Moisture control – salt lamps, bamboo charcoal, silica units;
  • Odor control – air scrubber, baking soda infused HEPA filter, HVAC filter, bamboo charcoal;
  • Germicidal UV filtration – UV light in a portable mechanical filtration unit;
  • Plants – various houseplants that assist in maintaining appropriate humidity levels as well as slowly remove CO2 and volatiles from the breathing space.

I’ve had a few spills over the years, like the time a 15 ml bottle of Lemongrass flew out of my gloved hands and broke onto the slate tile flooring, and the time a 5 ml bottle of Eucalyptus globulus without an orifice reducer was knocked off the workbench. These times called for box fans in the window – one sucking air out, the other across the room sucking air in. I use shallow trays of baking soda to absorb the odors, and run the portable mechanical HEPA filter units non-stop. If this happens to you I recommend taking those steps as well as reading the informative incident Nature’s Gift encountered in 2010 with an explosion of a gallon of Tulsi EO.

Here’s my hodge-podge method, I hope it inspires those working with aromatics frequently, following a spill, sharing space with someone with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), or those setting up a cGMP studio for the first time.

Scrub the Air

Air Scrubber attached to an 18″ oscillating stand fan

An air scrubber pulls larger contaminants from the air – like human and pet hair, dander, pollen, dust, and some odorant molecules. I use a washable dual-filter that attaches to my oscillating standing fan and moves a lot of air volume in a short amount of time. An air scrubber is great for helping to maintain a clean room – it cuts down on dusting, and can be used during sweeping to capture debris kicked up by the broom. I run the air scrubber when I have an extended session at the formulating table, as well as during consults and classes to reduce chances of olfactory fatigue and respiratory distress. If you’ve ever sat in a class and felt dizzy, woozy, light-headed, giddy, sleepy, or just knocked off your feet you know exactly when an air scrubber would have benefited you!

HVAC Filtration

Air intake vent with Moso bamboo bag and salt lamp

My studio and apothecary is in my home, a converted two-car garage that is exclusively utilized for my practice. The whole-house HVAC system also feeds into this room, I have four supply vents (air flows into the room here), and one large return vent (air evacuates the room here). Every 90 days I put fresh disposable pleated filters, with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 6-8 to arrest 70-90% of airborne particles 3.0-10.0 microns in size, into the return vent and throw the old one in the trash. For the past 6-7 years I’ve been using Moso’s bamboo charcoal bags, I hang them at the return vent to capture volatiles that the pleated filter does not. Every 6-8 weeks I take down the charcoal bag and hang it in a sunny, South-facing window to recharge, then return it to the vent. The Moso charcoal bags last for two years or more, I have a couple that have hung around for much longer and are still doing their job.

HEPA Filtration

Small air filter with baking soda infused HEPA filter

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are designed to remove particles down to 0.3 microns, which would be equivalent to a MERV rating of 16 or higher. To use a filter this dense in the HVAC return vent would call on a lot more resources from the compressor and blower, which adds an extra strain to the unit. That’s why I choose to run separate air filters in the studio and common spaces. In two of my portable air filters I replace the filters every 90 days with baking soda infused filters to help capture volatiles in addition to dust, dander, and other airborne particles.

Germicidal Ultraviolet Light Filtration

Portable air filter with UV light

One of my portable air filters has a germicidal UV light which disrupts the DNA of airborne bacteria, viruses, and mold. It comes with a permanent, fabric filter that I vacuum every 4-6 weeks, there’s a handy filter light reminder on the unit.

Salt Lamps

One of the salt lamps that runs 24 hours a day in the studio

Salt lamps act as mini dehumidifiers, attracting moisture in the air due to their crystalline mineral composition. For a salt lamp to be a useful tool in air purification the bulb in the lamp should be strong enough to provide penetrative heat to the entire salt lamp. In my studio I have two 8-10 pound salt lamps, one 15 pound salt lamp, and a small 5 pound selenite lamp all pulling 24-hour duty as mini dehumidifiers. In the common area near the front door I run my 45 pound salt lamp on a timer every two hours during the day and it rests overnight.

Silica Units

For moisture control in storage spaces I use a combination of the Moso bamboo charcoal bags and Eva-Dry renewable silica units. The silica units have little round balls of silicon dioxide, which are naturally derived from quartz and are a component of sand. The silica balls absorb moisture, changing color as they become saturated, then I plug them into a wall outlet overnight where an element heats the silica to evaporate the moisture.

Biofiltration: Houseplants

Pothos hanging off the linen cabinet in the Reflexology nook

Houseplants can reduce levels of air pollutants, improve the beauty of a room, and reduce instances of sick leave.  I have my parents to thank for cultivating my interest in growing plants both in the garden and indoors. From a young age I was in charge of misting the huge Boston ferns my mother had. Today I keep a variety of houseplants throughout our home and rotate them through the studio. Presently I have two Aloe vera plants, a spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), an ivy (Hedera helix), and I’ve also got a medium pothos and a monsterously large pothos (Epipremnum aureum). In other parts of the house I also keep a fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), a rubber fig (Ficus elastica), many more aloes, maidenhair fern (Adiantum family), some succulents, a Pachira aquatica, and a slew of other plants that are currently outside enjoying a light rain.

The University of Technology in Sydney Australia has a great literature review here in PDF.

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