When it comes to our homes, “cleansing” is all the rage. But what is “cleansing,” anyway? Cleansing a space (not to be confused with good, old-fashioned cleaning) is a good way to kick off one’s time in new home, apartment, office, or office with fresh energy, or the general vibe in a space—for those who put stock in such things. By contrast, having stagnant energy in a space can cause you to feel stressed, exhausted, and irritable.
Cleansing isn’t just for that new house you bought at an eerily below-market price; you might also consider purifying a space while you try to drop a bad habit, after a difficult recovery, or post break-up.
It’s also important to keep in mind what you want to add to a space, not just what you want to get rid of. Being aware of the energy you want to foster in your space (a sense of protection, stress-relief, grounding, etc.) will help you choose the right tools—or “ingredients”—for your practice. Check the list below for techniques and inspiration for all of your space-cleansing needs.
To be sensitive to the issues of ethics and sustainability around some common cleansing practices, Curbed spoke with Bakara Wintner—the owner of Everyday Magic in Durham, North Carolina, and author of WTF is Tarot?—about being an informed consumer. As someone with a personal practice, shop, and online platform, Wintner acknowledges that the responsible choice is not always the easy one, but finds that the extra effort and personal accountability is worth it. Before she stocks something in her store, Wintner “must be able to track [the product’s] source and feel at peace with its entire story.”
To be clear, many new age practices are appropriated from aspects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native American culture. If you’re interested in understanding how these practices influenced modern mysticism, we recommend reading Occult America. And, if you’re interested in delving further into any of these practices, we recommend doing it with the consent and guidance of someone educated about a culture’s history and traditions.
Incense and herbs
Smudging, the tradition of burning herbs or incense, can be traced back to some of the world’s earliest cultures and spiritual practices.
Although sage bundles are the most familiar tools for smudging (with these rituals rooted in some indigenous cultures in the U.S.), any herb with associated healing properties—like bay leaf, lavender, or lemongrass—will do the trick. Most smudging practitioners begin the ritual by meditating; the goal is to be peaceful and present in your space. When you feel ready, light your smudging tool of choice, keeping in mind that it should be lightly smoldering, not fully engulfed in flames.
As your stick or bundle burns, walk through each room that requires cleansing. Trace doorways, dark corners, and window frames with the smoke. Use this time to mentally endow the space with your positive thoughts and good intentions. Because of concerns about the overharvesting of white sage, we suggest alternatives like dried cedar or lavender, incense, resin, or palo santo.
On sustainability, Wintner explained that she feels we’re all personally accountable for what we consume. “The best way to monitor consumption is by being a responsible consumer,” she says, “so do your research before [making a purchase], just like you should with any object.” If you can’t find a stick or bundle, another smudging technique is burning herbs in a flame-resistant dish or shell.
Individual crystals are associated with different healing properties. Amethyst, for example, is said to have calming and protective properties that act like a sponge for negative energy. Placing amethyst on a mantel, or centrally in a home, allows the crystal to cleanse as much of the space as possible.
Selenite, said to circulate good vibes and a sense of peacefulness, is often placed on window sills to bring extra light into the home. When in doubt, grab a black or dark-hued stone and toss it in whichever room needs a good energy scrub. Black tourmaline, onyx, hematite and smoky quartz are all renowned among believers for their ability to protect, ground, and cleanse.
Crystals also need a good cleaning themselves every once in a while, as they tend to hold onto the energy they absorb. There are quite a few ways to clean your stones, including soaking them in salt water (more on salt soon), bathing them in moonlight, or smudging them (see above). Or, if you’re like me, some Swiffer action every few weeks does the trick. Bakara favors amethyst for “home blessings, travel protection, and keeping energies balanced and aligned in a space.”
If setting ablaze a bundle of dried herbs isn’t your thing, consider creating an essential oil blend. These are great as room sprays, in reed diffusers, or in aromatherapy humidifiers (we see you Muji).
As with the herbs used in smudging, there are endless options available when it comes to oils—and even more possible combinations. Lavender essential oil is easy to find and is well known for its ability to calm and de-stress. Lemon, peppermint, and rosemary oils are also known to purify and energize.
To make a room spray, add a few drops of an essential oil combination into a spritz bottle and fill with water. If you want to double down on your efforts, you can add a bit of Himalayan sea salt, also known for its energy cleansing properties, to the mix. Burning candles made with essential oils can also have the same room- and aura-cleansing benefits. Try mixing and matching oils, herbs, and techniques to find what best suits you and your space. Wintner’s go-to scents are “earthy and grounding”; she recommends “frankincense, ylang ylang, vetiver, and cedarwood” used in a diffuser.
*Please consult your doctor before integrating essential oils into your home or self-care routine. Some oils can be harmful to pregnant women and have the potential to irritate certain medical conditions.
Sound waves can also purify a space. Just like your favorite song can instantly put you in a good mood, the right music can dust away the proverbial cobwebs.
Techniques for cleansing with sound range from something as simple as ringing a bell or using tuning forks, to a meditative singing bowl practice. If you aren’t quite ready to invest in an instrument, there are plenty of options on YouTube; try searching for nature sounds, Gregorian or Buddhist chants, solfeggio tones, or Tibetan singing bowls.
No matter which route you take, the idea is to have the vibrations and resonance of the sound push out any bad juju. These high-frequency sounds are not only good for your space, but are purported to have chakra-cleansing properties as well. Judging by the growing popularity of sound baths, this might be a good duel-cleansing technique to try.
Wintner says that in her personal cleansing routines, she uses sound as a means by which to “heal” her energy. “I use a singing bowl occasionally, but sound healing is also music. Healing is available through all senses, always. So if you decide to turn on Ariana Grande while you are ritualistically cleaning your house, then that is what your brain will heal to—and more power to you.”
Another growing wellness trend is salt therapy, or “halotherapy,” which is a practice that involves meditating in a room filled with Himalayan sea salt. There are quite a few beneficial health claims associated with this practice, but it is best known as a means by which to fight inflammation, improve respiratory function, relieve stress, and promote calmness.
Before you jump to convert your spare closet into a salt chamber, there are a few small ways you can seek the benefits of this practice in your home. Himalayan salt lamps are a popular and easy-to-find home accent that offer the same purifying effects on a smaller scale.
These lamps are a triple threat: They act as a filter for bad vibes, electromagnetic radiation (the energy emitted from our technology), and air contaminants. If you want to get a little witchy with your salt, you can sprinkle or place bowls of salt in the corners of your rooms that need energy cleansing. The salt will do its job to absorb any negative energy or toxins and after a few hours you can vacuum it up, or toss it out. Houseplants can work as a natural cleanser in the same way, but please don’t throw those out after a single use.
These techniques should bring you and your space joy, and be taken with a grain of (pink Himalayan) salt. As helpful as smudging, sound, or crystals may be, the energy of your space will be most affected by you.
Wintner acknowledges that although it can feel like magic, your positive attitude, headspace, and wellbeing are more powerful than any of these cleansing rituals. “Rest. Shitty TV. Food. Coziness. Friendship. Laughter. Work you care about and believe to be meaningful. Magic is the hard stuff. Life is what refills us.”