This Is Exactly How Airplanes Keep the Air Clean

There's a common myth that planes are the filthiest place on earth. While it's true that planes do have germs, the air, in particular, is cleaner than you may have been led to believe.

Sure, there are still dirty areas that you should probably avoid (or at least clean prior to touching) but before you start spraying Lysol in a path in front of you as you make your way down the aisle to your seat, read on to learn all the facts. Here’s the truth about recirculated air on airplanes.

Clean air

There’s no stale air on the plane. In fact, on most aircraft, the air is renewed 20 to 30 times per hour via the recirculation systems; that’s more frequent than it is in most restaurants and grocery stores and even some hospitals, according to a United Airlines video. These systems blend the air from outside with up to 50 percent recycled cabin air that’s gone through a high-efficiency particulate air filtration system (HEPA filters). HEPA filters remove 99.97 percent of particles from the air, including viruses and bacteria. Find out if an air purifier can kill coronavirus germs in the air in your home.

The air is circulated

The clean air is then circulated throughout the cabin via vents in the floor and on the ceiling; the downward flow from the ceiling to floor minimizes the particle flow between rows, which helps keep you safe from breathing air that other passengers have taken in.

Overnight is time for a deep cleaning

Airplane disinfection due to COVID-19izusek/Getty Images

Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines also use a fogging process overnight on all international and domestic flights to kill germs and pathogens on planes. Also used in health care facilities the process involves spraying an electrically-charged disinfectant around the inside of the plane before crew physically wipe down the surfaces. Don’t worry—the disinfectant is safe to breathe. To be on the safe side, you’ll want to avoid touching this germiest spot on the plane.

Do your part

Since the most thorough cleanings occur overnight, the first flight of the day is most likely the cleanest. Also, try to get a direct flight so you won’t have to take more than one airplane. Lastly, remember to wear your mask at all times when you’re on an airplane and navigating the airport. You’ll also want to pack your bag with these 11 essentials everyone who is traveling in the next six months’ needs.


  • United. How the Air You Breathe Onboard Stays Clean. July 20, 2020.
  • Delta. Coronavirus update: Aircraft fogging enhances customer safety
  • American Airlines. Americans’ Commitment to Customer and Team Member Safety. March 4, 2020.
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Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.