16 Ways to Eliminate Indoor Air Pollution

baby on a wood floor looking into an air vent

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air we breathe inside our homes and offices can be five times more polluted than the air outside1*, and this may be affecting your health and the health of your family members.

“Indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality in almost every case,” according to William J. Calhoun, MD, professor of medicine and vice chair of the department of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

That’s because enclosed spaces like homes and offices allow pollutants to accumulate and concentrate in the very places where we spend almost 90% of our time.

Improving Air Quality Improves Your Health

The health of the human species directly correlates to the health of our environment. It’s not an accident so many of us are facing chronic illness, autoimmune disease and cancer at the same time that the planet has become so polluted. We are inherently interdependent with all things.

Because children, elders and people with illnesses are particularly sensitive to pollution, getting the toxins out of your air at home is just as important as getting them out of your food and water. It makes sense to improve your indoor air quality as part of any holistic plan to protect your family, manage illness, or improve your health.

If you have cancer, autoimmune disease or any other chronic illness, indoor air pollution can be one more thing you just don’t want taxing your system. And if you have serious air pollutants, like mold, they could in fact be a significant contributor to your illness.

No matter where you live, there are potential sources of air pollution in just about every room of your house. But don’t despair! You can actually remove as much as 40% of your indoor air pollution using what you already have in your home!

Here are sixteen ways to improve the air quality in your home (or office).

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1. Find Out What Pollutants You Have in Your Home

It’s hard to know how best to clean the air in your home if you don’t know what exactly is polluting it! For example, you would approach eliminating mold or dust mites completely differently than you would approach eliminating pollutants from cleaning products or gas-fired appliances.

Your home is also unique. From the layout to structure to appliances, air moves differently in your home than it does in your neighbor’s. Learning the basics of how air moves in your home is also important before figuring out how best to remove pollutants.

Fortunately, an air quality monitor is a relatively easy and affordable way to identify indoor pollutants. Your air monitor device can be moved from room to room in your home or office to determine exactly what type of pollutants can be found there.

The smart app that comes with the monitor tells you what types of air pollution you’re dealing with in each area, and gives you pertinent recommendations, so you can have peace of mind knowing the air in your home is as clean as possible.

You can also test for individual pollutants like mold, lead paint, or VOCs by buying individual test kits for each. Shooting in the dark with multiple, individual test kits can get pricey though, so it’s best to test for individual pollutants when you already have a good idea of what you might be facing, based on your region, neighborhood, house design, etc.

The exception to this would be radon test kits and carbon monoxide monitors (see below), which must be assessed individually.

man and woman in facemasks holding a sign that says "How is the Air Quality in Your Home?"

2. Test for Radon and Carbon Monoxide

These two extremely dangerous indoor pollutants are easy and affordable to test for with home detection monitors you can pick up at any hardware store.

Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that occurs naturally in soil and rock. It can be found in 1 out of every 15 homes, and is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Testing for radon can only be done with a specialized radon testing kit available online and at hardware stores everywhere—and just may save your life.

Carbon monoxide is also odorless and invisible, but it usually comes from a car left idling in the garage, or a faulty gas-powered stove or heater. It can only be detected with a special carbon monoxide detector. If you have a gas or propane stove, or a home heated with gas or oil, a carbon monoxide detector is as important to your home safety as a smoke detector (and costs about the same).

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3. Ventilate Daily

woman opening a window

Bringing in cleaner outdoor air by opening up windows is the easiest way to dilute the contaminated air in your home. However, you’ll want to keep the windows closed on high-pollen-count days or when it’s very humid outside, which can raise the risk of mold.

When preparing a meal, make sure to ventilate the kitchen with an exhaust fan or nearby open window during cooking, and for at least 15 minutes after you are done preparing the meal. This is important whether you have a gas or electric stove, but essential if you cook with gas.

When bathing, ventilate the bathroom with a fan or open window during your bath or shower, and for at least 30 minutes after, to clear out the steam and moisture that can lead to mold and mildew.

4. Vacuum Often and Slowly

Dust is a leading source of air pollution because it absorbs toxic gases, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and radon. It can also contain pollen, animal dander, mold spores and dust mites, which are known allergens.

Vacuuming slowly and methodically captures the most dust, whereas vacuuming quickly just raises the dust, which defeats the purpose.

Vacuum slowly at least twice a week, and step outside to empty the vacuum cleaner bag or canister after every use. Wear a mask or bandana to avoid inhaling any dust as you do so. Bacteria can multiply 100-fold inside a vacuum, according to Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, so you don’t want that in your home.

If you can afford a vacuum with a HEPA filter, this would be a really smart investment. HEPA filter vacuums catch virtually all particles that are 0.3 micrometers in size. With a regular vacuum, those tiny pollution particles can just float right back into your living room.

While there are some expensive fancy HEPA vacuums, you can find good ones for $200 or less.

5. Replace Your HVAC Filters and Clean Ducts

If the filters on your furnace, air conditioner or ductwork are dirty or damaged, they won’t work as they are meant to. Always follow the recommended filter replacement schedule for your heating and air-conditioning systems.

According to the American Lung Association2, generally, filters should be changed every two months; more often during the winter or if your system is older. If you can, choose replacement filters with a MERV value over 13 or with HEPA filtration.

Every 3 to 5 years, you’ll want to have the dust and debris in your HVAC ductwork cleaned out. Regularly replaced, high-quality filters on your furnace or air conditioner will help prevent much of this build-up, but some is inevitable over time, simply because the return vents in each room are not typically filtered, too.

6. Ventilate the Fireplace

Fireplaces and wood or gas stoves can emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and fine soot particulates into the air, both inside and outside your home.

Although they aren’t used frequently, fireplaces are extremely polluting when they are used. In San Francisco between November and February, wood burning contributes a whopping 33% of fine-particle air pollution on cold days. In New England, wood smoke is also a significant cause of air pollution—even worse than exhaust from car engines. And in Fort Collins, CO, winter wood smoke contributes to smog so severe it obscures visibility 1 out of 4 days.

It’s best to not use a fireplace indoors at all, but if you need to burn wood for heat, make sure you do so in a woodstove or masonry stove that meets EPA standards. And if you use a gas fireplace, make sure it has glass doors, and is fully vented to the outdoors.

7. Dry Things Out

High humidity in your home can contribute to the growth of mold, mildew and dust mites in your home—all of which can contribute to asthma and other illnesses. Here’s how you can keep humidity in your home under 50%:

  • Install and run exhaust fans in the bathroom, especially after a shower. (Or open a window, if nothing else.)
  • Fix any roof, foundation, basement or plumbing leaks that might add to the moisture indoors.
  • Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier, as needed, to reduce indoor moisture. Make sure to keep them clean and frequently change any filters.

8. Avoid Fragrances

Joint research from the Environmental Working Group and the University of Washington found that all top-selling laundry products emit at least one substance regulated as toxic or hazardous3. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are the worst offenders.

And most air fresheners, cleaning products, scented candles, hair products, nail polishes, and perfumes also contain VOCs and phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that may affect reproductive development.

If you must use some sort of fragrance in your home, simmer a small pot of water with citrus peels or herbs like cinnamon, sage, rosemary, or mint in it, or diffuse pure, plant-based essential oils into the air.

9. Green Your Cleaners

Most off the shelf cleaning products contain fragrances and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are toxic to breathe or get on your skin. Look for “green” cleaning products, which are safer and less toxic, and now widely available in supermarkets and health food stores.

Or, to save the most money, you can easily use vinegar, borax, baking soda, citric acid, and other natural solutions to wash dishes, do laundry and clean your home without any toxic chemicals or VOCs at all.

There are many recipes for DIY non-toxic cleaners online, but not all of them are effective. Here are a few I like to use at home.

woman in mask looking at bottles of household chemicals

10. Kill Dust Mites

Most people allergic to dust are actually allergic to the microscopic dust mites living in the dust. Dust mites feed on human skin and live in pillows, bedding, mattresses, stuffed toys, carpets and upholstery.

To reduce dust mites:

  • Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels below 50% in your home.
  • Vacuum and steam clean upholstered furniture.
  • Remove carpets.
  • Wash bedding in very hot water and use dust mite covers on your mattress and pillows.

11. Use No-VOC Paints

Paints release trace amounts of toxic gases for up to a year after they have dried. These gases include such VOCs as formaldehyde, toluene and acetaldehyde. If your home has been recently painted, this might be an issue for you, and can be detected with an air monitor.

When painting, be sure to use no-VOC paints, varnishes, waxes and other finishes, and open windows and use exhaust fans while you paint. You can find good brands of no-VOC paint at better hardware stores; look for the words “No VOC” on the label. It costs a little more, but paint can be toxic for so long, it’s worth the extra expense.

Be sure to store all paint outside of your home. Even when they’re resealed, paint cans release significant levels of harmful VOCs. Unopened cans are more airtight but still emit fumes, so store them in a well-ventilated area, such as outdoors in a shed, until ready to use.

12. Beware of Dry Cleaning Chemicals

Dry cleaning solvents can be toxic to breathe. To prevent these toxic chemicals from coming into your home, either find a “green” dry cleaning service, or let dry-cleaned items air outdoors for at least 2 hours before bringing them inside.

13. Beware of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a gas found in many home products, including adhesives, disinfectants, insecticides and particle board. It is a carcinogen and can cause severe respiratory problems and skin irritation. People with asthma may be more sensitive to formaldehyde.

Keep it out of your home by choosing flooring and furniture that are not made with particle board, adhesives or finishes that contain formaldehyde.

14. Bring in the Houseplants

Plants work as natural air purifiers by drawing in airborne chemicals and other harmful compounds through their leaves and depositing them in the soil where they are broken down by micro-organisms. This process effectively removes VOC toxins such as nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and benzene, to name a few.

To improve indoor air quality, experts recommend using one to three houseplants for every 100 square feet of living space, though your results will vary greatly depending on the types of plants you are growing, their size and their health. If your air monitoring indicates you have a serious air quality issue, you will also need to take other measures.

These plants are best known for their air-cleaning capabilities:

  • Philodendrons
  • English ivy
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Spider plant
  • Golden pothos
  • Snake plant
  • Weeping fig
  • Bamboo palm
  • Peace lilies
houseplants and watering can on a table by a sunny window

15. Use Integrated Pest Management

Pesticides are toxic chemicals that can not only pollute your indoor air, but they can also cause additional health risk for children and pets who come into skin contact with them.

Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to keep your home or office free of both pests and toxic chemicals:

  • Block holes and keep food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Cover your trash cans, and clean up crumbs on counters and floors.
  • Use bait traps to catch pests, or use natural, less-toxic pesticides like citrus oil, diatomaceous earth, or boric acid.
  • Only use chemicals as a last resort and get professional help to minimize their usage and risk.

16. Consider an Air Filter

Once you know what types of air pollutants are in your home or office, there are many ways to reduce or eliminate air pollutants in your home that are free or cost very little, and they should be your first line of approach. A high quality air filter is pricey, and therefore should be the last resort—but it can be very helpful when you know you need some extra help.

However, not all air filters and purifiers are created equal, and you definitely get what you pay for. Even the most expensive air filters and purifiers don’t remove all pollutants, and some brands are better at removing one particular type of air pollution more than another. For example, HEPA filters are excellent at removing particulates like dust and soot, but can’t remove gases like formaldehyde or nitrogen dioxide.

If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars (or more!) on a good air purifier, you should make sure it will actually help you eliminate the specific pollutants affecting your home. This is why it is so important to know what pollutants are actually in your home (See Number 1.), so you can choose the right strategies—and even the right type of air filter—to solve the problem you have.

Your home should be a haven—a safe place to be—which is why it is so important to make sure the very air you breathe while in your home is sustaining you in health, not harming you. Taking these easy steps will help you make sure you can breathe easy.


  1. Environmental Protection Agency. “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.” EPA.gov. www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality
  2. American Lung Association. “Protect Yourself from Indoor Air Pollution – Air Cleaning.” www.lung.org/clean-air/indoor-air/protecting-from-air-pollution/air-cleaning
  3. University of Washington. “Toxic Chemicals Found In Common Scented Laundry Products, Air Fresheners.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 July 2008. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723134438.htm.




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