Houseplants Clear the Air

Jun 6, 2016
Houseplants that Clean Air


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To save on heating bills, most of us have insulated our homes to the max, replaced drafty old windows, and plugged up any cracks that let in cold air. Without proper ventilation, it doesn’t take long for indoor pollutants to build up to unhealthy levels.

Indoor pollutants come in two varieties—particulates such as dust, mold spores, and pollen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are airborne chemical gases that are released from paints, fabrics, wallpaper, carpeting, plastics, and solvents commonly found in every home. 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.

Houseplants to the Rescue!

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

Many 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 in cleaning the air. They found that in just 24 hours up to 87% of the formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene were 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 Plants for Cleaning the Air

Some of the best plants for 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.
  • Ficus benjamin or weeping fig likes bright indirect light, high humidity, and warm temperatures. Water when top of soil feels dry and mist the top regularly.
  • Golden Pothos likes a warm location in bright, indirect light. Let it dry out between waterings.


  • Peace lily does well in average house temperatures. Keep moist in a semi-shady location.
  • Chinese evergreen or 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 Palm thrives in low light as long as it is kept evenly moist.


  • Snake plant is also called mother-in-law’s tongue. (This 35 year old plant actually came from my mother-in-law!) It is very easy to grow. Water heavily then let dry out before watering again. It can survive any location from sun to shade.
  • Philodendrons are practically bullet-proof plants. They can take full sun to shade if watered regularly. Heart-leaf, selloum, and elephant ear philodendrons were the best air cleaners.
  • Dracena or corn plant likes to be kept moist in a semi-sunny to shady location. Warneck, Janet Craig, red-edged, and cornstalk dracenas rated the highest in removing air pollutants.


  • Spider plant is 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 were effective in removing VOCs and produced blossoms too!


  • Other plants including areca palm, Boston fern, rubber plant, bromeliads, aloe vera, and bird of paradise also had measurable effects on indoor air quality.

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 microorganisims in the soil play as important a role as the leaves so plant 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.

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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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