Simple, Easy, and Cheap Odor Scrubbing Unit

While getting ready for the big move of shop machinery this coming weekend — packing, sorting, throwing out, and disassembling — while packing I was reminded of this snazzy little ultra low-tech air scrubber I built for the basement shop several years ago.  Since my shop is directly under the living space of the house, and I am a varnish and glue sorta guy, my need for odor control was pretty prominent.  I came up with several solutions, ranging from dealing with small amounts of fumes through the need for spray finishing when the need arises.


This little beauty is one I built for the control of the nuisance fumes attendant to using hot hide glue and solvent based coatings systems.  It took about fifteen minutes to make, and works so well that I have never received a complaint about basement stink.

Here is all you need to make this air scrubber, which can perform flawlessly for pretty much the rest of your life.

1 recycled computer fan

1 cardboard box about the size of a cube slightly larger than the fan frame

1 salvaged power cord (I routinely snip and salvage the power cords from EVERYTHING that gets tossed around here, it’s a circle of life thing)

1 piece of scrap plywood the size of the box

a jar of clean activated charcoal aquarium filter medium

a hot melt glue gun and a few screws and bolts, etc.

some scraps of metal window screen


First place the fan against the top or bottom of the box, mark and cut a hole the size of the fan blade.


Cut a piece of the metal window screen to fit over this opening, and glue it in place with the hot melt adhesive.

Since I wanted a down draft unit, I attached the fan to the box to cover the opening such that the fan is blowing into the box.  I used small nuts-and-bolts from the box of miscellaneous fastners.  Using a recycled power cord I wired it up.  (my fan is a bit askew because I dropped the unit several years ago and the bolts pulled out, and I did not have another box the right size at the moment, hence the new orientation with new bolt holes)


Cut the scrap plywood to fit the opening of the box, and drill a series of holes to allow air flow.  Glue a piece of the window screen to one side of the plywood so that all the holes are covered.


As my scrubbing medium I used aquarium filter activated charcoal purchased at a local pet store.  I poured some of this into a pasta screen to allow the littlest pieces to fall out.  The remaining charcoal, beginning with the size of rice grains and larger will be used as my air-scrubbing medium.


I turned the box over so that the fan was on the bottom and filled it with the activated charcoal.   After shaking it gently a bit, I dropped the plywood square into place and pinned it there with some small screws.  I cut out some openings to make four legs and four air channels for the downdraft flow, and the unit was finished.


The unit works well at scrubbing nuisance odors out of the air 24/7/365.  this one has been providing yeoman’s service for almost ten years, although I swap out the charcoal every year or so.  I especially like the fact that at about 1 pound I can pick it up and move it to wherever I am working with small amounts of solvents or the like.  for example, when I am polishing metals or tortoiseshell I simply place the scrubber on the bench right next to where I am working, and don’t even need a fume mask.

Will it keep the living room from stinking if you are using gallons of paint remover in the basement?  I’m guessing the answer would be a NO!  But for ongoing odors from shellacking, gluing, polishing, and a little spot spraying with aerosol, it works fine for me.  More intensive applications require a larger unit I will write about soon.