Last updated on October 6th, 2022 at 11:20 am
What if your home gym, the thing you built to improve your health, is actually making you sick?
Mold, allergens, bacteria, pests, fumes, temperature, and humidity can all have a dramatic impact on our health and our performance. These risks are amplified by the simple fact that if you are working out with any degree of intensity, you are breathing very deeply. Combining air quality issues with heavier than normal breathing is a situation we should strive to steer clear of.
If we overlook air circulation, ventilation, and air quality in our garage and basement gyms, we risk more than just a musty smell or accumulated dust. We risk the very health we are trying to improve by being there in the first place!
This article will take a close look at the most common cause and solutions to air quality issues in your garage or basement gym. In the end, though, all gyms should have a high-quality air purifier running at all times.
There are a lot of air purifiers out there that do absolutely nothing. It’s important to get one that actually works. The one I use myself and believe 100% to be the best air purifier for a garage gym is the Blue Air 211+. Blue Air is hands down the best air purification company out there and their purifiers will go a long way to keeping you healthy in your home gym!
The Most Common Causes of Poor Air Quality in a Home Gym
There are a few common culprits when it comes to the air quality in your home gym. Knowing how to find them and fix them is critical to your health!
Many of us were forced to build our garage and basement gyms in the dark, dank, and unused areas of our homes. These areas are highly susceptible to mold.
Black mold has been linked to numerous ailments. Respiratory problems, allergies, headaches, fatigue, and a host of other issues can be directly linked to mold.
The first line of mold detection is your nose. If you notice a dank, musty smell in your workout area, you probably have mold somewhere. Sometimes it’s easy to spot. Sometimes it takes some investigation.
One big culprit can be carpet and the padding underneath. As I noted in my Complete Guide to Home Gym Flooring, carpet and its padding are ideal spots for hidden mold growth. If you smell mold but don’t see it, check under the carpet.
If you find mold in your garage or basement gym, it’s important to clean it and completely remove it. Depending on the size of the problem, this can be a do-it-yourself job, or it may mean you need to call a professional. This guide should get you started if you find yourself with a mold problem in your garage or basement gym.
Once the mold is gone, you’ll want to use a dehumidifier in the humid months. Keeping your humidity levels under 50% in your workout area will go a long way towards making it more comfortable and keeping mold and other problems at bay.
I sold dehumidifiers at my day job for almost 30 years. Most of them are cheap and break a lot so it pays to get a decent one. Always rated #1 in Consumer Reports, and consistently at the top in customer feedback, the best dehumidifier for a garage or basement gym is a Frigidaire.
Bugs and Rodents
Part of working out in a basement or garage is learning to coexist with bugs. Other vermin, like mice or rats, are also unfortunately common. Both bring in disease and eliminating them before they make a home for themselves is critical.
What does this have to do with air quality? A lot. Roaches can carry salmonella. Dust mites and cockroaches can both cause respiratory problems. Mice and rats carry disease and can bring in other pests. None of them are things you want in your gym!
There’s a variety of ways to rid yourself of these pests. The key is that you take action and do it, preferably sooner than later!
This is another reason it pays to get a dehumidifier. Bugs, in general, prefer a more humid environment (see the entire state of Florida for an example!). If you can keep the humidity level low in your gym, you’ll do a lot to discourage the little nuisances from going there in the first place.
VOCs (aka volatile organic compounds) are the fumes that come from common household cleaners, paints, lacquers, and other similar fluids. You know, the things you store in your garage or basement!
They are also the reason for the horrible smell emitted from horse stall mats as flooring and from buying inexpensive bumper and rubber-coated plates. That smell is not only annoying, but it’s also bad for you. It’s one of the reasons I recommend never using horse stall mats in your gym.
When VOCs are emitted in an enclosed area, it tends to make them even worse. And those fumes can be very dangerous to people. Not only can they cause respiratory issues, but they can cause more serious health problems like long-term harm to your liver, kidney, and nervous system.
The fix is simple. Move these things to another, more well-ventilated area for storage. Get them out of your gym completely (in other words, don’t just move them to the other side of the garage or basement). Your lungs and health will thank you!
In the case of the rubber plates and flooring, at minimum place them outside in direct sunlight until they off-gas the VOCs. This may take days or even weeks. Your nose and your health will be better off for the effort! If you can, go with rubber flooring meant for indoor use (NOT for outdoor horse stalls!) and buy a little nicer level of rubber plate.
Dust and Allergens
Ever try working out when you can’t breathe? In the middle of allergy season? I can tell you from experience that’s no fun!
While we can’t control mother nature, we can control what parts of mother nature we allow into our workout space. Here are my 4 top tips for keeping your garage or basement gym free of dust and allergens.
- Clean regulary. Cleaning a home gym is a lot like any other room of your home, but there are some differences. Both in what you clean and what you clean with. Check out my Definitive Guide to Cleaning Your Home Gym for full details!
- Use and air purifier. This is done by getting a high quality air purifier. This is one thing I wouldn’t skimp on. Especially if you have allergies or breathing issues of any kind. These things can be a life saver. If you are looking for a really great air purifier, I recommend two from Blue Air. We sell these where I work and it’s the only brand we sell that customers consistently report as working well. For larger gyms, use the 211+, you can check its current price on Amazon here. I use the smaller 411 as it better fits my space. It’s usually under $150, but you can check it’s current pricing on Amazon here!
- Use a humidifier in the dry seasons. This is extremely helpful during the coldest times of year, but if you live in a arid climate, it applies year round. In dry air, dust particles and other allergens float around easily. By putting a little moisture in the air, those same particles now become bound to moisture particles. They then sink to the ground instead of flying through the air and eventually into your nose and lungs. This one by Ledonti that you can buy on Amazon is considerably better than most!
- Use a dehumidifier in the humid seasons. Or if you live in a humid climate like the southern US, use one all the time. Damp air is a breeding ground for all kinds of problems. I use this model by Frigidaire and it works great (link is to Amazon).
If you keep your gym where you keep your car, lawnmower, trimmer, or other gas-powered items, you are causing a problem for yourself. It’s simply not safe to work out where you can smell gas fumes.
During your workout, they can cause eye irritation, lung pain, and sinus issues. If you repeatedly breathe these fumes in, they can cause bone marrow and blood disorders. They have also been directly linked to cancer long-term. It’s best to store these items elsewhere, choose a different space for your gym equipment, or at the very least, keep windows open and the space well ventilated.
For those of us that have our gym in an unused portion of the garage, this could cause an issue. At the very least, don’t keep the gas can for the lawnmower in there. Your car, if it’s a relatively new model, should be fine. If you simply don’t have anywhere else to put this stuff, I would highly recommend opening the door and airing out the garage prior to working out. This is serious business and gas fumes really should be avoided at all costs!
I remember when radon was first discovered to be a problem in some homes. It was all over the news. Radon detection and remediation companies sprang up all over the place. People panicked because of the nuclear source of Radon gas.
Radon comes from decaying uranium and it occurs naturally literally everywhere. It’s also the #2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon is no joke and if your gym is in your basement, testing for it should be a priority.
The issue arises when radon is allowed to concentrate and pool up in basements. Here, at higher than acceptable levels, it can cause serious problems.
It used to be that you had to hire a company to come to check your radon levels. That’s not the case anymore. You can pick up a radon test kit right here on Amazon. If your gym is in a basement area, it’s a really great idea to pick one of these test kits up just to be safe.
If the results are negative, now you know! If the test shows a problem, you have hopefully dodged a bullet. There are systems that can be installed in your home to eliminate unsafe radon build-up, returning your basement to useable gym status. It’s probably best to have these installed by a professional, but they are well worth the money if you find yourself with a radon problem.
How to Fix Poor Air Quality in Your Home Gym
Having grown up with allergies, I’ve always had issues breathing at certain times of the year. Being an ex-smoker, I’m overly paranoid about air quality and possible damage to my lungs. For that reason, I’ve developed a system to keep the air quality in my garage gym as clean and safe as I can possibly manage.
The system is seasonal and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
We build a home gym to improve our health. We owe it to ourselves to make sure that home gym isn’t actually making us sick instead!
Do This Year-Round
I keep an air purifier running year-round. If I turn it off for even a couple of days, I can immediately notice the difference. I’ve owned and tried several different units.
After going cheap several times and not seeing any difference, I decided to bite the bullet and get a good one. It was an easy choice and what I should have purchased all along. Based on the crazy good feedback from customers where I work, I went with a model by Blue Air.
Blue Air is the highest-rated air purifier on the market. They make several different sizes and that allows you to pick a unit that works right for your particular space. I use the Blue Pure 211+. It’s an amazing unit and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
When It’s Warm (and Humid)
I pull out my dehumidifier (see the one I use here on Amazon) at the first sign of humidity in the late spring or early summer. It runs pretty much non-stop until fall. I aim to keep the humidity under 50%. This helps prevent any mold or mildew build-up. As a huge side benefit, it makes it much more comfortable to work out in the summer!
I also usually keep a fan running. Get yourself a nice-sized model that moves a lot of air. Don’t worry about fancy fans, I use this large-size fan I bought on Amazon and it works great! It will keep you cool and keep the air circulating.
When It’s Cold (and Dry)
I resist pulling out the heater until it gets down into the 30’s outside. But once it does, I rarely work out in my garage gym without first turning it on. If you train in a cold garage gym, make sure to check out my full article aimed at helping you keep your gym warm in the winter.
It gets cold here near Chicago. Like arctic tundra cold! Money spent on a solid space heater is money well spent, and I can’t recommend this one by Dr. Infrared highly enough!!!
Once it gets cold, it also tends to get dry. So along with the heater, I trade my summertime dehumidifier for a humidifier that can add a little moisture to the air. It significantly improves the air quality and also makes things a lot more comfortable.
Adding a humidifier will also help you and your equipment last longer. It will prevent drying and cracking of your hands as well as drying and cracking of things like your bench.
Quick Tips to Help Your Home Gym Air Quality
I’ve got two last tips for improving the air quality in your home gym. One obvious and one maybe not so much.
First, air the place out! Open a window or door. Install an exhaust fan. Do whatever you can to get fresh outside air into your workout space. It’s easier to do in the summer than the winter, but it’s equally important at both times of the year.
Second, get a plant or two. Plants are nature’s own air filters. They breathe in bad air and breath out oxygen. Having a couple of plants in your gym space can do wonders for the air quality. If you aren’t sure what kind to get, ferns and spider plants are known to do a great job of cleaning the air. They are also very easy to care for.
The best plant for cleaning the air is English Ivy. Nasa did a study on this and determined that this plant does a better job of cleaning the air than any other!
Hopefully, some of these tips help you breathe a little (or maybe even a lot!) easier in your workout area. The better the air, the better the workouts, right? And not to mention, the more comfortable and inviting your home gym is, the more you will enjoy using it. And that leads to more use overall, which is always the goal!