During the long cold months of the year, I find that houses can get stuffy, and nothing drives me crazy like living in a stuffy house. But not only do I like my house to smell fresh and inviting, but I also am concerned about the very real problem with indoor air pollution. Since most of us spend a lot of our day indoors, breathing in clean air should be a priority! So today I thought I would share some of my tips for natural ways to refresh your house, fight indoor air pollution, and make it smell inviting!
What is indoor air pollution
But first, a brief word on what indoor air pollution is. The term refers to any chemical, biological, or physical contamination of the air in or around buildings and structures. In industrialized countries this contamination usually involves pollutants from tobacco smoke, mold, allergens, bacteria, viruses, radon, formaldehyde, asbestos, mercury, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
What causes indoor air pollution
Indoor air can be contaminated in many ways, and the sources may be either natural or manmade. Pollutants such as mold can result from moisture, animal dander, or plant pollen. Allergens, bacteria and gases such as radon are also naturally occurring. However, much of our indoor air pollution is caused by humans. Second-hand smoke is a common source, as is carbon monoxide which can come from tobacco smoke, space heaters that use fossil fuels, furnaces, and auto exhaust. VOCs come from a wide range of manmade sources, including paints and paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, glues, permanent markers, and office equipment such as copiers and printers.
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While some issues (such as serious black mold issues) absolutely must be dealt with by a professional, and others are best directly dealt with by life-style choices (giving up smoking and using natural cleaning products), the everyday variety of our indoor pollution can be fought effectively at home with some pretty simple solutions. Here are seven ways to fight indoor air pollution, refresh your house, and help it smell great!
Fight indoor air pollution by airing out the house
I know, I know, I know, it costs to reheat your house. But I think it’s worth it for a couple reasons. One, it really does refresh your house best and most quickly (unless, of course, you live in a really polluted area). Second, some studies have suggested that our “indoor” pollution beats outside pollution hands down. One of the issues is our airtight windows that allows very little air flow. Airing out your house here and there can really help with that.
Fight indoor air pollution by switching to natural enzyme-based air freshers
One source of indoor air pollution is air freshers. Not only do they add pollution to your indoor air, but I find them ineffective. There is an easy solution to this problem however, simply switch to a natural enzyme-based air fresher!
I know this bottle has a picture of a dog on it, but I promise it’s not just for pets! This natural enzyme spray not only does amazing things with food stains on your clothes (or pet/child accidents on your floor) but it also refreshes your furniture too! The enzymes in it effectively eliminate odors at their root cause, and eat away at stains. I used it to clean up a used armchair that we bought and was really happy with the results. I also will give my bed a quick spray down with it when I am putting on new sheets. I find that it really helps refresh furniture by removing the odd little stain or the funny smells old furniture can start getting.
Enzyme treat air odor
Along the same line, this air freshener doesn’t mask smells, but rather tries to eliminate the source of it through enzyme. I highly recommend it!
Photo Credit: Amazon.com
Fight indoor air pollution and odor with activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is amazing. I wrote about our experience using activated charcoal to prevent and treat the stomach flu here. It works because it is an highly absorbable material. Another great use for it is odor fighting with these bags of activated charcoal. Put one in each room and it will start absorbing off house odors for a fresher house. You can also buy small versions for your refrigerator or closets, etc. I am really excited to try these as they have gotten great reviews (and I never found the old baking soda box in the refrigerator effective).
But it does so much more than just keep odors at bay! From their Amazon description:
“Moso air purifying bags, made of linen and filled with bamboo charcoal, absorb unpleasant odors and dehumidify the air. The porous structure of the high density bamboo charcoal helps remove bacteria, harmful pollutants and allergens from the air and absorbs moisture, preventing mold and mildew by trapping the impurities inside each pore. The Moso air purifying bag has been scientifically proven to reduce the amount of formaldehyde, ammonia, benzene, and chloroform gases emitted from everyday items such as paint, carpeting, furniture, air fresheners, chemical cleaners, rubber, and plastics. Toxin free, the bags are safe to use around pets and children. The bamboo charcoal rejuvenates when the bags are placed in sunlight once a month. You can reuse the bags for two years.”
If that’s not amazing, I don’t know what is!
Fight indoor air pollution by switching to beeswax candles
I love, LOVE, beeswax candles. They give off a light honey-ish scent that is delightful. I switched to them after I found out that regular candles are a big source of unhealthy indoor pollution, and I’ve loved them ever since! I think that candles help give a peaceful, inviting, and romantic atmosphere to a room as well. The interesting thing about them is that they also have a purifying effect on the air in your house! How amazing is that? 100% beeswax candles give off negative ions when burned, which neutralize bad positive ions such as allergens, dust, and air borne toxins. So instead of a negative impact on your air quality, beeswax candles help improve them! To make them also gently scent your room, drop a couple drops of essential oils into the warm wax around the flame. It’s a lovely way to infuse a room with scent. (Suggestions: Peppermint, Cedar, or Orange go well this time of year). I really adore the big dipper beeswax candles, but I have to say this 80 hour candle also caught my eye! I do try to get candles with a lead-free wick as well.
Fight indoor air pollution with salt lamps
Salt lamps are these funky, but beautiful lamps made out of salt pieces (they can have a more rustic look or a modern look,) . These not only fit in well with a natural décor, but, like beeswax candles, produce negative ions, thus improving air quality, fighting indoor pollution, and helping keep your house odor-free. I have a small one myself, but it’s on my wishlist for Christmas to get a larger one.
Fight indoor air pollution with house plants
If NASA used plants to keep air clean in space, we can down here on earth. Plants are amazing air filters. There are numerous studies showing their air purifying benefits (everything from airborne fecal matter, VOCs, to indoor ozone). When talking to a indoor gardening expert, I was told that you basically are looking for plants that grow quickly, as they best purify the air. Possibilities include the following: aloe, spider plant, gerber daisies, snack plant, golden pothos, chrysanthemum, Red-edged dracaena, weeping fig, azalea, English ivy, warneck dracaena, Chinese Evergreen and many more. Just make sure that if you have children or pets that you buy plants that are not toxic to either. A few generally considered safe to children and Pet safe plants include the spider plant, grape ivy, fiddleleaf fig, and ponytail palm.
Naturally Scent your house with Stovetop Potpourri
And finally, this is an amazingly effective way to naturally scent your house! The enzyme air freshers don’t actually scent your house, but this will do a much better job than a toxic chemical air fresher.
One of my mom’s favorite tricks for making a home smell inviting was to put together this warm stovetop potpourri that made cinnamon and citrus waft through the house. It’s the type of thing that makes you think of homemade pies, and baking, and herbal chai teas. Studies have shown that cinnamon’s scent helps us concentrate and stay alert, which is just what I need when keeping track of preparations for a big meal, so it provides benefits to guests and the cook! It’s the perfect thing to have going on a gloomy cold day, or to use when welcoming guests into your house for a holiday meal. And it couldn’t be simpler to make.
1 orange, sliced (or peel of one orange)
1 lemon, sliced (or peel of one lemon)
2-3 cinnamon sticks
About 4 cups of water
Put all of the ingredients in a medium pot, and bring to a simmer. Turn to very low, and keep warm (just make sure you check on the water level here and there).
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You left one of the most efficient (and beautiful!) ways to purify indoor air: PLANTS!
Not only do houseplants remove toxins from the air, but they convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and raise the humidity level through transpiration, which is a HUGE bonus for those of us in colder areas when the furnace is blowing dry air around the clock.
As if these benefits weren’t enough, studies have shown (and I can attest!) that tending to (or even just gazing at) indoor plants is a way to stay connected to nature when it’s too cold for outdoor gardening. People who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder, aka the winter blues) report feeling calmer and happier when surrounded by indoor plants. And then there are the studies showing improved thinking skills, memory and increased job performance…
For some super interesting reading on the subject of houseplants and indoor air purification, I recommend a couple of books:
How to Grow Fresh Air by B.C. Wolverton:
Indoor Gardening the Organic Way: How to Create a Natural and Sustaining Environment for Your Houseplants by Julie Bawden Davis:
Thanks Erin! I did actually think about plants….but truthfully, just ran out of time to research it more! I hadn’t heard of the benefits to those suffering from SAD! Good to know. 🙂
Just updated this post to include house plants! I felt you were right – they were too important to leave out!
Great and useful post as usual! Years ago I found small bags of zeolite that is known for naturally pulling odors from the air. I would put one in each car, under the seat, and various places throughout our home. The store where I originally found these has since closed and I have not been able to locate the zeolite bags since. One feature of the zeolite that I really love is that you simply set the bags out in the sun and it recharges them and their ready for use again. I wonder if this is also true for the charcoal bags? I am sharing this in hopes that perhaps you or one of your readers has a source for the zeolite as it worked so well???
How interesting, Karen! Thanks for sharing. The charcoal bags do work the same way, I believe (you recharge them in the sun). Did you find that it made a noticeable difference when using the zeolite?
Yes it was very effective …we’ll keep you posted if I find them again…
Home Depot has them. Right now they sell them as “Natural Magic 32 oz. Odor Elimination for Homes”. I just bought some too.
No Carbon is only Recharged under Very High Temperatures, Always best to buy fresh, But Zeolite is Totally Renewed just by being in the Sun for 6+ Hours.
My sister used pine shavings in her car–it had a broken window seal that leaked. After fixing the seal, the car still had a strong smell of mildew and wetness. She placed an open box of shavings on the floor of the car, and within days the smell and excess moisture were gone. I’m going to try placing pine shaving “bean” bags around my house to see if I can lower the humidity and freshen the air.
All good suggestions, Kimi! I’ve got my beeswax melting now so I can make some candles.
I love the smell of pine! What a great idea.
When I had chickens I used pine shavings in their coop, adding a fresh layer each day. It smelled so good, even with several chickens pooping in there. I never would have thought of using it in the house.
Yes I think the activated charcoal requires the same refresh with heat or just sunlight that the zeolite does: in warm weather sunshine under glass or in a dedicated oven or toaster oven that I think is best outside. You don’t want the toxins released inside the house.
Hello extension cord.
My husband likes the spiced tea from Good Earth. I keep a small crockpot going that I put his used tea bags, orange peels, squeezed lemons and lime, ginger that has gone woody, apple cores, pretty much anything aromatic that is hanging around in the kitchen.
I like the crockpot because I can plug it in and not worry about it like I would something simmering on the stove.
Thanks for those additions, Karen!
Awesome! We will try this with the crockpot!
Great Idea…I was always concerned re: a simmer pot on the stove…Thanks
About to slice up my oranges and get out some cinnamon sticks for stovetop potpourri!
Thank you for the charcoal bag tip! I just put some in my shopping cart and plan to give some to my mom for Christmas too. She’s very sensitive to “off” smells.
These are some great tips. I had no idea that regular candles are a big source of indoor air pollution. I’m definitely going to consider the beeswax candles from this point forward.
Also love the stovetop potpourri idea. Simple, inexpensive, and effective!
Thanks, Tim! I love beeswax candles for so many reasons. 🙂
My house gets so stuffy in the winter. I may just have to try some of these great tips. Thanks so much!
Your welcome, Steph!
You may also diffuse Young Living essential oils to purify the air. Purification is a great oil blend that quickly removes odors, but there are many others as well.
I love that oil blend!
I brew up chai concentrate, double duty, a nice warm drink and nice smells.
We had a skunk tear into the heat ducts running under the house and take up residence. We knew we had a problem because the house was cold, so we thought the heater was not working right. We finally located the source of our problem when Mr Skunk, for whatever reason, let loose in the ducting and our whole house got saturated in Eau de Skunk! The walls, drapes, carpet, furniture, EVERYTHING sucked up that stink and wouldn’t let it go. We couldn’t afford any of the solutions offered to rid our home of stink so we had to get creative. We ended up placing shallow pans of vinegar next to every register and also poured 2 cups or so of activated charcoal down each as well. So…I can recommend activated charcoal! It did the trick!
Great post Kimi, I will have to find some charcoal bags, that sounds great. I’ve made stove-top potpourri before using cedar or fir branches, with citrus or cinnamon. I often sneak little branches off the Christmas tree around this time of year, and throw it in a pot with a lemon I squeezed for dinner. Fresh and cheap!
Oooooh….I am adding a piece from our Christmas tree next time! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
I have a “Little Dipper” mini crock pot that I use in my work office. I add water and potpourri or even just a tea bag. Makes my office and the hallway leading to it smell heavenly!
I have a question about the salt lamps and bees wax candles. I was wondering if the salt tea lights work as well as the lamps and if so, could I double the effect with beeswax tea lights?
Great suggestions! I love the citrus, cinnamon and water idea – so simple and so effective!
Thanks for this post! I can’t wait to try out the activated charcoal!
Question about beeswax candles – is there a cost effective way to attain them? Even with amazon pricing they are waaaaay out of my budget and I would really love some…
The best price I’ve found is a local brand. If you go to farmers markets, they are often sold there. 🙂
I generally like all of tour suggestions for removing unwantes smells from tour home. I would also like to recommend trying BFF Care products that are scent free and aid in removing foul pet and home odors. I have used this product for manybocasions in my home from the diaper bin to just overall deoderizing. It was very helpful after my dog has surgery and was not able to go outside to do his business. Just sprayed throught my house and area of my dogs mess and smell was gone.
My favorite stove top potpourri is:
1 lemon sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tsp vanilla
And enough water to cover.
It is divine!
Vary nice tips thanks! They would definitely be useful for my home, which smells very weird since we have a dog 😀 I didn’t know activated charcoal can act as an air cleanser, but this is definitely good news! I try to refresh my home by using citrus-based natural cleaning solutions I create myself, but unfortunately the effects are not very long lasting. I will try the charcoal bags and I hope it will help me deal with the problem. Thanks for the tips, keep writing such great posts!
I know this article is old, but I just wanted to give a word of caution about negative ion generators. Some negative ion generators actually produce ozone, so you have to be careful with what you’re getting. I haven’t looked into whether beeswax candles or some of the other items you mention do that as well, but It’s something to look out for, especially if you have an asthma or allergy sufferer in your house.
Thank you for the charcoal bag tip! I just put some in my shopping cart. I gonna try it tonight.
In non poluted areas, with the AC running open a window for an hour or to to get new fresh air in your home.