Air-Purifying Houseplants

The Best Plants for Cleaning the Air

Feb 8, 2018
Houseplants that Clean Air

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Without proper ventilation, it doesn’t take long for indoor pollutants to build up to unhealthy levels. Here are some of the best air-purifying houseplants that can clean the air in your home!

Indoor pollutants come in two major varieties—particulates such as dust, mold spores, and pollen, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are gases that are 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 unless we remove the source, airborne chemicals are difficult to eliminate entirely.

Clean the air with houseplants

We all know that basic bit of botany: plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis. Outdoors, tree planting makes use of that concept to atone for the effects of air pollution, but what about our indoor air quality?

Years ago, NASA studied ways to provide fresh air in enclosed spaces and 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.

The best news is that the most effective toxic avengers are common, low-light houseplants!

Best air-purifying Houseplants

Some of the best plants for indoor air cleaning are:

  • English ivy likes cool temperatures. Keep moist and spray the leaves weekly to discourage spider mites. It is not fussy about light and can survive sun to shade.

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English ivy

  • Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) likes bright indirect light, high humidity, and warm temperatures. Water when top of soil feels dry and mist the top regularly.
  • Golden pothos or “Devil’s ivy” likes a warm location in bright, indirect light. Let it dry out between waterings.
  • Peace lilies do well in average indoor temperatures. Keep moist in a semi-shady location.

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Peace lily flower

  • 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 it is kept evenly moist.
  • Snake plant, 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.

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

  • Philodendrons are practically bullet-proof plants. They can take full sun to shade if watered regularly. Heart-leaf, Philodendron selloum, and elephant ear philodendrons are the best air cleaners.
  • Dracaena like to be kept moist in a semi-sunny to shady location. Warneck, Janet Craig, red-edged, and cornstalk dracaenas have been rated the highest in removing air pollutants.

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Spider plants

  • Spider plants are very easy to grow. Keep moist in a semi-sunny to shady spot and it will thrive.
  • 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 produced blossoms too!

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Bromeliad

  • Other great air-purifying houseplants include areca palms, Boston ferns, rubber plants, bromeliads, 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 are recommended for maximum benefit. The roots and micro-organisims 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.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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Houseplants

Good idea for cleaning indoor air.

Himalayan salt lamps

Having cats and low natural lighting from the windows, I have had poor luck growing houseplants. I recently bought a Himalayan salt lamp because supposedly it purifies the air. It's worth a shot anyway because it's pretty neat looking.

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