How to Improve Air Quality in Your Home to Help You Breathe Better

Better air quality comes down to filtering the air, introducing fresh air, and managing humidity.

You may not think much about the air quality inside your home if you are primarily asymptomatic. But the truth is air quality can have a much more significant impact on your health than you realize. Some symptoms of unhealthy indoor air quality include headaches, irritation of your ears, nose, and throat, and dizziness, among others—but more severe effects can include cancer and respiratory diseases.

A quality air purifier is one way to improve air quality in your home. Alternatively, you can get a cooling fan that also functions as an air-purifier. However, you should keep a three-pronged approach in mind: 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.

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Remove obvious air pollutants.

In general, people spend 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.

The first step to better air quality 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.

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Bring in fresh air.

It's challenging to completely remove sources of air pollution when the source is your pet, for example. A family member who’s ill can be another source of air pollution that’s difficult to remove, Mann adds.

However, Mann says that improving the air quality in your home can be as simple and quick as opening ventilation windows. Sometimes, that’s not always practical, depending on the weather, humidity, pollution, pollen levels, and other local factors outside.

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Update your thermostat.

A thermostat that can push air around your home when you're not using the heat or AC is ideal. Look for one with a circulating mode, says HVAC professional Joseph Wood, founder of Boston Standard, a heating, air conditioning, and plumbing company.

Some circulating thermostats will run your indoor fan for 20 minutes every hour, while others may allow the fan to run continuously at a reduced speed for constant airflow. If you have a smart thermostat, you may also be able to turn on the fan manually from your phone when you need some extra circulation.

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Run bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans.

Running a bathroom or kitchen exhaust fan may sound extreme (and maybe a little annoying, as the sound can be grating), but this step can help improve indoor air quality by removing stale, humid air from the home.

“This feature will constantly draw air out of the home, thereby drawing fresh air in to replace it,” Wood says. If you don't want to run the exhaust fan constantly, focus on running it for an extra 20 minutes after a shower or when your home is in need of a refresh.

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Maintain your dehumidifier.

Moist air can be great for indoor air quality, but too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect. Ideally, you want to maintain an indoor relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent.

Take care of your dehumidifier, and keep it 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 to remove sticky air.

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Add humidity in winter.

Keeping your home at an ideal humidity level will help you maintain a healthy air environment. In the summer, you will likely need a dehumidifier to help. However, a humidifier is beneficial during winter when the air is typically dry. So whether moist air is delivered via a portable or professionally installed system, humidifiers are recommended to help improve overall air quality, Wood says.

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Buy a quality air filter.

It makes sense that higher-quality air filters will capture more particles. However, the catch is that smaller particles will cause the filter to 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.

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Limit scented items.

We hate to break it to you, but Mann says that those scented candles, air fresheners, diffusers, etc., that you love can contribute to the poor air quality inside your home. Some scented products contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—such as formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene—that can be hazardous to your health.

Excess exposure to harmful VOCs can cause headaches and irritation to your eyes, nose, and throat. Many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products contain VOCs, too. Avoid these products whenever possible, and when you can't, ensure you thoroughly ventilate your home.

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Get houseplants.

Air-filtering 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.

Some plants are able to filter out harmful chemicals and VOCs from wood, 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.

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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.

Because this job requires some complex cleaning equipment, it's best to leave this job to a professional. In the meantime, be sure to clean and dust all your registers and grilles.

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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.

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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. Self-cleaning robot vacuums are great for those looking for a low-maintenance option. You may also want to consider implementing a no-shoes household to further prevent build-up. For those with allergies, it's also a good Idea to switch to materials like alternative down, in such things as comforters and cooling pillows, to cut down on potential allergens.

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