10 Indoor Plants That Clean the Air | The Old Farmer's Almanac

The 10 Best Houseplants for Purifying Indoor Air

Sansevieria Plant in Pot on White Table, snake plant, air purifying houseplants

Discover Air-Purifying Houseplants For Your Home

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Did you know that houseplants help purify the air in our homes? We’ve long known that indoor plants improve our mood and reduce stress levels, but improving air quality is an additional benefit! See the best air-purifying houseplants.

Today, Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, often in places with little or no ventilation. The air inside our super-insulated modern homes and offices is often unhealthy due to harmful chemicals called “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs), which can cause short- and long-term medical problems.

Plants, on the other hand, can absorb these airborne chemicals through their foliage, break them down in their root systems, and turn them into sugars, amino acids, and other useful “building blocks” of life.

Indoor pollutants come in two major varieties:

  1. Particulates such as dust, mold spores, and pollen.
  2. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases released from paints, fabrics, wallpaper, carpeting, plastics, and solvents commonly found in most homes. Even household chemicals such as bleach, ammonia, detergents, furniture polish, carpet cleaners, and moth balls give off harmful gases.

Mechanical or electrostatic filters can be effective in trapping particulates, but airborne chemicals are difficult to eliminate entirely unless we remove the source.

What Do Plants Have to Do with Indoor Air? 

Let’s review a basic bit of botany: plants absorb carbon dioxide (Co2) and release oxygen (O2), which is used by all humans and living beings to breathe. Outdoors, tree planting makes use of that concept to atone for the effects of air pollution. So, would indoor plants do the same with indoor air?

Back in 1989, a NASA Clean Air Study tested 19 different species of plants to see if they would be effective at cleaning the air. They found that in just 24 hours, up to 87% of the formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene was removed from the air by the leaves and roots of the plants, while oxygen was returned to the room. Bottom line: common, low-light houseplants absorbed toxins and helped purify the air!

…Or so we thought. A 2019 study by the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology concluded that the effect of indoor plants on indoor VOC levels has been a bit overblown. While they do purify the air, they do so at such a slow rate that it doesn’t make much of an impact in the end.

A study in India (2008) showed that workers in plant-filled office buildings had 24 percent fewer headaches, 52 percent less eye irritation, 34 percent fewer respiratory conditions, and a 12 percent higher lung capacity than workers in plantless environments. 

An Australian study (2010) showed that ‘Janet Craig’ dracaena and the peace lily reduced negative moods (e.g., anger, anxiety, depression, stress) in office workers by 40 to 60 percent over 3 months.

We say: Every little bit helps! And, frankly, it’s not surprising that some houseplants purify the air. 

Indoor Plants That Clean the Air

Some of the best air-purifying houseplants are:

1. Spider Plants

Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are powerful air purifiers that are able to remove formaldehyde, a gas that is emitted by cigarette smoke, dry cleaning, synthetic carpeting, fingernail polish, and more. Spider plants also remove carbon monoxide, which you may find in rooms with fireplaces or stoves. Fortunately, spider plants are very easy to grow and maintain. Just keep it moist in a semi-sunny to a shady spot, and it will thrive.

Spider plants

2. Philodendrons

Philodendrons, one of the most popular houseplants, are also excellent air purifiers and remove formaldehyde gases from the air. Plus, they are practically bullet-proof plants with quick-growing trailing vines and pretty heart-shaped leaves. They can take full sun to shade if watered regularly. Heart-leaf, Philodendron selloum, and elephant ear philodendrons are the best air cleaners.


3. English Ivy

English Ivy (Hedera helix) is also a popular, hardy plant that is easy to grow. It removes most pollutants. Ivy doesn’t like high temperatures and prefers to stay cool. Keep moist and spray the leaves weekly to discourage spider mites.

A very effective air purifier that can take on benzene, as well as other compounds, English ivy tolerates fairly low light (although varieties with variegated leaves will lose their markings in too much shade).

English ivy

4. Peace Lily

The Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) is a beautiful plant with a lovely white flower that thrives nicely in average indoor temperatures. Peace lilies are known to clean the air of alcohols, acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde. Keep moist in a semi-shady location.

Peace lily flower

5. Snake Plant

The Variegated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trivasciata), also called “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue,” is very easy to grow. Water heavily, then let it dry out before watering again. It can survive any location, from sun to shade.

Snake plant (this 35-year-old Mother-in-Law’s Tongue actually did come from a mother-in-law).

6. Bromeliads 

Bromeliads win a gold star for cleaning up most pollutants. They release oxygen and remove air pollutants at night while you sleep! These pretty plants, with their bright flowers and green foliage, do best with bright, indirect sunlight or fluorescent office lighting. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t need much maintenance, but it will get root rot if you over-water it or don’t provide good drainage.


7. Dracaena 

Dracaena likes to be kept moist in a semi-sunny to a shady location. Warneck, Janet Craig, red-edged, and cornstalk dracaenas have been rated the highest in removing air pollutants. The Janet Craig is especially good at removing trichloroethylene; this is easy to grow and tolerates neglect; buy one for your office and keep one next to your computer desk at home

8. Weeping Fig

Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) likes bright indirect light, high humidity, and warm temperatures. Water is when the top of the soil feels dry, and mist the top regularly.

9. Rubber Plants

Rubber plants (Ficus elastica) tolerate dim light and cool temperatures and remove air toxins from any indoor environment. This plant is especially good at removing formaldehyde, the most common toxin in the home. It grows slowly and tops out at about 10 feet tall indoors.

10. Areca palms

Areca palms (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) are beautiful, easy plants that remove all indoor air toxins. They also humidify the air (a tall areca palm will add a quart of water a day to your home’s humidity). It is an especially good remover of toluene and xylene.

More Plants That Clean the Air

  • If you would rather have flowering plants, two that fared well in the testing were Chrysanthemums and Gerbera daisies. They are effective at removing VOCs and producing blossoms, too!
  • Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema) like warm temperatures and medium to low light conditions. Allow it to dry a bit between waterings. Keep out of drafts, which can cause the leaves to brown.
  • Reed or Bamboo Palms thrive in low light as long as they are kept evenly moist. An excellent all-around air purifier that will cleanse your home or office of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, these palms are very easy to maintain.
  • Other great air-purifying houseplants include Boston ferns, aloe vera, and bird of paradise.

No need to turn your home into a jungle, though: In a house with 8 to 9-foot high ceilings, only one or two plants per 100 square feet of floor space is beneficial. The roots and micro-organisms in the soil play as important a role as the leaves, so plants should be in 6- to 8-inch wide pots with the soil surface exposed to the air. Soaking up toxins seems to have no adverse effect on the plants studied. Research shows that they safely metabolize the compounds by breaking them down to harmless carbon, water, and salts.

We clean our homes of dirt, so why not clean the air—especially if it is as easy as adding a few more houseplants?

See our Houseplants Care Guide on how to keep your houseplants happy and healthy—so that they can keep your air healthier, in turn!

What houseplants do you keep in your home?

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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