Working Healthy

You Are Now Entering the Breathing Zone: Salon Ventilation Guide

The invisible beachball-sized sphere of air that surrounds your face in all directions is a great place to start implementing efficient salon ventilation. NAILS walks you through all of the things you need to know, from what to look for in a ventilation system to how the components work to a few tweaks you can make in your day-to-day habits for extra protection. Get ready to breathe easy.

But What About?

Masks: If you’re going to use a mask, you need a NIOSH-approved N95-rated mask (available in the painting department of hardware stores). An N95 mask is a high-efficiency dust mask. Don’t wear a surgical mask: the dust will go right through it and the vapors will saturate the mask, making your breathing zone more hazardous.

Windows: Open windows are an improvement over a closed salon environment; however, so much of the effectiveness of window ventilation depends on which way the wind is blowing (i.e. into or out of your face) that it’s too unreliable. Plus, if that’s all you have, then what will you do when it’s cold or rainy outside?

Fans: If a window is open and a fan pointed out, it will help some. But if you have a door or window open elsewhere, it could create a river of air that completely bypasses your station. Relying on fans without an open window doesn’t work. That will just blow the dust and vapors all over the salon.

Venting to the outside: If you can set up your system so it vents to the outside, that’s great. Some municipalities even have this as a requirement in their building codes; however, it is usually expensive and/or difficult to do (such as if your salon is in the center of a mall), and many building inspectors will approve a source-capture system in lieu of venting to the outside.

Tabletop portable air purifiers: Tabletop purifiers don’t have the capacity to hold the several inches of activated carbon needed to capture all of the vapors created by a nail salon. The filter will simply be loaded up too quickly.

Home or office air cleaners: Homes and offices don’t generate the kind of dust and vapors that nail salons do, so these air cleaners won’t be effective in salons. There aren’t any ionizing air cleaners yet built for nail salons either, and there’s a controversy over the ones built for other environments as to whether they can expose the user to harmful ozone levels.

A manicure table with a built-in grate: Connected to the right type of source-capture system with activated carbon and dust filters, this is a terrific way to protect yourself. Just be aware that if you have a built-in grate but it only came with a fan or no significant filter at all to capture what is getting sucked in, then it’s not protecting you. Many nail salon ventilation companies can retrofit your existing table with a proper system. (Also, don’t cover the grate with your manicure towel.)

Signs Your Salon Needs Better Ventilation

It’s a misconception that using your vision or sense of smell is a tell-tale indicator. You can be inhaling particles and not see or smell them. Here are a few more reliable signs:

> Strong product odors linger for more than 10 minutes after use.
> When someone uses a strong-smelling product, people on the other side of the salon detect the odor.
> You smell product odors when you open the salon in the morning.
> Windows and doors are closed and there is no mechanical ventilation system in place or turned on.
> Your only ventilation system is the built-in HVAC system, which does not have nail salon-appropriate filters in it.
> The walls “sweat” with moisture or the windows fog.
> Workers frequently have one or more of the following symptoms: headaches, dry or sore throats, blurry vision, watery eyes, insomnia, irritability, nausea, dizziness, cough, a runny or bloody nose, sneezing, tingling toes or fingers, drowsiness, chest aches or pains, shortness of breath, loss of coordination or appetite.
> Your clients, neighbors, and/or landlord complains about ­offensive odors.

Little Things You Can Do For Extra Protection

There is no replacement for a three-zone ventilation system but here are some great supplemental ideas.

> Frequently close containers (not just when you go home at night).
> Use only wastebaskets with tight-fitting lids.
> Replace all carpet with hard flooring. (Vacuuming will not remove dust and vapors. Shampooing will remove some.)
> Ensure all products are accurately labeled and that you have manufacturer-provided Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on hand for all products so you can refer to control measures and handling requirements.
> Choose a wood for your manicure table that will not soak up the chemicals. According to NIOSH, a veneer-coated particle board works well.
> Wash your hands, arms, and face with mild soap and water several times throughout the day to remove dust.
> Don’t eat or drink in working areas. Certain salon chemicals can cause health problems if swallowed.
> Have an HVAC expert clean and evaluate your HVAC system at least once a year.

Overcoming Obstacles to Installing a Ventilation System

Obstacle #1: Financing

Solution: Getting a comprehensive system will likely cost you a few thousand dollars. Most ventilation companies offer no-interest payment plans, making the payments manageable. Salon Pure Air also just launched a lease-to-own option, which charges interest but lets you split payments up over several years. Salon owner and nail tech Iryna Giblett suggests raising your prices a small amount (telling your clients it’s for your and their health) so that over time you can make the money back.

Obstacle #2: Noise

Solution: It doesn’t sound like a hair dryer. It’s closer to the sound of a fan. Nail techs we interviewed told us it’s no problem to talk over a source-capture system. If you’re in a serene spa where people talk in whispers, then you may find it annoying (and you’ll need to make a decision for yourself whether atmosphere or air quality is more important).

Obstacle #3: Maintenance

Solution: To keep the system working, it’s crucial you change out the activated carbon and the dust filters on the manufacturer recommended schedule. (Otherwise, they will simply stop working from being too full.) Many manufacturers offer convenience plans by which they’ll automatically mail you the needed filters and carbon on time. So when you get replacements in the mail, change them. And make sure you turn the system on every time; that’s just a matter of creating the habit.

Obstacle #4: Explaining It to Clients

Solution: Whether they’ve mentioned it to you or not, your clients have probably noticed the odors and the dust. The nail techs we spoke to said their clients were as enthusiastic about the new ventilation system as the tech was. Steve Wallace, vice president, sales, marketing, and business development at Medicool (which makes the Mani-Vac by Medicool) says it’s easy to explain to clients why you installed ventilation: “In light of the potential for both myself and my clients to have breathing issues caused by airborne dust particles as a result of filing acrylic and gel all day long, I have decided to protect us both by investing in a system to remove the harmful dust particles out of the air in this salon.” And manufacturer Aerovex Systems even offers a window decal (shown) to market your salon as a “Three-Zone Protection Certified Salon.”

Obstacle #5: Space

Solution: The floor footprint of most systems is smaller than an old vinyl record. Also, if your salon has two tables within a few feet of each other, ask about a two-inlet system (shown). Building a custom table that hides the system away in a cabinet is another option, but that takes design expertise.


Salon Ventilation Systems' Buyers' Guide

Aerovex Systems

Air Impurities Removal Systems/Salon Pure Air

Aircare Europe Limited

Alfalfa Nail Supply



Euro Fashion

Electrocorp Air Filtration Systems

Erica’s Advanced Technical Abrasives

Filtronic Filter Systems




Thank you to these industry experts for helping with the research and background information for this story: Len Roulier III, president, Air Impurities Removal Systems/Salon Pure Air; Jeff Cardarella, president, Aerovex Systems Inc.; Doug Schoon, chemist and author,, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry; Steve Wallace, vice president, sales, marketing, and business development, Medicool.   

Related Links:

Curious about how much of a difference a source-capture ventilation system can make in a typical nail salon? We have a video on NAILStv that shows the measurement levels of common salon solvents in the air, both with and without ventilation:

Read about several salon owners’ success stories with installing ventilation systems on NAILS' From the Editors blog: 3 Ventilation Success Stories

Guidelines for controlling and minimizing inhalation exposure to nail products by the INTA/NMC (PDF):


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Melanonychia is a blackening on the nail plate by melanin pigmentation. It can often present as a darkened band under or within the nail plate.
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