Stale, stuffy air feels really uncomfortable. Here’s how to make your house feel better long term.
Ever feel like the air in your house is just… flat? Stale air is a common problem, especially in the summer, which is why many homeowners think they need to just get used to having a stuffy house.
But you definitely shouldn’t ignore stale air. If your house feels stuffy, that means air isn’t circulating properly, which isn’t a problem you should live with—especially since it can significantly affect the health of everyone who lives in the house (as well as the health of your house’s structure).
The good news is that you can get rid of stale air permanently if you follow the steps in this guide. Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll cover in this article:
- Why is your room stuffy? 4 reasons your inside air feels stale
- Why you need to fix your stuffy house problem
- How to clear stale air in your house—short-term fixes
- How to get rid of stale air in a house permanently
- What is stale air?
- How do you clear stale air?
- Is stale air bad for you?
Ready to fix your stuffy house problem for good? Let’s get started.
Get home comfort tips and tricks that make your house feel better year round.
Why is my room stuffy?
The big picture is simple: The inside of your house feels stuffy and stale because air isn’t circulating properly. Stuffy, stale air can get trapped in your home due to airflow and ventilation issues, like insufficient insulation or a worn-out HVAC system.
And when air doesn’t flow correctly, pollutants and moisture can build up, causing the air you breathe to smell musty and feel stale and uncomfortable.
Stale, uncirculated air can cause—or contribute to—a wide variety of health problems, such as fatigue, coughing, respiratory irritation, and headaches.North Jersey News
While the cause of stuffy-house syndrome is clear, figuring out exactly what’s hindering circulation can be a little trickier.
Here are a few of the most common reasons you have a stuffy house:
- Your HVAC isn’t working properly.
- Your house is letting outside hot air in.
- The airways in your house need maintenance
- Your house has a mold or mildew problem.
Let’s dive into each one of these reasons below.
1. Your HVAC isn’t working properly.
Put simply: The most likely culprit behind a stuffy house is your HVAC system. A functioning heating and cooling system will keep air flowing constantly throughout your home, pushing out old air and bringing in new, fresh air.
If air seems really uncomfortable and “stuck” in your house—that is, there just never seems to be good, consistent airflow—there’s a good chance that your HVAC isn’t doing its job properly, and you may be due for a replacement (or at least a maintenance session).
There’s another scenario to consider, though, especially if your house is mainly stuffy in summertime.
2. Your house is letting hot air in.
Any effective climate control system has two parts: An HVAC system that controls the temperature and circulation of air inside your home, and a “thermal boundary” to keep inside air in and outside air out.
If your house doesn’t have an effective thermal boundary—that is, it’s not properly insulated and air-sealed—there’s not much to stop muggy and oppressively warm air from the outside from getting inside your home.
And if your house can’t keep warm, muggy air outside, even the best HVAC system will struggle to keep your house feeling comfy.
A telltale sign of this problem happens during the summer, when stuffy, hot air can collect in the upper floors of your house for months at a time. (If this is happening to you, we’re sorry. It’s truly no fun.)
By the way, this problem is often a one-two punch—many houses with inadequate insulation also have insufficient HVAC systems (especially if the house is older).
But even if you’ve updated your HVAC system, you might be overworking it and decreasing its efficiency if your house doesn’t have the proper insulation or air sealing upgrades done. That’s why the experts at Sealed often recommend new insulation and air-sealing alongside HVAC upgrades.
Even if you’ve updated your HVAC system, you might be overworking it and decreasing its efficiency if your house doesn’t have the proper insulation or air sealing upgrades.
3. The airways in your house need maintenance.
Sometimes a stuffy, stale air problem can be traced back to something even simpler: Blocked air vents, air leaks in ductwork, and dirt in your ductwork.
If you’ve got ductwork in your home that hasn’t been inspected or cleaned in a while, it’s worth having a professional take a look to ensure that all the ducts are clear and ready to go.
You can even check for some ductwork issues yourself.
For example, it never hurts to do a quick sweep to make sure fabrics and upholstery aren’t covering any of the HVAC vents. You can also turn on your HVAC’s circulation system and hold your hand in front of all the vents—if there’s no air coming out, that’s a bad sign.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can even use a flashlight to look down your air ducts to see if there are any obvious openings or funny-looking seams.
Of course, if you want to save time—and stay away from dust bunnies (no judgment, but they don’t make the best pets)—the best way to check for duct issues is to call a pro. We know what to look for and can save you a lot of time. (Talk to a Sealed home expert.)
4. Your house has a mold or mildew problem.
It’s less common, but sometimes a stale air smell can be caused by a mold or a mildew problem in your house.
Moisture buildup issues are especially prevalent in older houses or houses that have had long-term air circulation issues. (In other words, the longer a house has insufficient airflow, the more likely it is to develop a mold or mildew problem.)
There’s no one way to tell if you have a serious mold problem, but if your house smells musty or has a history of water damage (or if you start to see any kind of visible growth on the walls or ceilings of your house, of course) it’s time to call in an expert.
Here’s why you need to fix your stuffy house problem
Stale air is a health risk
Getting rid of stuffy, stale air isn’t just about comfort. If air isn’t circulating properly in your home, allergens, moisture, and pollutants build up in the air you breathe, which can cause or exacerbate a wide variety of health issues (think recurring headaches, ongoing fatigue, and skin problems).
That’s bad enough, but if you have an underlying health condition the stale air problem gets worse. For people with respiratory issues or severe allergies, for example, living in an environment with stale air and bad airflow can be downright dangerous.
And poor indoor air quality might even play a role in the development of asthma in young children. (1)
(By the way, here’s how to know if your home air quality is up to standards.)
Stale, stuffy air is a quality of life risk
Health issues are very important, but they’re not the whole story. A stuffy house just isn’t comfortable—for you or your guests. It’s hard to feel relaxed in a room full of warm, stale air, and it’s difficult to feel excited about inviting someone else into a space that’s stuffy and muggy.
Ultimately, your house can—and should—feel wonderful. In fact, a comfortable home can have a positive impact on your emotional and mental health. If poor airflow is hindering your enjoyment and use of your home, why not fix it?
Let’s look at how to do that.
How to get rid of stale air in a house—short-term fixes
There are a few things you can do to help reduce stale air or a stuffy house in the short term:
- Open the windows.
- Get your ceiling fans going.
- Invest in air filtration and dehumidifiers.
- Get your HVAC serviced (and your ducts cleaned)
Open the windows
A simple way to get air flowing is to open a window (or two, or four). Obviously, the success of this fix can depend largely on the outside weather and the quality of the air outside your home, but keep in mind that if you don’t want to open a window all the way, you can always crack it just a little. And for the best ventilation results, crack as many windows as possible (2).
Get the fans going
You need to get the air moving by any means possible, so switch on your ceiling and bathroom fans and keep them on. Then, consider your other fan options (as well as how long you want to depend on short-term fixes!).
If you’re not quite ready for a permanent solution, consider placing free-standing fans at strategic points throughout the room. You want fans blowing through the room (not at walls), and the closer you can place them to open windows, the better (3).
Invest in air filtration and dehumidifiers
Air filtration units and dehumidifiers have come a long way in recent years, and if you need to quickly fix a room that has unhealthy, muggy air, getting a few stand-alone air treatment units might be a good idea, like Blueair purifiers.
Keep in mind that these units can be expensive, noisy, and unsightly—and they take up space in every room you need to treat—so if you’re considering a more permanent solution to your stale air problem, you may want to hold off on purchasing floor units. (A heat pump HVAC system will automatically dehumidify and purify your entire home—while it heats and cools. It’s an all-in-one HVAC appliance. Pretty nifty!)
Get your HVAC serviced (and your ducts cleaned)
Finally, if it’s been a while since you’ve had your current heating and cooling system serviced, it’s worth calling a qualified HVAC technician to make sure everything is working to its full potential. A quick tune-up might improve the circulation in your stuffy house (there’s no guarantee here, but keeping your HVAC maintained is a good idea, in any case). Find out how long does HVAC last.
Important caveat: It’s tempting to avoid bigger home maintenance expenses by leaning on short-term fixes like the ones mentioned above. But while these solutions might provide some temporary relief, none of them work nearly as well (or are as cost-effective in the long-term) as addressing the root of your house’s circulation problem.
So how do you fix the real issues? That’s what we’re getting to next.
How to get rid of stale air in your house permanently
Fixing your stuffy house once and for all is going to take a plan and some expertise—and maybe a home improvement project or two—but the end result will be more than worth it.
You’ll make your home feel better and it will help you cut energy waste in your house, too. (Plus, if your house qualifies, it’s easy to get a free customized plan for your home from a Sealed home expert.)
Here’s how to fix your stuffy house—once and for all.
Upgrade your HVAC system
You already know that your HVAC likely bears at least some of the blame for the stale air issues in your house. (Need more info? Check out When to replace your air conditioner and our Home heating guide.)
That said, if you’re like most homeowners, recognizing the problem feels like the easiest part of the process. After all, deciding on a new HVAC system can be intimidating. How do you make sure you purchase the right system for your home—a system that will solve circulation issues and reliably keep your house comfortable?
This used to be a difficult question, but it isn’t any more. The reviews and science are in, and it’s clear that there’s one HVAC system that tops everything for great air circulation and efficient heating and cooling: the heat pump.
We’ve written at length about heat pumps before, but here’s a quick overview: Heat pumps are—bar none—the best and most efficient home HVAC technology on the market today.
Heat pumps are an all-in-one technology—they heat and cool your home. They also dehumidify and purify your home. They’re whisper-quiet and don’t smell. They work for houses in cold climates as well as older homes. And they use up to 2/3 less energy than other HVAC systems on the market.
All in all, heat pumps are so good, we call them the Tesla of HVAC (it’s a joke, but not really).
More to the point: Unlike on-again-off-again HVAC systems, heat pumps provide a constant flow of fresh, purified air throughout your home—365 days per year—which will make stale air a thing of the past in your previously stuffy house.
The biggest downside to heat pumps, frankly, is the initial cost; installing a heat pump costs roughly the same as installing a heater and an air conditioner. (Learn more about heat pump costs at The Ultimate Guide to Heat Pumps.)
But don’t panic about the investment. If your house qualifies, you can get a heat pump for no upfront cost through Sealed.
(Essentially, heat pumps help you significantly cut your energy waste, and Sealed can provide you with a project that is affordable to you at a fair and reasonable price. We’ll cover the upfront costs, negotiate the best pricing with the best installers, and integrate all available incentives.)
While we’re talking home improvement projects, there’s also one other thing you should strongly consider.
Get your house professionally air-sealed and insulated
Besides keeping the rain and snow off of your dinner table, your house has another major job: Keep outside air out. And if it’s not doing that job correctly, you won’t get the most out of your HVAC investment—especially during the summer, when the air is hot and muggy.
That’s why making sure your home’s thermal boundary is up-to-date will be key to making sure your stuffy house problems are gone permanently.
There are basically two steps to making sure hot, stale air stays outside:
The first step is to close up all the tiny holes and gaps in your house. You probably don’t think much about the holes in your house, but if your house is like most in the U.S., it’s got a bunch—especially in the attic and around the foundation. This process of closing these gaps is called air sealing, and it’s a game-changer for ensuring your house’s thermal boundary does its job.
The second step is to make sure your house is well-insulated. That might seem like a no-brainer (“Of course my house is insulated!” you’re thinking), but the truth is that lots of houses:
- Are under-insulated
- Have insulation that’s aged-out of its effectiveness and broken down over time
- Or have insulation that isn’t the correct type for local temperatures
If you have a large, old house, you might be shocked at how many corners and tiny attics aren’t insulated at all.
And even if you have a house that was built recently, you could have builder-grade insulation and hidden attics or crawl spaces that weren’t insulated at all at the time of construction.
Basically: If you haven’t had an expert analyze your insulation situation, now is the time—and especially if you’ve got a stuffy house or stale air problems.
Speaking of experts, if you’re thinking that neither of the above projects sound like a good weekend project, you’re right. Sealing and insulating a house correctly takes time and expertise—not to mention specialized installation skills.
The best way to get your house professionally air-sealed and insulated is to get someone who knows what they’re doing. (Sealed can take care of that for you. We know the right people to get the job done in your area, and we’ll plan and manage the entire project from start to finish.)
Frequently asked questions about fixing stuffy air problems
What is stale air?
Stale air is indoor air that isn’t circulating properly—and, therefore, isn’t mixing properly with fresh air. Stale, stuffy air can make you feel uncomfortable or too warm, and it often smells musty or strange. It’s definitely a problem that needs to be fixed.
How do you clear stale air?
The best solution to clear stale air permanently is to install an HVAC with a good circulation system (such as a heat pump) and make sure your house is properly insulated and air-sealed.
If you need to clear stale air quickly, some good short-term fixes include:
- Opening (or at least cracking) as many windows as possible
- Using ceiling and standalone fans to circulate the air
- Purchasing an air filter and dehumidifier
Is stale air bad for you?
Yes, it can be. Stale, uncirculated air can cause—or contribute to—a wide variety of health problems, such as fatigue, coughing, respiratory irritation, and headaches (4). Stale, musty air can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as asthma, and there’s evidence that poor air quality inside a home might even play a role in causing asthma for some individuals (5).
Get rid of stale air in your stuffy house for good. It only takes 2 minutes to see if you qualify.
Stale air is annoying (and a health risk). It can make your home feel really uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely a fixable problem. And there’s no reason to tolerate a stuffy house—especially if your home qualifies for Sealed.
If your house is eligible, you’ll get a home upgrade plan from experts with years of experience in climate control and home air circulation. We don’t do cookie-cutter solutions either.
Your upgrade plan will be based on the unique needs of your house, including the type of materials you’d like to use, and designed to ensure that your house feels amazing every day of the year.
We’ll put together a custom plan, hire expert contractors, and make sure the work gets done right. All you need to do?
Take a 2-minute quiz to see if your home qualifies.
And you can get all of this work done at NO upfront cost. It’s a great system that gets great results.
As an architect and a homeowner, I can say that Sealed’s energy-saving expertise is really invaluable.— Lisa, Sealed customer in Westchester, NY