Office Desktop Air Purifier: "Allergic to my Job!"

Almost three quarters of the US workforce spends their work week in artificial indoor office environments.

Millions are dependent on air provided by commercial scale air conditioning systems.

Poor indoor air quality in the workplace, where symptoms occur after exposures to airborne contaminants, is much more difficult to resolve than residential air quality.

Many variables, including varying subjective assessments of "air quality" among fellow employees, complicate the solution.

Symptoms may not have identifiable causes and may not disappear when the employee is away from work.

Professional offices can use "room" air purifiers, so this article focuses on desk top and cubicle air purifier applications.

Occupants of these office environments may have little control over air quality in the large space.

Often indoor air quality problems in large office buildings require a comprehensive, very expensive, engineering intervention.

Sick Office Building?

office cubicles

Prior to the 1970's "energy crisis," buildings had windows that opened for ventilation.

Architects began designing airtight office buildings to save on heating and cooling costs.

Office furniture of the time was made with high formaldehyde particle board.

The decade of "sick building syndrome" resulted mostly from inadequate ventilation by design.

I remember several brand new towers in Austin, TX, that were gutted and rebuilt in the 1980's because so many employees were sick.

Every office has contaminants, possible pollutant sources include;

moisture and mold,
chemical pesticide residues,
janitorial service cleaning products,
air fresheners and toxic antibacterial sprays,
chemical emissions, formaldehyde from furniture and particleboard walls,
carpet, collecting dirt from hundreds of shoes,
synthetic fibers from clothing, chairs, and carpets,
renovation and remodeling dusts and vapors,
toner emissions from laser printers, faxes, and photocopiers,
ozone from electronic equipment,
dust captured inside computers which makes continuous close range fine particle emissions on the desktop,
fragrances worn by fellow employees,
soap residues from quick morning showers,
third hand tobacco residues from workers coming in from outdoor smoke breaks,
airborne cat allergen, found everywhere cat owners go,
positive ions (static electricity) from dry air traveling long distances in office building metal AC duct work,
microbiological contamination due to overcrowding.

If building ventilation systems are turned off or down for the weekend, air quality declines.

The result is an even greater "Monday Morning Syndrome" than the usual weekend withdrawal pattern seen everywhere.

Take Action: Control Your Desktop

Research shows that open-plan offices filled with cubicles cause elevated stress and employee turnover.

The small amount of personal space leads to insecurity - many cubicle dwellers try to personalize their space to gain a sense of control.

If your workplace has unacceptable indoor air quality, start by cleaning the desk surface. Remove unnecessary clutter to facilitate regular wipe-down with a damp towel.

Janitors are usually responsible for cleaning common areas, but not cubicle interiors and desks.

Studies have found high bacterial levels on desk surfaces, phones, computer mice, and keyboards, especially where multiple users/shifts share workspace.

You can't change office policy on air quality, but you can try to control the air in your breathing space.

Air Cleaner Selection

The idea here is to create a clean air envelope by directing the airstream toward the face.

An added benefit of airflow to the face is lower carbon dioxide levels in the breathing zone.

Unfortunately, small air purifiers are rarely designed with front or focused exhaust.

Most machines will probably need to be reoriented towards the user to achieve the desired effect.

"Desktop air cleaners" are generally considered inferior by professionals analyzing the bigger picture.

So a majority of air cleaners sold as desktop, office, and portable are low quality electronic, ionizer, "99% HEPA" and "HEPA-type" machines.

These are the small Honeywell, Holmes, and Hunter "department store" models.

These inexpensive dust collectors are "air cleaners" (not "purifiers"). They may work for light mold and pollen allergies, but are not recommended here for those attempting to cope with pollution in the cubicle/office.

If you are allergic to your job, especially if chemicals and odors are involved, you need a real air purifier.

A well sealed True-HEPA filter for complete particle filtration and an activated carbon filter to absorb gasses and odors is needed.

When the output is going straight in your face, this is not the place for department store (low) quality or ozone emitters.

The work cubicle air purifier will need to be small - no more than 20 inches wide, one foot deep, and short enough to clear obstructions like shelves.

Your maximum foot print may limit the range of choices.

A minimum top airflow of 100 cubic feet per minute (cfm), or equivalent "100" CADR, is suggested.

Many buyers will want to also use the office air purifier at home, but small 100 CADR air cleaners are pretty weak as room air purifiers. So the home use should be for a small office or bedroom.

A maximum weight of about 20 pounds will allow portability for those who must take the office air purifier home each night.

Studies show that ambient noise is a major component of "cubicle stress," - the sounds of co-employees talking over walls or on the phone are often irritating.

Air purifier noise emission must be below the distraction level - many units will fail the quiet test - your office environment may vary.

There are few ultraviolet (UV) germicidal air cleaners which meet all the above standards. Stand alone air sanitizers are too low powered to have much impact on office air.

Most germs are passed by hands touching contaminated objects, rather than as airborne inhalants.

In the ongoing "recession," air purifier market consolidation has accelerated.

Many models are being cut and support for weak sellers retracted.

Buyers should avoid obscure products and vendors.

Recommended Desk Top Air Purifiers

Here are a few ideas for further research on office and desk top applications.

Austin Air Junior

For workspaces where more chemicals may be present, the Austin Air Healthmate Junior is a possible choice.

With a height of 16.5" and a base of 11" x 11," the Austin Air cleaner is small enough for larger desktops.

The Healthmate Jr. weighs 18 pounds, but can be moved easily.

Austin Airs are 120 Volt powered, and so are not as well suited to noise-sensitive office environments.

You can find the Austin Air HealthMate Jr. at

Blueair 203

Measuring 21 tall by 17 wide by 10 inches deep, the Blueair 203 is at the upper end of the desktop size spectrum.

Weighing 25 pounds, 203's steel case is also at the high end of portability.

The Blueair 203 is available:

Blueair 203W at

Amaircare Roomaid Portable

Back before the development of the office desktop air purifier market segment, there was only one portable air cleaner, Amaircare's little round Roomaid.

The Amaircare Roomaid Portable HEPA Air Cleaner is available at

Consider Natural Light

I also suggest getting control of the light in your workspace.

Beyond the current scope of air-purifier-power are natural frequency "full spectrum" desk lamps.

Many employers are replacing unhealthy fluorescent overhead lighting. Sometimes unhealthy lighting can cause symptoms similar to poor office air quality.

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