By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Houseplants provide beauty and interest, bringing a bit of leafy, green, outdoorsy ambiance to the indoor environment. However, plants play an even more important role by helping to improve air quality in your home.
Research by a team of NASA scientists indicates that these helpful houseplant air purifiers clean the air during the natural process of photosynthesis. The pollutants, absorbed by the leaves, are eventually broken down by microbes in the soil. Although all plants are believed to be beneficial, researchers discovered that some plants are especially effective at removing dangerous pollutants.
Air purifying houseplants include several familiar, inexpensive, easy-to-grow houseplants. For example, golden pothos and philodendron are superior air purifiers when it comes to removing formaldehyde, a colorless gas released by glues and resins in particle board and other wood products. Formaldehyde is also emitted by cigarette smoke and fingernail polish, as well as foam insulation, some draperies, synthetic carpeting and household furnishings.
Spider plants are powerhouses that remove formaldehyde, as well as carbon monoxide and common pollutants like benzene and xylene. These low-maintenance plants are easy to propagate by planting the small, attached plantlets, or “spiders.” Place spider plants in rooms where carbon monoxide is likely to concentrate, such as rooms with fireplaces or kitchens equipped with gas stoves.
Blooming plants, such as peace lilies and chrysanthemums, help remove Tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE or PERC, a chemical used in paint removers, water repellents, glues and dry cleaning solvents.
Indoor palm trees, like lady palm, bamboo palm and dwarf date palm, are good all-around air cleaners. Areca palms provide an additional benefit by increasing the level of humidity in the air.
Other general-purpose air purifying houseplants include:
Most types of dracaena and ficus, along with succulents such as aloe vera and sansevieria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue), help purify the air as well.
The attractive, all-purpose plants are helpful anywhere in the home, but do the most good in rooms with new furniture, paint, paneling or carpeting. NASA studies indicate that 15 to 18 healthy, vigorous plants in medium-size pots can effectively improve air quality in an average home.
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Read more about General Houseplant Care
Bringing plants indoors can provide a number of benefits, but cleaner air isn't one of them, say experts.
It’s a myth you almost wish hadn’t been busted. Houseplants, though charming, do little to purify the air in a room, say the scientists who study the air we breathe.
From a quick internet search, you wouldn’t guess that was the case. Popular home décor websites list a number of plants that promise to remove toxins and dangerous chemicals from the air, and several online retailers market air-purifying plants to consumers.
“We decided to study it more in depth in response to all the internet articles and wellness blog posts that tout plants as an indoor air quality magic bullet,” says Michael Waring, an environmental engineer and indoor air quality expert at Drexel University.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, Waring and his study coauthor reviewed 12 previously published scientific studies that tested 196 plants over the past decade.
The studies, which concluded that a small houseplant could remove a range of toxins, were conducted in labs. Waring says a typical experiment involved placing a plant in a small chamber and subjecting it to gaseous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Experiments ranged in density and time of removal. One showed that in just 24 hours, common household ivies could remove two-thirds of the formaldehyde they were exposed to.
The problem with those experiments, says Waring, is that the densely gaseous chambers in the lab didn’t mimic the typical household or office environment.
Many of the blogs and vendors marketing air-purifying plants point to a 1989 NASA study in which plants in chambers just over two feet wide and long were filled with various gases circulated by a small fan. It’s that 30-year-old study, which showed plants could cut down VOCs in small airtight containers, that led consumers to think perhaps too highly of their houseplants, experts say.
“We’re not saying any of the experimental data is flawed,” says Waring, just that it’s exactly that—experimental.
According to a NASA study from the 1980s, a number of common house plants can absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis.
As this research was conducted under sealed space station conditions, we spoke to Dr Tijana Blanusa, the Principal Horticultural Scientist at the RHS, to find out whether air purifying plants really work in the home.
"Over the last few years, there was much scientific investigation around the impact of houseplants on indoor air quality, particularly on their ability to remove CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) e.g. emitted from paints and furnishings, to name some sources," explains Dr Blanusa.
"Scales of study differed – from individual plant to room scale. Results to date suggest that due to typically low light levels indoors the contribution of individual plants to the removal of these compounds is relatively low and that either higher light levels or larger numbers of plants are required to elicit an effect."
The right to clean air is a fundamental right. Yet we rarely ever get to breathe clean air, especially in cities. Now, buying an air purifier to clean our ambient air seems like the only wise option.
But air-purifiers are expensive. So, what does one do?
Invest in houseplants.
Not only do they Jazz up your home but clean the toxins from the air simultaneously too. That’s a win-win situation too. Isn’t it?
Read on to know about 12 such amazing air-purifying houseplants (that NASA recommends), how to care for them and where to place them in your home.
“There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs there’d be no place to put it all.”
I f you are in a hurry to read the full article but really want to know more, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Watch the video in a jiffy (it’s just 2 mins).
As with all plants, the Areca Palm is biologically engineered to take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. However, what sets the Areca Palm apart is its ability to also purify the environment it’s placed in by removing dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde, xylene and toluene.
Recommendation & Care: The Areca Palm does well in filtered light and needs to be watered often. For one person, four shoulder-high plants should suffice.
Best Placement: The Living Room
Plant otherwise known as the Mother-In-Law’s Tongue is unique for its nighttime oxygen production, and ability to purify air through the removal of benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
Recommendation & Care: The Snake Plant does well in window light and needs to be watered weekly. For one person, six to eight waist level plants are recommended. In an air-sealed room, these plants are capable of producing enough oxygen to breathe normally.
Best Placement: The Bedroom
Featured by NASA, the Money Plant is renowned for its ability to remove chemicals and other pollutants from the air, specifically benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. However, despite the benefit of its high purification rate, this plant is toxic to cats, dogs, and small children if its leaves are ingested.
Recommendation & Care: The Money Plant prefers indirect light and needs to be watered every week or so. For one person, three 18-inch plants are recommended.
Best Placement: Any room but keep out of reach of pets or small children
4. Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)
Arguably the prettiest entry on the list, the Gerbera Daisy is often used as a decorative element in gardening. However, the Gerbera Daisy is also distinct for its ability to produce high levels of oxygen at night while removing harmful chemicals, such as benzene and trichloroethylene. Beneficial for those suffering from sleep apnea and breathing disorders, keep this one on the nightstand for better sleep.
Recommendation & Care: The Gerbera Daisy prefers bright sunlight during the summer, spring and fall, and indirect light during the winter. It needs to be watered regularly with the soil being kept moist. Due to the decorative nature of the flower, the amount of recommended flower pots is up to the discretion of the planter.
Best Placement: The Bedroom
The Chinese Evergreen is one of the most common household plants and for good reason. This plant emits a high oxygen content while purifying indoor spaces of harmful chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde and other toxins. As its name suggests, it is quite popular in China specifically for its high efficiency in removing harmful pollutants from the air.
Recommendation & Care: The Chinese Evergreen does well in full shade, and only needs to be watered occasionally with a focus on keeping the soil moist. The number of plants kept is at the owner’s discretion.
Best Placement: The Living Room
For those of you who are houseplant newbies, the resilient spider plant is a perfect choice. It will quietly battle toxins including carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the printing and rubber industries. If you have pets, this is one of the few houseplants that are non-toxic to animals.
Recommendation and Care: You can also repot the tiny ‘spiderettes’ and grow a whole family of plants that will pretty much take care of themselves… and you.
Best placement: The bedroom or the living room
A healing aloe plant is a lovely addition to your kitchen windowsill, as it loves a sunny spot. While being on hand to soothe any kitchen burns, this succulent will be purifying the air of formaldehyde and benzene, found in varnishes, floor finishes, and detergents.
Recommendation and Care: This plant will thrive in a sunny location. It doesn’t require frequent watering, so it is perfect for new plant moms and dads.
Best placement: Any window sill or any well-lit corner, out of the way to avoid pricking
This is one of the few plants that can help reduce levels of ammonia that can be found in a range of cleaning products. They are expensive to buy fully-grown so you might want to shop around for a smaller one or start from seed.
Recommendation and Care: Humidity-loving, this plant will be very happy with generous watering.
Best placement: The bathroom, the entrance or the Living Room. However, if kept in the bathroom, go easy with watering as it takes up the moisture as it is
9. Red-edged Dracaena or Dragon Tree
Trichloroethylene and xylene are amongst the pollutants fought by this spiky, slow-growing plant. The leaves have a bright red trim which adds a flash of color to your home.
Recommendation and Care: This plant needs reasonable sunlight.
Best placement: it has the potential to grow to 8ft, so keep it in a room with high ceilings. A well-lit corner of the living room or balcony
Popular houseplants since the Victorian times, weeping figs can help to tackle levels of formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.
Recommendation and Care: They are fairly fussy plants that don’t like change. Keep your weeping fig in bright, indirect light away from drafts, and it will be a trusty purifier for many years to come.
Best placement: The balcony or a well-lit corner of the living room
These pretty blooms help to filter out a host of toxins including ammonia and benzene, which is often found in plastics, detergents, and glue.
Recommendation and Care: This plant loves sunlight, so place it in a spot near a sunbathed window.
Best placement: Brighten up your kitchen or living room with a chrysanthemum
While rubber plants (Ficus robusta) are grown as easy-care houseplants, they also improve indoor air quality, according to studies conducted by NASA. Their large leaves can absorb airborne chemicals and break them down, rendering them harmless. They absorb exhaled carbon dioxide and convert it to breathable oxygen. Rubber plants also eliminate bacteria and mold spores in the air.
Recommendation and Care: Rubber plants are tolerant of neglect and so can be grown easily by those with little experience with plants. They should be allowed to dry out between watering. Rubber plants handle under-watering better than over-watering. They can thrive in dim light, so they do well in a variety of indoor conditions. Rubber plants can eventually reach 8 feet tall if given the right conditions, so they should be planted where there is space for them to grow.
Best placement: The living room or the bedroom
Also, a little consolatory mention to Poinsettia!
Well, because it’s Christmas time and they do add to the Christmas decor. And they do so while getting rid of the toxins inside the house during winter times when we usually keep the windows shut. So, it’s a win-win.
Most of the air purifying indoor plants on our list prefer shade, but Tradescantia pallida / Purple Heart plant can do well in both shade and sun! It turns purple in the sun, and turns green in the shade! Cuttings can root very easily in water.
Maranta leuconeura / Prayer Plant brings a little piece of Brazil rainforest into your home! This plant is magical: due to light-sensitive pigments on each leaf, it curls together at night like hands closed in prayer, thus the name “Prayer Plant”. Inventors out there, must have.
Tradescantia zebrina | Wandering Jew is native to Central America. This air purifying indoor plant is absolutely stunning with silver metallic stripes on one side of the leaves and deep purple on the other. I love to put it where it catches the soft light in the morning.
Dracaena reflexa, commonly called pleomele or song of India, is a species of Dracaena which is a tropical tree. This is easy to identify because of its telltale green, lime, and yellow leaves. These plants are easy to grow in both high and low light and absorb undesirables like formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene. Dracaena is a popular ornamental house plant and the best air purifying plants. Read more.
There is a large number of air-purifying palms on this list for good reason and the sago palm was a great plant for cleaning the air.
Make sure to Maintain your house plants in a good condition and make sure you have enough of them. The NASA research advised that there should be a six inch plant for every 100 sq feet of interior living space
A Note About Pets:
As noted by a number of readers, many of the plants on this list can also be poisonous to dogs and other pets. Be sure to check for any potential poison or allergies from the plants for your animal and try to put plants in locations that pets can not reach.
If you do have pets, make sure you check out the recently updated list of our recommended purifiers for pets as these in combination with a combination of these 15 plants on this list can allow pet owners to live without the fear of allergic reactions.
Last update on 2021-03-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Thanks for the links James.. i will work on getting a set of plants you can eat and also use a purifiers.
Nice job, too bad all the commenters are too lazy to do any additional research regarding pets, etc.. You can’t put everything in one article, but this is a good start.
wow.. guess besides bamboo charcoal, there are many other plants can be used as home air purifiers too
Is it healthy to have plant in your room where you sleep. I have plants in my room where i spend night to sleep, three big palm, and a date palm, a Tamarind, and Royal Poincian *flamboyant tree*. sometimes i have problem to breath, or bad breath , i put door open of my room for more fresh air!
I sleep with 7 plants in my bedroom! I see no problem if the plants are health. It would also depend on what plants you have chosen.
A word of caution about the ‘spider plant’ They are not necessarily pet friendly. There are a few types out there that people refer to as “Spider Plant”. The spider plant actually produces a chemical that works similar to an opiate to a pet. In low doses this may not be a problem, but large doses or extended munching can cause problems.
With any plant accessible to your pets, check the SPCA website and/or consult a vet. Then, watch your pet to see if they leave it alone. I manage to keep some of these plants away from my pets through the use of red pepper sprinkled around the containers.
Great info for indoor air health. These natural air purifiers are beautiful too.
I have some kind of plants in my bedroom. i have 3 big palm’s in pot, but i dont know name, the seed come for spain. I don’t know if its wrong to have many plant in my bedroom! In lifingroom we have a Cycas revoluta and banana tree, i sleep in my room under 3 big palms, have in same pot a Tamarind tree. Have a Royal poinciana, and a canary date palm, and now i have coconut palm.
how more plants you have in a room, the higher the humidity will be on Rainy Day during the evening! Relative hihg humidity of 70% a 80% is bad for my health durning the night when i sleep in my room.
This is a wonderful article. I’m going to go out in the garden and see which of these plants can come inside.
Germaphobe? Keep it properly watered and you will not have a fungal issue. Those bacterias will not harm you. They are necessary and beneficial.
duh ok are you not getting that teh plants are purifying, you should not be getting mold in plants-unless overwatering. Also be aware that some level of exposure to bacteria is good for you. How did our ancestor survive.
Yes some of these plants are poisonous to pets and children. But for those of you who are concerned about pets…they will not eat poisonous plants they have a natural instinct to eat only things that are good for them. Children on the other hand eat anything because that is part of their learing process…I would keep all plants out of their reach.
I have raised 3 children and have had 8 grandchildren around my gazillion house plants and no one has ever eaten one. And true, animals are smart enough to know better.
House plants can be great, better yet are bio-filters which use microbes tuned to eat just about any toxin.(very expensive). Okay plants for purifying you air… there are major issues here. 1) humidity , if the humidity in your house is over 50% you are in trouble and will grow mold. 2) because the plants need moisture and have a food source for molds, you will have molds at least growing in the soil. If you have asthma this NOT a good idea as mold is the number one trigger for asthma attacks (this is a medical fact).
If you want good quality air.. keep the humidity in your house between 40 to 50% RH in the summer or 30 to 40% in the winter. The use standalone HEPA air cleaners, with 15Lbs or more of high-end blend activated carbon. That is all you need.. if you highly immune compromised, then you may consider germicidal UVc lamps.. But few need these and the must be used with a HEPA 99.97% at 0.3 microns) or ULPA filter (99.9995% at 0.3 microns).
Then to do a good job you need to do 6 to 8 air exchanges per hour (this is environmentally dependent, for example a hospital OR room has 40 per hour), for home applications 6 to 8 is good especially if you have asthma, copd etc..
Stay away from gimmick air cleaners. Ionizers typically produce ozone and that is NOT good. They are typically used with electronic air cleaners to improve their performance. Stay with HEPA as it will significantly our perform any electronic air cleaner. Stay anyway from any air cleaner that uses an oxidization process. The fact are the do incomplete oxidation and their produce more toxins than the remove. It is like a pill the doctors give you.. it made treat the symptoms but give you a heart attach in the process.
I recently read so marketing on an air cleaner that uses a super HEPA (there is no such thing, after HEPA comes ULPA), The claim is that their HEPA captures a 100:1 more than most HEPA.
They get a like creative here, their assumption is that other HEPA filters only capture partials down to 0.3 microns and nothing else and theirs capture down to .003 microns so therefore a 100 time better), that is false and deliberately misleading marketing. The 99.97% capture at 0.3 micron`s and industry standard test, it is the minimum standard which must be met to be called a HEPA filter and each filter must be individually tested to ensure it meets that standard. HEPA filter, filter out particles well below .3 microns.
So stay with HEPA period! if you want a suggestion on a good one.. Well Austin Air is great.. it is easy for me to say that ans the USA department of defense test over 100 air cleaners. Only 4 of the 100 did the job and Austin Air was the most cost effective. So far in its price class and cost performance.. I have not yet seen a better one. However, Aller Air is also a very good one, A close copy of Austin Air, but here you can customize carbon blends which is important for those with MCS.