I just moved to a new apartment. If I close the windows, the air gets heavy and stale very quickly and I get a headache.

The place has laminate flooring (which looks pretty realistic, I thought it was hardwood for a few days) and popcorn ceilings. Not sure if this is a problem, just thought I'd mention it.

The flooring looks new, but I know it hadn't been installed just before I moved in. I've lived here for about five weeks, and the air quality isn't improving, so it's not something that's going to outgas quickly.

I read that certain plants can improve air quality, e.g. by absorbing formaldehyde. Of course, I don't know if I need to worry about formaldehyde specifically. There is no "chemical" smell (and I have a fairly sharp sense of smell), it just feels heavy and maybe a little dusty.

How realistic is it to expect to solve this with houseplants (which I want to get, anyway)? I just read things like "plant X is very efficient at absorbing chemical Y", but there was no quantitative information, and I wouldn't be able to use it, anyway, since I don't know what the pollutants are and their concentrations. Would I need a small forest to make a noticeable difference? Has anyone here tried this approach? Would an air filter be a better thing to try first? Any recommendations?

The apartment is approximately 670 square feet.

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    gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/1283/… The TED talk linked to is pretty good and does have quantitative measurements, IIRC. – Ecnerwal Jul 20 '14 at 11:59
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    You might consider an activated carbon filter first. But I do wonder if any gas appliances were on during the time that the windows were closed as those symptoms can be caused by carbon monoxide resulting from improper venting of combustion products. I can't say if this possibility is likely but it must be considered due to the grave danger it brings. – Dan D. Jul 21 '14 at 4:33
  • Thanks! There is a CO sensor in this apartment, which doesn't guarantee that there is not a low concentration of CO that isn't dangerous but could be causing a headache etc. However, CO itself does not have a smell, and the air smells very heavy and stale. – biggvsdiccvs Jul 21 '14 at 9:40

I would do both plants and an air filter. You can purchase a reasonable sized air filter for $89 on Amazon (Honeywell 17000-S QuietCare True HEPA Air Purifier, 200 sq ft) that does a pretty good job of helping clear up the air. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000050AQ5/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 I use this one because it's large enough to make a noticeable difference, but small enough to not be obtrusive, which you would probably want in an apartment of this size. I have one in my den, another in my LR, and a third larger one in my BR, but I have a dust allergy (you may want to get tested for allergies...Dust, mold & pollen allergies can cause headaches). It's relatively quiet as air filters go. I've tried smaller and larger models, which were respectively ineffective and too loud and too visibly large. I've also tried a model with an ionizer and permanent filter, which had a horrible smell, and ionizers are irritating to the lungs.

I also have about a dozen smaller plants, and they refresh the air in the immediate vicinity, but they would not be enough by themselves. To help the plants and increase the freshness, I also bought a water based air purifier humidifier by New Comfort ($45 on Amazon), which I place near the plants in the dry months, and this also helps me breathe better.

Finally, there is the issue of what is causing this air? It could be the laminated floor still offgasing formaldehyde (the issue is complicated - see http://inspectapedia.com/indoor_air_quality/Formaldehyde_in_Laminate_Flooring.php). If you bought any new furniture, it could be from that if it contains MDF, which most does. Sealing the MDF may help. It is difficult and expensive to accurately determine your air quality and what may be causing the problem.

It could be dust - in the fall, when the heat is first turned on, the air becomes particularly dusty and s/w smelly if you're sensitive to that, but then it levels out. I'm in a private home, so it's easy to check the furnace air filter, but if it continues you may want to do that or ask the sup to check it - a dirty filter and/or ducts can cause what you describe, too. Frequent vacuuming (with a HEPA filter) may help, as may installing dust filters over your heat vents.

To prioritize, I would start with an air purifier such as the Honeywell 17000-S, and see if this helps, then proceed with other remedies. Good luck!


There are many options to improve air quality in your apartment. I did some research when I moved into my place last year, and learned that there are many indoor air quality issues that people don't realize may be harmful, like toxins from house cleaners or chemicals that expel from building materials, air conditioners, even electronics.

A window fan that exhausts the air from inside to the outside is the least expensive way to do this if your windows don't allow any cross-ventilation when opened. A ceiling fan also assists in circulating stale air and will help if that is an option. That can also save on heating and cooling costs all year long. I purchased an air filter that cost $300 but it takes up space, and I prefer to use it only when needed. It has been in a closet for at least 2 months now, so it may not be worth the investment.

Plants are certainly beneficial to the air in any room, and one medium floor plant per room of average size, is recommended. It also livens up the room, after all, it is a living thing. Caring for plants is relatively easy, and also known to be cathartic. It serves many purposes, helping add oxygen to the air is just one of many, and is cheaper than most other options that won't add to the character or decor of a room. If you are able to keep the plant alive and healthy, you will have it for many years, proving to be a great investment (better than my $300 purifier that sits in a closet).

My experience with plants may heed as a helpful cautionary note, because when I first brought 3 large plants home for the first time, I did my research after the purchase, and should have thought it through before hand. Here's why: some plants need direct sunlight, or need to avoid too much heat and moisture. I wound up having to rearrange furniture to accommodate the plants, and that was an inconvenient and unfortunate hassle. I also didn't learn until I had gnats appear, that plants can grow mold and it is a lot of work to save it, replant it, and keep the gnats from breeding in the soil. If I had chosen better plants for my particular needs, I may have avoided those problems. In the end, I had to move the plants outside to rid my home of the pesty insects, (they infested the plants that didn't have mold also) and the plants didn't do well due to the temperature change outdoors. I eventually surrendered the plants to my neighbor with a greener thumb than me, but when I buy my next house plants, I will be sure to research how to care for each type of plant, so I can have them for many years, and not have to redecorate every room.

Hope this helps! Best of luck in your new apartment!

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