11 Natural Ways to Clean Indoor Air

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Natural Ways to Clean Indoor Air
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Clean indoor air is so important since most of us spend an average of 93% of our time inside (yikes!). Pet dander, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are just some of the toxins you’ll find floating in indoor air. This is one of the reasons we use an indoor air filter daily and keep houseplants all around the house.

How Bad Is Indoor Air?

Like most things, air quality depends on several factors. Living next to crowded cities, highways, and chemically sprayed farm fields create a higher risk of indoor air pollution. According to EPA scientists, high temperature and humidity levels also increase certain pollutants.

A whopping 30-50% of all buildings are damp enough to encourage mold and bacteria growth according to EPA reports on air quality and asthma. These pathogens then increase the risk of certain health conditions, like asthma and infectious diseases. The EPA’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality also confirms “air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”

Of course, spending as much time as possible outside in nature is the best option. But when it is necessary to be indoors, it’s important to have clean indoor air! The more air pollution we have, the higher the risk of immediate and chronic long-term health problems.

What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?

It depends on a lot of factors, but the good news is much of the indoor air quality is under our control. Some common sources of air pollution inside include:

  • Dust
  • Outdoor air pollution leaking in
  • VOCs off-gassing from paint, furniture, flooring, etc.
  • Pet dander
  • Conventional cleaners, air fresheners, and other fragrances
  • Gas stoves and other appliances (especially older ones)
  • Dampness and mold growth
  • Carpet, drapes, and other furnishings that collect dust and dirt

Natural Ways to Purify and Clean Indoor Air

Before we jump to cleaning indoor air, we have to address what’s making it dirty in the first place. Dust, mold, and pet dander are just a few of the things that lurk around the house, causing air pollution. Dust mites love damp, human-inhabited areas, like mattresses, furniture, and carpet.

Although they’re microscopic, dust mite waste can lead to health issues like asthma, gut disease, and eczema to name a few.

Step one to purifying indoor air: pull out the vacuum and DIY dusting spray.

1. Vacuum Away Air Pollution

Invest in a good vacuum and use it regularly. Many experts recommend HEPA filters, though it isn’t always necessary. My favorite (and durable) vacuum is this one. Because carpets hide away pollution and allergens (even when vacuumed), minimizing the amount of carpet in the house will help. Just one square yard of carpet can house 100,000 dust mites!

If you do keep carpet and rugs around, deep cleaning them on occasion will further help purify indoor air.

Here’s more on how to keep allergens and pollution to a minimum with regular cleaning:

  • Keep up on dusting and cleaning (taking out trash, wiping down surfaces, etc.)
  • Clean drapes, blinds, and bedding regularly
  • Leave shoes at the door to avoid tracking pollen and muck into the home
  • Go minimalist, there’s less to dust!

All that said, there is such a thing as too clean. Like our gut, our home has a microbiome. Children who are around pets and farm animals actually have less risk of developing asthma. I keep my cleaning routine simple, no fancy cleaners, and use Homebiotic (which is like a probiotic for your house!).

2. Brush Fido

As much as we love our furry friends, pets are another common source of indoor air pollution. Pets should be regularly bathed and groomed, especially if they have access to outdoors. This will help cut down on dander, pet hair, and dirt in the home.

3. Use Natural Air Fresheners

Conventional air fresheners don’t actually freshen the air, they just coat it in toxins. Natural air fresheners work differently. Instead of hiding smells they neutralize them at the source. Obviously if there’s something stinky in the home (like a bag of old trash or musty items), we’ll need to remove it.

Using natural air fresheners and diffusing essential oils can help remove the lingering odors left behind. These also help reduce microbes, bacteria, and dust mites in the air.

4. Beeswax Candles

Candles are cozy and have an inviting smell, but they’re not all created equal. Paraffin and soy wax candles pollute the air, but beeswax does the opposite.

Ready for some cool science??

Pollution in the air has positively charged ions. When we burn beeswax it creates negative ions which then bond to the positively charged ions. The results are cleaner air and a yummy smelling home.

Beeswax candles are often helpful for those with asthma or allergies and effectively remove common allergens like dust and dander from the air. Beeswax candles also burn more slowly than paraffin candles so they last much longer.

I only use beeswax candles in our house. We buy them by the case and our favorites are:

5. Check the HVAC System

While it’s not as fun as essential oils and beeswax candles, good air conditioning and heating systems are a must for cleaner air. For those who live in more polluted areas, an AC system helps to filter incoming air. If you live in an area where outdoor isn’t much of a concern, then opening up the windows and airing out the house is a good idea.

It’s also important to change HVAC filters regularly. You can even add a few drops of a purifying essential oil to disposable filters. Lemon, lime, orange, lemongrass, and clove are some of my favorites to purify indoor air.

6. Avoid Mold and Mycotoxins

According to the EPA, about 30-50% of buildings have damp conditions prime for mold growth. Mold and the mycotoxins it produces can cause a myriad of health problems such as brain fog, fatigue, immune suppression and much more. For cleaner indoor air, remove any sources of moisture and promptly fix leaks.

You can also test humidity levels in the home inexpensively and determine if you should run a dehumidifier. It’s best for humidity levels to be under 50% in the home.

It’s important to remove any porous moldy or musty items from an indoor space (like drywall, wood, or paper). Non-porous items that have been exposed to mold (like metal, glass, and some plastics) can be thoroughly cleaned and dried.

7. Choose Low VOC Furnishings

That picture-perfect HGTV home may have a dirty secret hiding behind that chaise lounge. Certain fabrics and housing materials emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to indoor air pollution. Flooring, paint, drywall, room sprays, and many cleaners are common sources of VOCs.

According to the EPA, VOCs are known to cause a variety of health issues including headaches, dizziness, and cancer.

Choose low VOC building materials and furnishings when buying new. New furniture can also spend a few weeks in the garage to off-gas before bringing it into the home. Opting for natural cleaners and skipping synthetic air fresheners will also reduce VOCs in the home.

8. Cut Down on Cooking Pollution

It’s hard to imagine, but that Sunday pot roast could be adding to indoor air pollution. The World Health Organization sets the indoor limit of exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at 106 ppb during a one hour time period.

According to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute, Gas Stoves: Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions, cooking in a gas oven emits 130-546 ppb. This far exceeds safety limits. Cooking on a gas range clocks in at 82-300 ppb. Gas stoves can also emit dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide, a gas that can’t be seen or smelled.

For homes with a gas stove, it’s important to have a well maintained and properly adjusted gas stove. Newer stoves put out significantly less carbon monoxide than older versions, according to the EPA.

It’s also important to vent stoves with an exhaust fan. If the stove doesn’t have a fan, an open window with a fan in it to pull cooking fumes outside is another option.

Certain cooking oils, like extra virgin olive oil have a low cooking temperature. When they’re used on the stovetop it can quickly create smoke and fumes in the air. Opt for oils with a higher cooking temperature, like naturally refined coconut oil and high oleic sunflower oil.

9. Get More Plants!

Many of us have heard of the NASA study that looked at plants to clean indoor air. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. The decades-old study was conducted in a sealed, tightly controlled room. A 2014 review in Environmental Science Pollution Res took another look at the original NASA study in light of more recent research.

While the plant’s ability to take up VOCs is well documented in laboratory studies, the effect of plants on indoor air in complex environments like offices requires further investigations to clarify the full capacity of plants in real-life settings.

Some experts claim it would take an impossible number of plants to make a dent in indoor building air. Others point to evidence showing you would only need 15-18 houseplants in a 1,800 square foot space.

Surprisingly, it may not be the plant only that’s cleaning the air.

Research in 2004 found dirt microbes play a big role in purifying indoor air. Micro-organisms in the potting mix rhizosphere do the bulk of the work. In certain plant species, the plant itself also did some of the leg work in air purification.

While the jury may still be out on this one, my vote is for more greenery in the home. I also might have a slight plant addiction. You can read more here about which plants I’ve tested over the years and found to be the best plants for cleaning indoor air.

10. Use Salt Lamps

Salt lamps are another natural way to clean indoor air. These are made from Himalayan salt crystals and just like the beeswax candles, they release negative ions. Although the amount of negative ions may not be enough to clean air that well, salt lamps may help clean the air in other ways.

They’re also a beautiful light source. The only downside…. my kids like to lick them!

We don’t do night lights in our kids’ rooms, but if we did or if we need a light source at night for reading, we use salt lamps. The natural orange glow doesn’t disrupt sleep hormones like fluorescent or blue lights do and I find it very relaxing.

We have an 8-inch salt lamp that we use regularly (it is also the most cost effective for its size, as the bigger lamps can get very pricey).

11. Put Bamboo Charcoal Around the House

Another natural air cleaning option I recently discovered is bamboo charcoal. I’ve talked about some of my unusual uses for charcoal before and we use a charcoal block water filter to remove toxins from our water.

Activated charcoal is a chemical adsorbent, meaning it binds to toxins and chemicals and neutralizes them. Charcoal can have the same toxin-removing effect on the air. We use bamboo charcoal in burlap bags in our house. They work wonders for odor removal and removing toxins from the air.

I’ve found these are also great for removing odors from cars or the bathroom (especially if you have recently potty-trained boys who don’t always have perfect aim!).

We use these Mosu bags in every room of our house.

12. Invest in Air Filters

While there are many inexpensive and easy ways to clean indoor air, an air filter is still a good idea. Houseplants and opening the windows can only go so far to clean indoor air. Our family uses a combination of all of the above, including keeping air filters in the house. Here’s which air filters work best and are my personal favorites.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Tim Jackson. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Rehabilitation, and a Functional Medicine provider. He holds a B.S. Degree in Health Science and Chemistry from Wake Forest University. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

What ways have you tried to freshen indoor air? Is there anything on this list you’ll add to your routine? Drop us a comment and let us know!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


121 responses to “11 Natural Ways to Clean Indoor Air”

  1. geri Avatar

    Can I use a humidifier at the same time as a salt lamp? Does the salt lamp take too much needed moisture out of the room, especially in the winter months?

  2. Rachel Avatar

    Hey, Katie!! My little girl has asthma and suffers from some pretty bad allergies. Her ears fill with fluid and then she can’t hear well at school and….you get it. I just bought a Himalayan salt lamp for the room where she plays. I didn’t want to put it in her room during the night because I prefer her room to be dark. Would putting a moso bag in her room help with her allergies/asthma the way a salt candle can?

  3. Daniel Thompson Avatar
    Daniel Thompson

    a) There seems to be a consensus among the more scientifically inclined of the interwebz, that the beeswax candle ion claim is unfounded.

    b) Burning wood to produce charcoal, and hence presumably polluting the atmosphere, in order to then use that charcoal to purify the atmosphere in your home seems… silly to me.

    1. Elise Avatar

      I’d like to see more comments like this and more debate about the veracity of some of these claims, instead of people enthusiastically commenting on how many of these products they bought off Amazon.
      It’s fine to try something that has possible health benefits even if the science isn’t conclusive but that doesn’t mean we can’t thoughtfully examine and document whether any positive changes occur in a more rigorous way.

      Too often I see people try to justify their purchases, rather than finding ways to measure if VOCs in their home have actually gone down or not.

      Less consumerism and more critical thinking please, ladies.

      1. Leslie Allen Avatar
        Leslie Allen

        As a small-time beeswax candlemaker, I have been searching for proof of the beeswax-emits-negative-ions claim for years. I have found none. If Katie can provide her research on this matter, excellent. If not, why make such a claim? She also says beeswax burns with little or no scent. Some beeswax may have little or no scent, especially if it has been highly refined or bleached, but mostly beeswax has a great deal of scent that it comes by naturally in the hive. Its scent is one of its greatest selling points. This negative ion thing is malarkey, unless, of course, someone can pony up some proof.

  4. Emily Boronkay Avatar
    Emily Boronkay

    Several people have asked about controlling the smell from dampness. I have been using these ever dry passive dehumidifiers for years and have found them to be wonderful.


    I also had a salt lamp in upstate New York where it would get very humid in the summer. That was the only time I had trouble with water pooling. I just made sure to use a rag soak up any pooling water. Since I kept it by my computer to help negate the effects of the electrical omissions, it was simply a matter of paying attention. If I was going away I just turned it off. I have had mine for about 10 years and finally the electrical parts corroded. I’m planning to use it with a tea light candle now.

  5. Corinne Avatar

    This charcoal bags look great! I will be buying some of them. My kids have allergies and asthma, and our apartment doesn’t have much windows so indoor air quality is key. I have to stop reading this blog, I want to buy everything recommended!

  6. Maria Avatar

    What should I use in a basement that is not light enough for plants, and has a mildew smell.
    Love your site. Have bought many of the products suggested. Just made the shampoo, cant wait to try it!!
    Thank you for all of these ideas!!

  7. tina Avatar

    hi dear
    we are working on a project about air purification and we want to remove air Pollution
    we need your help.
    please tell us what we need to make salt lamps and bamboo charcoal or where can we find them in Iran !
    please answer.
    thank you…

  8. Kacey Avatar

    Do you have a recommendation for a system to plug in (large or small)? We are using moso bags and have a house full of the right plants from the list. But the air is still bothering us. We’re concerned about closed windows going into a freezing winter.

  9. Ana Avatar

    Just wondering what you think about Mountain Rose Herbs beeswax candles. Would you say they are the same quality as the ones you use? Do you use the Amazon ones because they are a better deal? Thank you! =)

  10. adrienne Avatar

    I have a wax “tart” burner and I bought some beeswax bars. Would melting those (using a beeswax tealight) have positive effects? The beeswax candles I’ve bought at farmers markets are so expensive.

  11. Chelsea Avatar

    How long would you recommend having the salt lamps lit a day to help purify? We keep our sleeping space VERY dark, so having it during the night is not an option. Would a few hours in the evening hours during dinner, etc. work? Similar question with the candles: how often do you light them specifically for purifying the air? They are very expensive for a candle, so I plan to mostly keep these around for overflow after the plants and lamps. Thanks for the help! This is such a great resource!

      1. Lina Avatar

        I have heard that the salt lamps need to be on all the time in order to be effective. Can anyone validate this?

          1. Lina Avatar

            But I don’t want any light in my room at night, and if I have to leave them on all the time to work effectively I don’t know what to do!

      2. Laura S Avatar

        Have you heard of any ways of making your own salt lamps? Is it just a matter of heat on the salt?

  12. Julie W. Avatar

    I just wanted to add another way to clean indoor air -I read a NASA study that was done sometime in the 90’s I think- that adding just one 10″ plant cleans a 100 sq foot room of toxins. Different plants use up different toxins so a variety is a good idea. As well as making sure you put the plants in the areas that you spend most of your time i.e. family room, bedroom, etc. Any plant that photosynthesizes will work. Some of the easiest plants to take care of are pothos, spider plant, ferns to name a few. I would recommend visiting your local garden center, preferably one with an dedicated staff and ask them for a plant suggestion. If you are don’t have a green thumb ask for the easiest plant to take care of (have an idea where you want to put it and be able to describe the light conditions (North/South/east/West facing, will it be near a window? shades drawn/open?)

  13. Nancy Avatar

    I have a question about the salt lamps too. I have been reading that a lot of people have problems with them attracting water, thus creating risk for an electrical fire. Do you have any experience with this? I saw some candle holders that look like the same stuff. Would these do the trick with a candle in them? (I have no idea what actually creates the positive effect with the salt lamps).

  14. Nancy Avatar

    Will other charcoal work the same? I mean, if I bought some charcoal somewhere else and put it in a bag? These are just awfully expensive … Do you know what I would have to look for to make my own?

  15. Nancy Avatar

    Will other charcoal work the same? Does the kind you talked about in the article work any differently|?

  16. molly Avatar

    Interested in salt lamps, but concerned about safety. What about dangers of ionization? Supposedly studies show even small ozone output is harmful to lungs. This is why I never got the ionizing air purifiers, and isn’t the salt lamp just an organic version of that? Any thoughts? Or better yet, sources? 🙂 Thanks.

    1. Nan Avatar

      Positive ions (which sound good but are bad) are what electronics like cell phones put out that are harmful. Negative ions (good) are what are put out by air purifiers like the salt lamps. These cancel the positive (bad) ions. Hence, purifying the air. Just had a quick minute, so you will need to look up sources 🙂

  17. Allison Avatar

    I recently purchased a salt lamp (through one of your links! 🙂 and I find that it doesn’t get as warm as I expected. Are the ions still released even if the warmth is relatively low? (It’s the kind of lamp that is a wire basket with smaller pink salt crystals piled in the basket…not the one solid lump of pink salt like you have pictured).

  18. marijoe Avatar

    would you recommend hepa air purifiers? what bran works for you? Thanks!

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