What is Smudging? And How Can I Use It to Get Rid of Negative Energy

burning a smudge stick

Have you ever walked into a room and felt that something was a little…off? Maybe it’s because of the lingering vibes from that tiff you and your S.O. had yesterday, but for whatever reason, some spaces just seem to have bad energy floating around. And if feng shui isn’t cutting it, there’s another (and OK, slightly more out-there) way to cleanse your space. Here’s your beginner’s guide to smudging.

What is Smudging?

“Smudging is essentially a smoke bath,” Liz Saal de Casas, a healing practitioner from Peru, explains. The smoke is created by slowly (and safely) burning specific herbs. Sage is probably the most popular, but smudging can actually be done with a variety of plants including palo santo, frankincense and myrrh. “It’s a very ancient ritual from Andean and other indigenous cultures, but today in the Western world smudging is used as a tool to cleanse spaces and purge negativity.”

Why do people do it?

People practice smudging for a variety of reasons, and it all depends on your intention, de Casas tells us. Some do it to cleanse the space from an argument that is hanging in the air or when they move into a new place, while others smudge to banish negative thoughts or as a tool for meditation. Spa director Sharla Martin likes smudging to clear the air in her home—literally. “Sage smudging will kill bacteria in the air, so it’s a wonderful and natural way to clear your home or room,” she says. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that burning herbs absorbed up to 94 percent of airborne bacteria. (Although, it’s worth noting that this was the only study that we could find on the topic.)

How can I try smudging at home?

First, you’ll need to visit a local new-age bookshop or crystals store (you can also order them online, but it's always best to speak to an expert in person, if possible) to get your tools: A clay bowl or some kind of recipient to catch the ashes, a feather or a fan (but your hand will also work) and the herbs you wish to smudge with (and no, the sage in your kitchen cupboard won’t work). “Smudging is aromatic, so choose your scent wisely,” de Casas advises. She recommends that beginners start with a smudging stick, before moving on to loose herbs. (And we recommend that you always take the appropriate safety measures when dealing with fire, no matter how small the flame.)

So what are the actual steps?

When you’re ready, open the windows in your home and set your intention (don’t just think it but actually say it out loud). Then, light the stick and let it burn for about 20 to 30 seconds before blowing out the flame, so that you can see the orange embers on the end. Holding the stick over the bowl, walk around the space and gently fan the smoke into different areas of the room. When you’ve finished smudging, extinguish your stick (dipping it into a bowl of sand or other fireproof container works well) before putting it away for next time (practitioners recommend doing this once per week). Now, sit back and relax in your freshly cleansed (and great-smelling) space. Ah, lovely.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...