The 10 Best Ways to Clean the Air in Your Home

Woman enjoying clean air at home
Getty Images

The comforts of a modern home are myriad—temperature-controlled rooms keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and carefully engineered windows can even cocoon you from noisy neighbors and nasty drafts. "Newer constructions are more airtight than older ones," explains Alan Barlis, a New York City-based green architect.

But there's a catch. A home that blocks out the outside world also seals in potentially harmful substances—including dust, dirt, and mold. And while you might expect to see these forms of debris (and handle them when you do), that's not always the case. You also have to contend with microscopic fragments that are released when you cook your daily meals or light a candle. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also a concern—they are given off by some laundry detergents, paints, and certain materials in your furniture. Over time, they can irritate your eyes, skin, and airways, explains Neil Kao, an allergist in Greenville, South Carolina.

Many researchers also suspect that VOCs could be a contributing factor in higher cancer risks, which means it's best to eliminate them from your home entirely. Fortunately, driving out these hazardous elements is easier than it sounds when you complete these small tasks on a daily, weekly, and seasonal basis. To help you clear the air, we've tapped several experts, who shared their insight; heed their advice, and you will be able to tackle each and every part or element of your home that could be causing poor air quality. Ahead, find out how to get it all done in detail.

01 of 09

Open the Windows

Annie Schlechter

The simplest way to improve your home's air quality every day is to let some in from the great outdoors, says Alan Barlis, a New York City-based green architect. This is particularly important if you are air-drying laundry, taking a shower, cooking, or cleaning—and should be done even in kitchens and bathrooms built with ventilation systems that exhaust directly to the outdoors. If yours feature only recirculating fans, be sure to leave the nearest window open as they run. Scrub the filters and degrease screens every six months.

02 of 09

Switch on an Air Purifier

Air purifier in bedroom next to pet dog
Getty Images

It may be worth investing in an air purifier if letting in a breeze is problematic (if you have seasonal allergies, for instance). This device fits into a central-air system and can catch up to 99 percent of large particulates, like pollen and dander, on a daily basis. Look for one rated MERV-13 or higher. (MERV, which stands for "minimum-efficiency reporting value," is a measure of filtering efficiency.) For those without central air, a freestanding HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration unit can be very effective within a room, though not over the entire house. Place one where you spend the most time, such as your bedroom or living room.

03 of 09

Patrol for Dust

Woman dusting house
AnnaStills / Getty Images

While modern houses built away from or high above busy streets may need a dusting just once per week, grime builds up more quickly in older structures or those with poor ventilation. These homes require more frequent wipe-downs (at least twice a week). Make sure to dampen your rag, since dust and water molecules conveniently latch onto each other. For wood surfaces and antiques, break out a microfiber cloth—and don't forget about your windowsills, shower rungs, and shelves. Always start high and finish low, says Sabrina Fierman of New York's Little Elves, a fine interior cleaning company, to get every last speck. Another tip: Adopt a minimalist look—clutter-free surfaces are speedier to tidy.

04 of 09

Wash Towels and Mats

Woman washing towels in washing machine
Getty Images

Air-dry towels well after each use (when wet, they breed mold). Toss them into the machine every three or so days; clean mats half as often. Avoid those with rubber backings, which don't weather washings. Looking for a no-fuss alternative? Lightweight machine-friendly towel mats are your best bet.

05 of 09

Grab a Mop

woman mopping kitchen corner
Getty / Rawpixel

"The most effective way to clean the air is to clean the floor," says Derrick A. Denis, vice president of indoor environmental quality at Clark Seif Clark, a Chandler, Arizona, consulting firm. After all, gravity pulls down particles, which then swirl back up with the smallest crosscurrent. Brooms get at crumbs, but to rein in the teeny-tiny particles that irritate your respiratory system, swab down or squeegee once a week. To reach tight spots effortlessly, choose a mop with an articulated, telescoping handle and a removable machine-washable top.

06 of 09

Vacuum with a Vengeance

Woman vacuuming
Getty Images

For rugs and upholstery, use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter; this ensures that what you just sucked up (at least, 99.97 percent of it) doesn't go right back into the air. Snap on attachments to target furniture, and the small brush for tops of books along your shelves. Then go for the floors. Dense carpets trap more dust—and require several passes with the machine. Lighter weaves or bare floors make the task easier, as does choosing covered shelves instead of open ones for your library.

07 of 09

Launder Your Linens

Laundry basket with white washing
natalie_board / Getty Images

Sheets trap skin cells that slough off while you sleep, as well as dust and the mites that feed on it. These pests then generate by-products that can trigger allergies. To get rid of them, wash sheets and pillowcases on the hottest setting. Stick with machine-washable bedding. Keep extra pillows in a closet, and minimize decorative ones. Dust mites love bedrooms (and beds) because they tend to be especially warm and humid. Bring in a dehumidifier during the summer, or turn on your AC—cold air is inherently drying.

08 of 09

Wash Your Pillows


Dust and dust mites love the insert, too. Fortunately, you can obliterate them in your washer (check the care label). Do two per load to keep it balanced—once with detergent (use liquid; powders can leave residue), and again without. Then tumble-dry on no heat, with tennis balls to keep them fluffed. To reduce the chore to twice a year, protect pillows with anti-dust mite encasings.

09 of 09

Strip the Window Dressings

Curtain blowing in the breeze
Getty Images

Curtains and drapes are huge dirt collectors, so cleanse regularly, following care instructions. Custom treatments, especially those with elaborate detailing such as pleats, can often only be dry-cleaned, even if crafted from a typically resilient material like cotton. Vacuum them instead. For the fastest cleanups, opt for blinds; those with smooth textures trap less dust. With a wet cloth, you can restore them to their original glory—no heavy lifting required.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles