Some Less Expensive Ways to Improve School Indoor Environment Quality

This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. There are other, and sometimes unexpected, incidents and conditions that are not covered here. However, these plus a raised general awareness should help foster a healthful school environment for all.

  1. Reduce contamination from outdoor air by implementing a no-idle vehicle-zone around the school.
  2. Implement Health Canada’s Tools for Schools IAQ Action Kit using CASLE’s streamlined checklists.
  3. Leave the air delivery system on after school hours, particularly when cleaning or other activities are taking place. If the school has no (or an inadequate) mechanical ventilation system, manually refresh air by opening windows (at least 2 per classroom) mid-morning and mid-afternoon as weather permits and at the end of the day. (caution during pollen season, and be aware in case there are outside pollution sources)
  4. Establish a voluntary “Scent-Smart” program based on education sessions for students, staff, and parents. Many companies are now producing fragrance-free and less toxic products. See
  5. Use less toxic school supplies. Use water based no-scent, low-VOC markers and white-board wipe, white glue, non-toxic paints, unscented facial tissues, etc. (See Resources) Use a microfiber cloth and water for routine tasks, such as wiping boards. (do not use fragranced solvent product).
  6. Use dust free chalk, and damp-clean or HEPA vacuum boards and ledges frequently. Encourage use of flipcharts with no-VOC markers, or screen projection to reduce chalk use. Replace chalk with a low-powder chalk and use damp chalk erasers or a microfiber cloth to clean blackboards.
  7. Use white-out tape dispensers, not liquid.
  8. Musical instruments can be disinfected by using a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution on a microfiber cloth and wiping the instrument for 10 seconds. Hydrogen peroxide is generally tolerated by most people.
  9. Ensure photocopy, laser printers, and laminating equipment are in rooms with dedicated ventilation.
  10. Air photocopies and laminated materials 24 hours before distribution. (Cold process laminators are better)
  11. Do not use chemical room deodorizers or sprays anywhere in the school, including in washrooms. They contain toxic chemicals, including neurotoxins.Refresh air by cleaning, removing or diluting the offending odour.
  12. Conduct routine hall locker clean-outs at least every three months. Encourage students to take home used gym clothing for frequent washing. Wash locker rooms and equipment rooms often and well.
  13. Wipe change rooms down with baking soda in water or trisodium phosphate (TSP) (if tolerated) to clean, reduce mould and remove odours.
  14. Reduce classroom clutter, and dust classrooms frequently with a self-attractant cloth or HEPA vacuum. Clutter creates havens for dust (a common allergen) and germs. Do not sweep.
  15. Avoid compost bins in the classrooms.
  16. Avoid eating or storing food in classrooms. (food poisoning, mould growth, and pest attraction)
  17. Remove any toxic, scented products from the art room and storage closet. See and for art supplies information.
  18. Avoid having fur-bearing or feathered pets stay overnight in school. Try other pet kinds, or pet visits.
  19. Avoid indoor plants. Their stems and soil often have moulds. So-called “air-purifying” plants do so at extremely low levels so are of questionable value. Science rooms may need ventilated plant growing rooms.
  20. For sitting rugs use washable cotton throw rugs or folded and sewn towel “sit-upons”, not carpet pieces.
  21. Be sure photocopy equipment, art rooms, furnace rooms, janitor’s closets, storage rooms, technical rooms, washrooms, change rooms and gym equipment rooms are well ventilated.
  22. Reduce use of PVC plastic equipment, classroom materials, and building materials, including vinyl gym floor covers. Discourage use of plastic water bottles. They contain hazardous chemicals including endocrine disruptors, including Bisphenol-A and Phthalates.
  23. Consider adding floor model air filters to classrooms which have students and teachers with respiratory or environmental health problems.
  24. Be sure custodians know to put water in P-traps of unused showers and sinks to prevent sewer gas back-up.
  25. Have maintenance staff fix water leaks, seepage or condensation problems immediately. Moulds that emit harmful airborne chemicals can grow within 24 hours. Repair all leaks well. If dampened, remove all nonwashable affected materials like plaster, fabric, carpets, and ceiling tiles. Wash remaining areas with hydrogen peroxide or Borax solution. Use chlorine only if necessary, and with care to avoid inhalation of fumes. Dry areas quickly to prevent mould recolonization. Increase ventilation. If applicable, clean air delivery system. Canadian Construction Association mould guidelines: If you see mould or smell mould, you have mould. Even the more benign moulds can cause health problems. People can be affected by hidden mould growth such as growth within walls.
  26. Phase out/Remove all carpeting. Replace with hard surface flooring such as hard, not soft, tiles and less-toxic glue. If your school has carpet, purchase a HEPA vacuum cleaner, and vacuum the carpet(s) frequently. Do not use a regular vacuum on carpets as they release carpet dust into the air.
  27. Have maintenance department check drinking water for possible water contaminants such as biological contaminants, arsenic, lead, plastics, or other hazardous materials. Test and monitor school wells.
  28. Ensure pressure-treated wood is not used for play equipment. Options: steel, plastic, stone, brick, concrete, naturally resistant woods such as larch, redwood, cedar, Douglas fir, and alternative designs.
  29. Implement changes to cleaning schedules to avoid cleaning when the staff and students are in the school. If cleaning must take place during school hours, for example, when cleaning up a spill, use least toxic products and methods. Schedule “heavy” maintenance/cleaning (e.g. floor waxing and stripping), during holiday periods to allow one to two weeks for off-gassing.
  30. Allow ample time for off-gassing new building materials before removing the isolation barriers and resuming use of the renovated area. (See Healthy School Design and Construction, Appendix, for guidelines at Provide notice to parents, students and staff in advance of all planned renovations and maintenance projects.
  31. Provide fragrance-free, least toxic soap in washrooms because hand soaps come in direct contact with users. See