Stale Air: What is it & How Do You Get Rid of it Indoors?
Staleness is not a pleasant quality in anything – water, food, and even air. Stale air occurs indoors where there isn’t proper ventilation or circulation – air inside a room or area becomes old and as it sits, it begins to smell musty. Stale air is unpleasant in any season, though as Queenslanders often spend more time indoors in summer due to hot weather, they will likely notice and be impacted by it more. Closed windows with the air con on in summer provide no natural ventilation; however, understandably, opening windows in the Aussie heat is simply unbearable. That being said, research shows that as we spend more time indoors with unventilated air, we expose ourselves to certain health risks. According to Healthy Building Systems Australia, up to 50% of all illnesses are caused by unhealthy indoor pollution. Stale air harbours pollutants that have no chance of escaping in a sealed room or area. So, what do you do?
Let’s have a closer look at what exactly stale air is and how it can be removed for ultimate air quality and freshness.
What is Stale Air?
When air sits for an extended period of time in a room or area with no circulation or place to escape and replenish, it becomes stale. Stale air is no longer fresh and often carries an unpleasant smell or feels stuffy. Stale air is often caused by the buildup of chemicals, where the ratio of airborne contaminants to oxygen increases, as well as caused by humidity in the air. These contaminants mostly include biological byproducts (e.g. exhaled carbon dioxide and microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs)). MVOCs are carbon-based molecules that can cause a room to smell even in the smallest colonies. MVOCs are caused by the growth of bacteria and fungi and are responsible for strong and distinct musty odours. In addition to this bad smell, bacteria and fungi can create ammonia, sulphurous compounds and other VOC metabolic waste products that exacerbate bad smells.
Stale air is mainly a problem for homes that are left unattended for extended periods of time and poorly designed home and office spaces. Air-tight energy-efficient doors and windows can contribute to stale air and poor indoor air quality. While these features were built and designed to prevent unwanted airflow out of the home to keep cool or warm air in, they also block out fresh air from entering the home.
Is Stale Air Bad For You?
Stale air… is it a minor annoyance? Or legitimate cause for concern?
Well, it can be both. Generally, exposure to the accumulation of bad smells and humidity is not necessarily bad for you, particularly if your exposure is minimal and irregular. If you have a stuffy room that you rarely use, it’s probably not going to be too much of a problem (though keep in mind that humid air can lead to mould and fungus growth). Do try to circulate fresh air throughout this space when possible though, as pollutants will keep building up as air sits, which can cause greater air quality issues.
On the other hand, if your exposure to this stale room or area is quite frequent, you could be putting yourself at risk to some health conditions. Chronic MVOC exposure has been linked to eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, headaches and other symptoms associated with sick building exposure. This can be worse depending on whether certain toxins or chemicals are present and to what degree.
Unfortunately, most people fail to make the connection between potential minor, common health symptoms (headaches, low energy levels, dry eyes) with air in their environment, letting it go on for long periods of time and get worse. This is especially true if your work environment contains stale air; this innocuous problem can affect your health and productivity. To detect poor air quality, it’s good to become aware of how you’re feeling in a work or home environment. Have you been feeling a bit off lately and don’t know why? Perhaps it’s the air quality.
It’s also a good idea to address this issue as poor air quality and stale air may be an indicator of larger problems, such as mould and mildew. It’s important to pinpoint the source or cause and address odd, unpleasant smells in a timely manner to prevent the situation from worsening. Stale air may indicate that a room is retaining moisture in walls, ceilings, or floors; if untreated, this can cause mold and mildew, and subsequently produce health issues. The issue of household air pollutants is particularly a problem in the developing world where household air pollutants are one of the leading causes of disease and premature death, according to the World Health Organisation. Due to better air quality and the use of air conditioning, there aren’t as many adverse health effects in the developed world; however, breathing in stale air overall isn’t a healthy experience.
7 Ways to Remove Stale Indoor Air
Unfortunately, simply spraying over stale air will not accomplish anything, and will probably actually make this air even more unbreathable. However, there are other steps you can take; at the root, removing stale air is all about increasing a room’s ventilation and adjusting its humidity levels. So, let’s look at how you can do this.
1) Modify Cleaning Habits
Keeping the area clean will help with stale and smelly air issues; however, harsh cleaning products or air fresheners should not be used in rooms with poor ventilation, as such commercial cleaning products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which linger and worsens air quality. The American Lung Association notes VOCs present in many common cleaning products (bleach, rug and upholstery cleaners, detergents and dishwashing liquids, air fresheners), it’s important to read labels and avoid products with high amounts of VOCs. Try to use gentle products or natural substances when possible, such as baking powder, white vinegar, and citrus blends – these make cleaning routine healthier and less expensive, and they’re better for the environment.
2) Air Filter Maintenance
High-quality air filters can eliminate contaminants like dust mites and pet dander from the air, on top of finer particles such as MVOCs. Air purifiers and air conditioners contain air filters that will do the job well; however, there’s no use in using these if the filter hasn’t been cleaned or changed in a while as the returned air will be just as poor (and possibly still smelly). We always recommend that people aim to change the HVAC system’s air filter every 1–3 months. Dirty and clogged filters reduce efficiency and effectiveness of ventilation. Thankfully, we provide a step-by-step guide on how to change your filter and disinfect your air conditioner. If this is something you cannot do for yourself for whatever reason, Air-Rite is here to help. We can send a technician out to service your air conditioner and check that it’s working in optimal condition.
3) Ceiling Fans
Using ceiling fans regularly (if you have them already installed) is one of the easiest ways to ensure airflow through your home. Ceiling fans are great at circulating air to keep it fresh. If you don’t already have ceiling fans, you could always get them installed; however, this can be an expensive process, and if you’re already tossing up between a fan and an air conditioning unit, then the air conditioner is probably going to be better value for money on account of its temperature control and heating potential.
4) Exhaust Fans (In Kitchen, Bathrooms, Laundry Room)
These help to remove stale and humid air and are especially important in enclosed rooms where moisture builds up, such as the bathroom.
5) Opening Windows
Again, this is a very simple yet effective solution; however, if you’re experiencing stale air in an enclosed office block, then this may not be possible. Sometimes particular rooms are built without windows and it’s too expensive to install one. In this case, the ceiling fan or air conditioner will be able to freshen up your air.
6) Air Purifier
Air purifiers are great at extracting stale air, filtering it, and emitting fresh, clean air into the home. They are smaller in size so are effective if you don’t have much space. However, to cover a larger area, you’ll want to look into a fan or air conditioner. Another type of air purifier that you might want to incorporate is indoor plants! The right indoor plants can absorb any pollutants from the air and can help purify the air.
7) Air Conditioner with HEPA Filters
The best air-cons have HEPA filters; these filters are the same as the ones used in high-quality vacuum cleaners. They work great because they help quietly filter air without you even knowing, and remove even the finer, more harmful air particles (and not just larger dust particles which are more easily cleaned). They also cycle through fresh air and push out clean, clarified air. These easily improve air quality without much work and are available in a range of Fujitsu, Haier, Mitsubishi air-conditioners – you can find these and much more at Air-Rite.
If Indoor Air Quality Issues Persist…
After you’ve exhausted all your options (and have viewed our article on improving your indoor air quality as well as our article on how to fix your smelly air conditioner) it may be time to call in the professionals. Air-Rite provides technical services to residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, to help all Australians with their air quality control. To schedule a professional cleaning or maintenance service or have a new system installed, reach out to Air-rite on their 24/7 phone line or by sending us a message online.