How to Improve Air Quality in Your Home
Better air quality comes down to filtering the air, introducing fresh air, and managing humidity.
You may not have thought much about the air quality inside your home before 2020, but the pandemic (plus the wildfires the West Coast experienced in 2020) has brought to light the importance of keeping all areas of your home—including the air—as clean and safe as possible.
The truth is, air quality can have a much bigger impact on your health than you might think. Pre-pandemic, people spent about 90 percent of their time indoors, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. And the quality of the air we breathe that 90 percent of the time (or more) is crucial to our overall well-being, says Steven Haywood, MD, a former respiratory therapist turned board-certified emergency medicine physician with Summa Health in Akron, Ohio.
Minor impacts of unhealthy indoor air quality include headaches; irritation of your ears, nose, and throat; and dizziness, among others—but more serious effects can include cancer and respiratory diseases. "While we're learned a lot over the past year, one big lesson is the importance of indoor air quality," Dr. Haywood says.
Using a quality air purifier is one way to improve air quality in your home. You should keep a three-pronged approach in mind, though: Filter the air, introduce fresh air, and manage humidity, experts say. Here are 12 ideas for improving indoor air quality, whether you or someone in your home has allergies or environmental conditions outdoors are causing poor air quality inside.
Remove air pollutants
The first step is to remove anything from your home that is causing your indoor air quality to degrade, says Peter Mann, founder and CEO of Oransi, a North Carolina–based air purification company. This may or may not be easy. For example, if you have cleaning supplies, paint, or other chemicals in the house, simply move them to the garage and out of your main living area.
It gets more challenging when the source of air pollution is your pet, however. A family member who’s ill can be another source of air pollution that’s not possible to remove, Mann adds.
Bring in fresh air
Improving the air quality in your home can be as simple and quick as opening windows for ventilation, Mann says. However, that’s not always practical, depending on the weather, humidity, pollution, pollen levels, and other local factors outside.
Update your thermostat
Look for one with a circulate mode, says HVAC professional Joseph Wood, founder of Boston Standard, a heating, air conditioning, and plumbing company. Some of these thermostats will run your indoor fan for 20 minutes of every hour, while others may allow the fan to run continuously at a reduced speed for constant air flow.
Run bathroom exhaust fans all the time
This may sound extreme (and maybe a little annoying, as the sound can be grating), but it can help improve indoor air quality. “This feature will constantly draw air out of the home, thereby drawing fresh air in to replace it,” Wood says.
Maintain your dehumidifier
Take care to keep your dehumidifier clean and running throughout the humid season in your area, Wood says. For example, in the Northeast, April through October would make sense; it would be sensible for Floridians to run dehumidifiers all year long.
Add humidity in winter
Whether it’s delivered via a portable or professionally installed system, humidity is the key to maintaining a healthy air environment (especially during winter months, when air is typically dry). Humidifiers are recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers, Wood says, to do the job.
Buy a quality air filter
It makes sense that the higher quality the air filter, the more particles it will capture—but the catch is that smaller particles will make the filter clog faster, requiring more frequent replacement, Wood says. He recommends changing your air filter every 30 days or so (or if you have a larger capacity filter, every six months). Keep replacement filters on hand so you have them when you need them.
Limit scented items
We hate to break it to you, but those scented candles, air fresheners, diffusers, etc. that you love can actually be contributing to poor air quality inside your home, Mann says. Some contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—such as formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene—that can be hazardous to your health, causing headaches and irritation to your eyes, nose, and throat. Many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products contain VOCs, too.
Indoor plants aren’t only a great way to add life and visual interest to any space—they may also help to increase oxygen inside your home and purify the air. They do this by helping to filter the pollutants that originate from inside your home, including those from woods, cleaning products, furniture, trash, carpets, natural gas, and more, says Dakota Hendrickson, co-founder of Filti, a filtration technology company based in Kansas City, Mo.
Examine your air ducts
Keeping air ducts clean is important for air quality inside your home. Some common signs that your air ducts need cleaning include visible dust build-up on the ducts or furniture, as well as an increase in allergy flare-ups, Hendrickson says.
Check cooking vents
Whether you have a hood or a microwave with a carbon filter above your range in the kitchen, ensure the vents are working and that you clean them (and the filters) regularly, Hendrickson says. This is especially important if you have a gas range, as carbon monoxide can be emitted into the air when burners are on.
Clean your floor coverings
Carpet and rugs add coziness to a home, but they’re also a top source for collecting pet dander, dirt, pollen, and more—particles that can be kicked up with every step. Make sure you clean them regularly to help minimize build-up, Hendrickson says. You may also want to consider implementing a no-shoes household to further prevent build-up.