How Feng Shui Works (And How It Doesn’t) According To Science

Can organizing your home really improve your mystical energy? We looked for peer-reviewed research to evaluate several feng shui techniques.

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Not happy with your home? Blame your chi.

That’s the basic reasoning behind feng shui, a Chinese philosophy that advocates cultivating harmony with your environment. Essentially, feng shui practitioners believe that every object and person has an energy—known as chi or qi—and that properly organizing your surroundings can allow your energy to flow more effectively.

That’s where the name “feng shui” comes from; it roughly translates to “wind and water.” The philosophy claims that different directions have different elements associated with them, and by managing the flow of your chi effectively, you can live a calmer, happier lifestyle.

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Of course, there’s no scientific evidence to support the spiritual claims of feng shui. Scientists haven’t found a chi in any laboratory experiments, and while organizing your surroundings can certainly improve your productivity, the effects are somewhat limited.

Still, feng shui has been around for thousands of years. Surely there’s some value in it, right? We spoke with several feng shui experts and self-proclaimed psychics to find out.

Claim 1: Choose the right color for your front door to complement your chi.

An article on The Spruce suggests choosing a color for your home’s front door to maximize the positive energy flowing through it. A south-facing door, for instance, should be red, since the direction signifies fire in traditional feng shui. A door that faces the west draws its power from metal, so homeowners should use white or grey.

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Unfortunately, there’s no science to back this up. Color can certainly affect moods, so if you paint your door green, you might feel slightly refreshed when you walk through it, but different colors affect people very differently.

“[Color perception] is very much based on culture,” Dustin York, an associate professor at Maryville University who specializes in nonverbal communication, tells HealthyWay. “Here in the United States, black is usually seen as a negative connotations. With other cultures, black is actually seen as a positive, clean color, almost like white is for people in the West. You will definitely see changes within cultures.”

There’s certainly something to be said for choosing colors carefully, but don’t expect any mystical energy to flow through your front door.

Claim 2: Bedroom organization can affect your energy levels throughout the day.

“To spread the good vibes or chi, you need the bed positioned as far away from the door as possible or diagonally from the door,” says Adam, head interior designer at Decorelo (he didn’t provide his last name). “Do not position in line with the door or too much chi will flow towards the bed.”

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We’re skeptical of that claim (sorry, Adam), but we could understand how putting a bed right next to a door could make a room appear somewhat cramped. We couldn’t find any research that looked at bed placement relative to bedroom doors (somehow, nobody’s funding that research).

However, we’re on board with this next bit:

“It is important that there is a gap under the bed to let the energy circulate around you while you have a good night’s sleep. Keeping the bedroom tidy and uncluttered should keep any negative vibes away, also.”

While we’re not strong believers in “energy,” air flow can certainly help to prevent dust and mold from accumulating on a mattress. If you can’t find a cheap frame, sleep blog Sleep Advisor recommends cleaning your floor and mattress regularly.

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We should also note that our feng shui expert is absolutely correct about clutter. A study from the American Academy of Sleep showed that people who sleep in extremely untidy bedrooms may be at risk for developing sleep disorders.

The key word there is “extreme,” as the study focused on people with mild to moderate hoarding problems, but it still demonstrates the importance of a clean, organized bedroom.

The takeaway: If you want to stay productive, stay organized. Our other feng shui experts agreed with that assessment.

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“In feng shui, the clutter symbolizes the unfinished work, so just remove every item without a practical purpose or those which don’t contribute to the overall look of the place,” says Lauryn Haynes, a home organizing expert at Star Domestic Cleaners in London.

That sounds perfectly reasonable to us.

Claim 3: Spread salt around your house and sing.

“Spread sea salt around the house and leave it for the next 24 hours to absorb the negative energy, then vacuum it all away singing joyful songs,” says feng shui expert and author Milana Perepyolkina. “Open all windows and go around the house clapping your hands, moving the negative energy out of the windows and inviting positive energy in through the doors.”

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Okay, we’re aware that this one sounds unorthodox, but science backs up Perepyolkina’s suggestions—just not the reasoning behind her suggestions.

Salt might not actually absorb negative energy, per se, but it’s fairly good at absorbing some odors. To take you back to high school chemistry class, a salt is an acid combined with a base, and table salt (sodium chloride) is relatively pH-neutral. When salt contacts the chemical compounds that cause odors, it sometimes helps to break those compounds up and reduce their acidity, neutralizing the smell. The vacuuming certainly helps. We’d classify nasty odors as “bad energy,” so we’re on board with that part of Perepyolkina’s advice.

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As for “singing joyful songs,” that sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually a pretty decent suggestion. A 2004 study showed that singers have lower levels of cortisol—a stress hormone—than the control group.

However, there’s a catch: The study looked at group singers, so to get the best possible effect, you’ll want to get a friend to sing with you.

Claim 4: Talk to your pillow before you go to sleep.

“Trust me on this,” says Perepyolkina, “your possessions absorb good energy and then share it with you while you sleep.”

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We really like her attitude, but sadly, we could not find any research that supports this idea. While you’re certainly free to engage in some pillow talk, you’d spend your time more effectively by researching pillows. One study showed that certain pillows can contribute to sleep disorders and advised using latex pillows to limit arm and spinal pain.

To give Perepyolkina the benefit of the doubt, talking to a pillow could be seen as a form of meditation. That’s certainly a helpful practice; numerous studies show that mindfulness meditation can fight insomnia and improve the overall quality of sleep.

Claim 5: Clean your windows to improve your perspective.

“The windows symbolize your eyes looking at the world,” says Haynes. “Clean windows can help you see things clearly, while dirty ones can only limit your perspective. Grab some old newspaper and a mixture of white vinegar and water, and voila.”

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Again, we don’t disagree with the advice, just the reasoning behind the advice. We’re not sure about windows symbolizing perspective, but they do let in daylight. One study showed that office workers report better overall health and fewer sleep disturbances when they have access to a window during work hours.

Researchers believe that daylight inhibits melatonin production, which allows for a healthy sleep cycle. To stay happy and healthy, you’d better keep your windows clean—and Haynes is right to recommend old newspapers and white vinegar. Newspapers are made with soft, densely packed fibers that pick up dust without leaving behind streaks.

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Of course, newspaper subscriptions are dwindling in the United States. If you don’t have any old newspapers laying around, you can simply grab a high-quality microfiber cloth.

Claim 6: Cover your bedroom TV with fabric.

“The active energy of the TV has active energy which can be really disruptive to your sleep and the overall mood of the bedroom,” says Haynes. “You can simply cover it up with a beautiful fabric when not in use.”

Once again, while we’re skeptical about the “energy” talk, we can support this suggestion with good, hard science. A 2009 study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine showed that television watching is an important determinant of sleep quality. People who watch more television tend to sleep worse, particularly if they watch TV around bedtime.

There’s also a growing body of research indicating that certain wavelengths of blue light can diminish sleep quality by messing with your body’s production of melatonin (that sleep hormone we mentioned earlier). Watch a stressful television show, and your body will produce hormones like cortisol, which certainly won’t help your cause.

Putting a piece of fabric in front of your television might conceivably stop you from using it as often since you’ll be less likely to walk across the room to remove the fabric when you could simply reach for a book. Just make sure not to substitute your phone, laptop, or tablet for your TV, as any of those items could cause similar sleep disturbances.

We should note that feng shui isn’t a religion.

Its practitioners approach its fundamental beliefs in different ways. Some see it as a simple way to organize more efficiently, while some designers take the whole “chi” thing to heart. Some feng shui adherents will undoubtedly disagree with some of the suggestions in this list, and some will adamantly insist that we’re incorrect in approaching this ancient philosophy with science.

Our goal isn’t to paint the philosophy as ridiculous, but only to show that when the mystical advice works, there’s generally a practical, scientific reason. When the advice doesn’t work, it’s not because of an imbalance of chi; it’s because your interior designer didn’t quite connect the dots.

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