Abstract Perceived air quality, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) symptoms and productivity were studied in an existing office in which the air pollution level could be modified by introducing or removing a pollution source. This reversible intervention allowed the space to be classified as either non-low-polluting or low-polluting, as specified in the new European design criteria for the indoor environment CEN CR 1752 (1998). The pollution source was a 20-year-old used carpet which was introduced on a rack behind a screen so that it was invisible to the occupants. Five groups of six female subjects each were exposed to the conditions in the office twice, once with the pollution source present and once with the pollution source absent, each exposure being 265 min in the afternoon, one group at a time. They assessed the perceived air quality and SBS symptoms while performing simulated office work. The subject-rated acceptability of the perceived air quality in the office corresponded to 22% dissatisfied when the pollution source was present, and to 15% dissatisfied when the pollution source was absent. In the former condition there was a significantly increased prevalence of headaches (P= 0.04) and significantly lower levels of reported effort (P=0.02) during the text typing and calculation tasks, both of which required a sustained level of concentration. In the text typing task, subjects worked significantly more slowly when the pollution source was present in the office (P=0.003), typing 6.5% less text than when the pollution source was absent from the office. Reducing the pollution load on indoor air proved to be an effective means of improving the comfort, health and productivity of building occupants.