Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
The Best Plants for Cleaning the Air
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 (Hedera helix) is a popular, hardy plant that is easy to grow. It removes most pollutants. It is not fussy about light and can survive sun to shade. Ivy doesn’t like high temperatures and prefers to stay cool. Keep moist and spray the leaves weekly to discourage spider mites.
- The Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) is a beautiful plant with a lovely white flower which 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
- Varigated 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).
- Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are very easy to grow. Keep moist in a semi-sunny to shady spot and it will thrive.
- 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 and will get root rot if you over-water or don’t provide good drainage.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rubber plants tolerate dim light and cool temperatures and remove air toxins from any indoor environment.
- Golden pothos or “Devil’s ivy” likes a warm location in bright, indirect light. Let it dry out between waterings.
- Areca palms Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, are beautiful, easy plants that remove all indoor air toxins.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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 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.
See our Houseplants Care Guide on how to keep your houseplants happy and healthy—so that that they can keep your air healthier, in turn!
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. 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.