Do lungs clean themselves


The lungs are often considered to be an important part of the respiratory system, but many people don’t know that this vital organ actually has a self-cleaning system. This is known as the mucociliary escalator and its purpose is to remove any particles, such as smoke or pollen, that have been inhaled.

The main way in which the lungs clean themselves is by using a combination of cilia, mucus and sneezing or coughing. Cilia are tiny, hair-like projections on the surface of air passages that help to sweep away foreign particles before they can enter deeper into the lungs. The sticky mucus produced by goblet cells in the respiratory tract helps to bind any dust particles so that they can be removed from the airways. The body then uses coughing and sneezing reflexes to expel any debris from the lungs before inhaling new clean air.

In addition to these natural defences, several other mechanisms are also used by our bodies to keep our delicate respiratory organs free from damage. These include:

  • Protective cells such as macrophages (which target invading organisms) and special enzymes found in the aerosolized fluids that are released into lung tissue during breathing.
  • Regular exercise which helps boost lung function.

When combined, these physiological systems can give us a healthy set of strong functioning lungs we rely on every day.

Lung Structure and Function

The human body is an amazing machine, and the lungs are no exception. Lungs are responsible for taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. They are also designed to clean themselves through a filtration process.

In this article, we will discuss the structure and function of the lungs and how they are able to clean themselves.


Alveoli are the tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. This exchange occurs due to a specialized tissue structure surrounding the alveoli. Tiny capillaries that make up this tissue structure fans out from the alveolar wall, allowing gas exchange across them.

The alveoli walls are very thin and full of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen to other parts of your body and take away carbon dioxide through your bloodstream. The numerous respiratory bronchioles, smallest bronchial branches, located around each alveolus also contribute significantly to gas diffusion by increasing surface area for this process.

The alveoli are kept clean by an internal mechanism called ‘mucociliary clearance’, whereby cilia line the inside walls of all airways down to the terminal and respiratory bronchioles scattered around each alveolus. These cilia move like an elevator belt, sweeping mucus and foreign particles out of the lungs towards your throat where it can be coughed or swallowed over time. Inhaled pollutants may be trapped in this mucous blanket, which helps protect our lungs from damage—forming a natural filter for foreign particles entering our system.

Respiratory System

The human respiratory system is a complex network of organs and tissues that work together to allow us to breathe. It includes the nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. The primary function of this system is to supply oxygen to the body’s cells and remove carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the blood.

The lungs are the main components of the respiratory system; they are paired organs located in the chest cavity where gas exchange takes place. The walls of each lung consist of a thin membrane called the visceral pleura that encloses a connective tissue capsule. Inside each lung are several lobes with tiny air passages lined by cilia (tiny hair-like projections) and mucus-producing cells that make up what is called ‘the respiratory tree’. At the end of these small passages are clusters of microscopic air sacs known as alveoli which form an extensive network for gas exchange.

With every breath we take, about 7 liters or 15 pints of air enter our lungs filled with pollutants such as dust, smoke and other particles as well as microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Fortunately our lungs have defense mechanisms – even when they become blocked – to keep us healthy by trapping these invaders and cleaning them out. Specialized cells located in the alveoli help filter out impurities before they can enter into the bloodstream while tiny hairlike structures (cilia) trap large particles deep inside its crevices before pushing them down into our throat where they will be expelled with a cough or sneeze or swallowed aided by saliva; any germs that were trapped in our mucus will then be inhibited by stomach acid before it reaches any other areas within our bodies. This makes for an incredibly efficient system for cleaning itself which helps keep us safe from airborne contaminants on a daily basis!

Lung Cleaning Process

The lungs clean themselves of debris, dust, and germs through a process called mucociliary clearance. This process uses tiny hairlike filaments called cilia, which line the airways of the lungs and move back and forth in a coordinated fashion to clear foreign particles. This process takes place thousands of times a day, and ensures that the airways remain free of debris and other irritants.


Coughing – When you breathe in, air passes from your mouth or nose through your trachea, into the tubes that transport air to and from your lungs (called bronchial tubes or bronchi). Tiny hairs called cilia line the bronchi and help move unwelcome particles up and out of your lungs. But when those particles become trapped in the lining of your bronchial tubes, coughing can help loosen them up so you can expel them.

When a cough is productive, you should be able to see – if just for a moment – what part of your lung was trying to get rid of. If there’s no production – either yellowish thick mucus (in cases of infection) or a clear “puff” – then the coughing is due to irritation inside one’s lungs caused by either

  • allergies,
  • smoking,
  • air pollution,
  • other lung irritants.


The lungs have their own cleaning process which involves the production of mucus and the movement of cilia. Mucus is formed when the body takes in particles like dust and germs. The mucus captures the particles and then sweeps them up by cilia, which are small hair-like projections on cells, towards your throat where they can be expelled out through coughing or swallowed.

Coughing is an important part of keeping your lungs healthy as it helps to remove both excess mucus and foreign objects from the airways. The mucus also helps to keep pollutants or bacteria from entering into your lungs. It also contains proteins that help fight infection, which can be especially beneficial for those who suffer from asthma or allergies.

In some cases, you may need assistance with the cleaning process in order to get rid of excessive mucus buildup in your lungs such as when you have an infection or a cold that requires medical treatment. In these instances, there are several methods you can use to help clear the airway including:

  • Inhaled medicines
  • Natural treatments such as warm water mixtures or steam inhalation
  • Chest physiotherapy
  • Surgery in severe cases


Cilia are tiny, hair-like structures with thousands lining your airways. These cilia are important for lung health as they act like a broom, sweeping out particles from the lungs and pushing them up to your throat to be coughed out. This action is known as ‘mucociliary clearance’ and is an important part of keeping the lungs clean.

Ciliary activity can be improved by reducing environmental pollutants and irritants in your everyday life such as passive smoking, dust or airborne chemicals. Additionally, drugs such as albuterol have been proved to stimulate ciliary motion and also thin the mucus so that it can move more easily through the airways.

Furthermore, people struggling with shortness of breath due to diseases such bronchitis or even asthma can benefit from a combination of respiratory exercises and pulmonary rehabilitation. Such exercises strengthen both breathing muscles and shared muscles that allow for larger breathing movements which improves lung airflow and efficiency.

Other Ways to Help Clean Your Lungs

Despite the fact that our lungs have a natural cleaning process, there are other ways to help clean our lungs and keep them healthy and free of pollutants. By understanding the facts and taking action, you can play a role in keeping your lungs clean and healthy.

Let’s explore some of the other ways to help clean your lungs:


Exercise plays an important role in keeping your lungs healthy by increasing their capacity and strength. Regular aerobic exercise, such as running, biking, or swimming, improves air quality in both the lungs and body by allowing more oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Exercise also aids in eliminating toxins from the lungs by increasing their efficiency and decreasing inflammation.

In addition, it stimulates nerve endings near the bronchial tubes that help keep mucus from building up. As a result of all these positive effects, regular exercise can help manage conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Quit Smoking

Giving up smoking is the most significant and healthiest thing you can do to help your lungs clean themselves. Quitting smoking, along with avoiding other sources of air pollution, will help you breathe easier and reduce the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Optimal lung health requires good nutrition. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants may also be beneficial for helping clean your lungs. Foods high in antioxidants include blueberries, spinach, kale, peppers and garlic. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and improve respiratory function. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, halibut and flaxseed.

Regular exercise helps to condition your lungs, improving their capacity to provide oxygen to your body’s organs and muscles while eliminating waste through the process of respiration. Studies have proven that consistent exercise can help protect against lung disease by strengthening the body’s ability to repair cells damaged by air pollutants or chemicals released from cigarettes or other tobacco products. Exercise also stimulates breathing rate which helps strengthen airflow in the lungs over time by encouraging continuous circulation throughout each breath taken during activity levels ranging from moderate to intense activities like walking or running as well as aerobic exercises like Zumba or swimming are all excellent ways to get more oxygen into your system while helping to eliminate toxins that accumulate in your body throughout daily life activities like work stress or poor dieting habits residing deeper within muscle tissue layers beyond what one might normally target on an everyday basis with just regular traditional cardiovascular fitness routines alone; even yoga has been known to be beneficial towards this purpose at times too!

Avoid Pollutants

Besides regular exercise, the best way to help keep your lungs healthy is to avoid pollutants in your environment. Especially if you are someone with chronic lung problems, exposure to pollutants and other substances can irritate your airways and make breathing harder.

To avoid pollutants, you should:

  • Stay indoors on days when the air outside is full of smoke or smog.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and other pollutant sources like cigarette smoke, woodsmoke, or vehicle exhaust.
  • Wear a face mask when engaging in outdoor activities that involve dust or smoke exposure.
  • Install an air purifier in your home and office to reduce dust levels indoors.
  • Keep windows closed on polluted days outside and use the air conditioner instead of fans that pull in polluted air from outside.


It is important to understand that even though the lungs are able to clean themselves of dirt, dust and germs, we still have an active role to play in maintaining good lung health. Taking steps such as avoiding smoking, exercising regularly and avoiding exposure to pollutants can help keep the lungs healthy and limit inflammation which can lead to disease.

Regular checkups with your healthcare provider can also help diagnose any potential lung conditions early on, allowing for prompt treatment. Ultimately, our lungs are designed to keep us healthy but it is important for us to do our part in sustaining that healthiness.