PbSe nanocrystal quantum dots (NQDs) are a promising active material for a range of optoelectronic devices, including solar cells, high-sensitivity infrared (IR) photodetectors, and IR-emitting diodes and lasers. However, device realization has been constrained by these NQDs' chemical instability toward oxidation, which leads to uncontrollable changes in optical and electronic properties. Here, we present a simple method to enhance the stability of PbSe NQDs against oxidation and to improve their optical properties through reaction with molecular chlorine. The chlorine molecules preferentially etch out surface Se ions and react with Pb ions to form a thin (1-2 monolayers) PbClx passivation layer which effectively prevents oxidation during long-term air exposure while passivating surface trap states to increase photoluminescence efficiency and decrease photocharging. Our method is simple, widely applicable to PbSe and PbS NQDs of a range of sizes, compatible with solution-based processes for fabricating NQD-based devices, and effective both in solution and in solid NQD films; thus, it is a practical protocol for facilitating advances over the full range of optoelectronic applications.