Why do we need clean air for mycology? – To reduce contamination!

The air we breathe has 1000s of bacteria and pathogens that can readily land on an agar plate or enter your grain jar when you are working. Contamination is the greatest enemy of all hobby mycologists. Unfortunately  it’s not possible to remove all the contaminants from the air in your house, however you can achieve great results and reduce your contamination rate using a couple of readily available methods.

Still Air Box – Reduced Contamination Cheap and Easy

The still air box should be the first choice for any hobbyist looking to upgrade their setup with minimal cost. Outside professional or commercial operations SABs would easily be the most popular method.

A Still Air Box (SAB) is any container that is used to create a small area of still air, which then allows for  a reduction in the risk of contamination when working with spawn, agar or any vulnerable part of a tek you are performing.

The still air box is usually a large clear storage container with two holes that allow you to insert your arms to work.

As the air inside the box is still, as it’s not moving around, particles or contams will not be flying around and subsequently landing on your work. As long as you do not hold or move unsterile objects directly over your plates or other sterile objects, your contamination risk is greatly minimised.

Check out this guide on how to make a Still Air Box!

Pros:

Cheapest and easy to make

Very effective at reducing contamination

Suitable for variety of uses (inoculation, agar work)

Cons

Requires room with minimal air movement to work effectively

Inconsistent

Requires preparation before each use

Flow Hoods- Expensive, but effective for reduced contamination

Where SABs are very cheap and easy to make, making them well suitable for a hobbyist, flow hoods are usually expensive and require suitable planning and research before making. Flow hoods can also be purchased opposed to being made, however require an investment of potentially a few thousand dollars.

So why use a flow hood? Well they are the industry standard. Any commercial or professional growing operation will make use of a laminar flow hood because they allow for a consistent level reduced contamination risk that is repeatable every time you use them.

How do they work?

Essentially the laminar flow hood makes use of very effective HEPA filters to produce a clean airflow. As the name suggests the output is a smooth laminar flow, usually around 100 feet per minute, this air flow prevents any particle from falling down onto your work.

Learn how to design and build your own Laminar flow hood here!!

Pros:

Consistent results

Can be used for various applications

Cons

Expensive

Glove Boxes – Not Ideal for most mycology

Glove boxes are very similar in design to a still air box, but cannot necessarily be used for all the same processes. 

The main distinction between the two being that the glove box has two gloves (usually sealed with silicone and PVC) to the box.

One disadvantage of this design is that you cannot utilize flame sterilisation inside the box. Therefore it is not suitable for syringe work. Additionally movement of your hands inside the box will cause the piston effect ( this is the forced air flow that occurs in spaces such as tunnels by moving objects). This subsequently defeats the purpose of the glove box because it will cause air movement. That being said, with proper preparation the air inside the glove box can be much cleaner than the air outside, still allowing for a reduced contamination risk

Pros

Can be modified with vacuum for negative flow

Useful if dealing with harmful materials to protect yourself (not as relevant for hobbyist mycology)

Cons

Piston effect

Difficult to work in 

More expensive than SAB, more difficult to make for no significant improvement in results

Professional Glove Box to Minimise Contamination

Recommendation:

For anyone starting out or looking to improve their setup, making a still air box is a no brainer decision. For a very little investment of time and money, significant reduction in the rate of contamination can be achieved. Many mycologists will find a SAB more than adequate for all of their needs at the hobbyist level. If you need to significantly upscale your production with consistent results or to progress from a hobby to a professional growing capacity, a flood hood is a smart upgrade to minimise your contamination rate and increase your consistency.

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