A Guide to Indoor Plants: Whether we are at work, visiting with a friend, cleaning, cooking, or relaxing in our home, at the end of the day, the average person spends 90% of their life inside. The quality of indoor air will ultimately have a huge impact on our long term health, and there are lots of great ways to improve these conditions for better wellness.
We will take a look at what role plants play in air purification, see what research is out there, and provide you with a comprehensive list that can help you pick some plants that can not only make your home look great, but improve the quality of your home for you and your loved ones.
Can Indoor Plants Help Purify The Air?
We have an almost intuitive connection to the beneficial nature of plants. We enjoy taking walks in the woods, hikes into parks, and long camping or road trip excursions for inner peace and mental and physical wellness. Many of us have experienced a sense of calm from having a few of these plants in our homes or at work.
However, we still have a long way to go on understanding how capable these plants are at purifying the air. Plants certainly help to improve air quality by adding fresh oxygen and moisture to the environment. This can help reduce allergies, keep us protected from flus and viruses, and even help to regulate our home’s temperature.
When it comes to purification, there has been some research indicating that plants are capable of filtering toxins out of the air in the NASA Clean Air Study. This study stands as one of the very few sources we have of scientific proof that indoor plants can improve air quality.The study showed that various plants were able to remove a portion of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from the air
Even though there is much more research to be done on the effectiveness of plant purification, we have data that certain plants remove the following toxins from the air: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia. Here is a chart with results from the clean air study:
Causes of Indoor Air Pollution
VOCs are gases, solids, or liquids that include chemicals that may have short or long-term adverse health effects. The concentration of many VOCs are higher inside since ventilation is less likely. We find VOCs in paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, electronics, glues, permanent markers, and many more common household items. Smoking indoors also produces excessive benzene in the home.
As you may have already guessed, this is a huge problem for our long-term health. The US Government’s environmental agencies have stated that indoor air pollution is America’s biggest pollution issue. In addition to the toxins we bring into our homes, we may be living in spaces with toxic building materials, making it inevitable that we will have some amount of exposure to these VOCs.
Best Pots And Soils For Clean Air
Using terra cotta pots for your plants is a good choice over plastic pots that may contain toxic compounds. The terra cotta will also support in adding moisture to your home which can help soothe and protect you from irritants.
When choosing a soil, going with an organic brand will reduce the amount of unsafe additives put in your potting mix. Make sure that the soil drains well so water doesn’t sit and lead to mold issues, which could have an adverse effect on the air quality of your home.
Case Study Of A Genetically Modified Plant That Cleans Air
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology stated that there was a genetically modified plant that could provide purification benefits in the home. Researchers from the University of Washington altered the pothos ivy plant to successfully remove benzene and chloroform from the air.
The scientists used a protein named cytochrome P450 2 E1, a substance that can be found in the liver of mammals that can help break down and excrete benzene and chloroform from the body. It is also well-known for helping the body to produce alcohol.
The researchers put the plants into a glass tube and administered toxic gases as a test. They tracked results over the course of 11 days. By day 3, the chloroform had reduced by 82%. By day 6, only trace amounts were detected.
By day 8, the benzene concentration had reduced by about 75%. The amount of gas remained the same in the tubes with unmodified plants. These plants are currently available in Canada and pending for availability in the United States.
Additional Home Air Quality Solutions cleaning, ventilation, limiting harsh chemicals, changing your HVAC filters, using an air purifier.
There are additional ways that you can improve the air quality of your home:
- Control the Humidity: Moist conditions in a home can be both a benefit and a problem. While moist conditions in winter time can reduce allergies and the spread of airborne viruses such as the flu, it can also encourage mold and mildew growth in the summer time. You can use a dehumidifier in the summer and a humidifier in the winter to balance the moisture levels in your home.
- Keep your Carpet Clean: Carpets are able to capture dust and other particles quite easily in their fibers, making them great filters. If you vacuum your carpet weekly, it will significantly help with clearing out unwanted particles that have settled to the ground.
- Ventilation During Cooking: Many less than desirable chemicals and airborne compounds can release into your home while cooking. Make sure to use your cooking vents, turn on fans, and even open your windows when cooking, especially when using high heat.
- Change your Air Ducts, AC Filters, and Other Air Filters: Regularly checking and maintaining these filters can dramatically increase the air quality in your home. Consider making a maintenance schedule so that you consistently monitor and change out old filters.
How It Takes Care Of You: English Ivy has been studied and it has been reported that it can reduce levels of formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene from the air. These are “volatile organic compounds” known as carcinogens. This study has been one of the most comprehensive ones done on how plants may help improve indoor air conditions
How To Take Care of It: Plaint your ivy into a pot with good drainage using all-purpose soil. Let the soil on the top become dry to the touch between waterings. You can fertilize it approximately once a month and can mist the leaves with a spray bottle as needed.
How It Takes Care Of You: The leaves of this plant can reduce toxins such as chloroform, xylene, carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde. Additionally, it is useful for repelling spider mites that may have made it on to your other indoor plants.
How To Take Care of It: Bamboo plants are relatively easy to maintain. Keep your bamboo palm moist but be careful not to overwater and cause root rot. Water every time the soil begins to feel dry. Protect the palm from cold weather. They prefer temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant loves light so make sure to place it in a southeast-facing window or purchase a small grow light for it. Only repot your bamboo palm once every two or three years to protect the root system.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant helps to filter formaldehyde and benzene. Since It does well in humid and low-light environments, it’s the perfect purifying houseplant to place in your bathroom.
How To Take Care of It: The Chinese Evergreen requires evenly moist soil and high humidity. Its leaves may turn brown if the plant is placed in too arid of an environment. Use a well draining soil and consider mixing in some perlite to increase the drainage. The plant prefers a temperature range of 70-72F, and does not do well below 60F. You can safely fertilize it once or twice every year to promote growth.
How It Takes Care Of You: This fun and colorful plant is also an excellent filter, and can reduce a significant amount of Benzene from the air. You may have benzene indoors if you use glues, solvents, paints, and art supplies at home, making this plant the perfect wellness gift for an artist.
How To Take Care of It: You will want to keep your daisies in a window that provides full direct sunlight. Water them deeply once a week in the morning so that the soil dries out properly in the sunny window. This plant can be sensitive to extreme heat so consider directing a fan at it when it’s sitting in the bright sunny windowsill.
How It Takes Care Of You: The dragon tree does a great job removing formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and carbon dioxide from your home. A study at the Royal College of Agriculture in Cirencester, England, learned that dragon plants increased the focus of 70% of the students and also increased attendance when placed in the classroom.
How To Take Care of It: This plant enjoys semi-bright conditions and can be watered 1 to 2 times a week in summer and once every two weeks in winter. Make sure that you keep it in an environment that is warmer than 50F. Make sure not to put this plant in direct sunlight, which could potentially burn its leaves.
Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
How It Takes Care Of You: The snake plant is good at removing formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and nitrogen oxides from the air. One unique feature of this plant is that it converts CO2 into oxygen. This makes it a great option for a bedroom plant, and can help to replenish the oxygen you use up in the room overnight.
How To Take Care of It: This plant is quite versatile with lighting. It prefers bright indirect sunlight (meaning it is kept about ten feet away from a bright window) and can tolerate some direct sun for short periods of time. It can also do well in areas of the home with lower lighting. Water your snake plant every 2 to 6 weeks. Water them less in the wintertime. Overall, this is a fairly low-maintenance plant, and it is easy to propagate from a clipping, so you only need to buy one plant and can make many more from it.
How It Takes Care Of You: The blooms of this plant are helpful in breaking down formaldehyde, xylene, ammonia, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene. Chrysanthemums contain pyrethrin, a natural insecticide that helps them to repel pests in the home. You can also dry the flower blooms and grind them into a powder to make a substance that can help control common household pests.
How To Take Care of It: The chrysanthemum loves medium light (place the plant ten feet away from a bright window) and a medium amount of water. Fertile soil, perhaps one enriched with fertilizer, will encourage healthy colorful blooms. Pick off any dead flowers or color-changing leaves to help promote new growth. They enjoy temperatures in the range of 70 – 75F.
How It Takes Care Of You: This tropical plant can break down toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene. Lilies can also add moisture to the air which can help minimize the effect of allergies.
How To Take Care of It: Keep the soil most, but do not overwater. Peace lilies are sensitive to chemicals so consider watering them with filtered or distilled water. They thrive in humid environments with indirect sunlight. You only need to fertilize these plants occasionally, to encourage spring and summer growth, approximately every 6 weeks.
How It Takes Care Of You: This popular house plant can absorb and break down carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and xylene. Because of the plant’s high transpiration rate, it creates an increased humidity. This decreases the risk of airborne diseases such as the flu. Spider plants are a good choice for most people because they are safe for animals and children. Their leaves are even edible!
How To Take Care of It: Prove your spider plant with well-drained soil and a bright yet indirect night.
Mass Cane/Corn Plant
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is known to help remove formaldehyde from the air. It’s one of the most popular varieties of Dracaenas that is known for its lovely foliage that ranges from green to yellow. They look stunning in tree form but can also be grown as shrubs.
How To Take Care of It: You can water your mass cane just enough to moisten the soil throughout the pot. In most moderate conditions, there is no need to leave excess water in the plant’s liner. Allow the soil surface to become dry to the touch before watering again. The plant should be watered every week or two. This plant is tolerant of a variety of light conditions so it should do well in all types of homes.
How It Takes Care Of You: The rubber plant can absorb and break down formaldehyde. It also has a high capacity for removing CO2 from the air. Additionally, rubber trees are able to reduce mold and bacteria by up to 60% by killing the microorganisms while they are airborne. This process, luckly, is not harmful to humans or animals, making it both a purifying and safe plant for the home.
How To Take Care of It: Rubber plants are tolerant of neglect and are a good choice for those with very little growing experience. Let your plant 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. Make sure you use a large pot for this plant since they can grow up to 8 feet tall.
Lemon Button Fern
How It Takes Care Of You: This small yet powerful plant is effective at removing airborne pollutants such as formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from your home. It also combats dryness by raising the humidity of your space.
How To Take Care of It: This plant is a small variety of the boston fern, that usually stays under 1 foot tall, making it perfect for small spaces. It prefers semi-shaded areas and you can let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. You should provide a liquid fertilizer for your fern once every week during spring and summer. It won’t need fertilizer in fall and winter when it is dormant.
Pothos (Money Plant)
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is able to move pollutants such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, xylene, and carbon monoxide from the air. This plant has also been called an “anti-radiator” and is said to cut away harmful radiation from electronic devices in your home.
How To Take Care of It: This plant enjoys deep waterings that come infrequently. You can water the container until you see water running into the drainage container. Stop before the water catch fills up to prevent root rot. The pothos plant prefers bright indirect sunlight. Direct sun may burn the plant’s leaves.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is a good filter for toxins such as carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde. It will also impart moisture into the air which can be soothing during cold seasons. It is also quite resistant to pests.
How To Take Care of It: This plant is wildly popular since it’s so easy for beginner plant owners to grow. They require moderate indirect sunlight but are capable of surviving with much less. Water the plant heavily, allow the soil to drain, and empty any excess water from the plant’s container. If you live in a dry home, mist the leaves with water every day, or set up a humidifier. The monstera prefers temperatures from 70 to 80 degrees.
How It Takes Care Of You: The parlor palm can remove a significant amount of benzene and trichloroethylene from the air, reducing the pollutants that may be coming from your household appliances.
How To Take Care of It: This palm plant is particularly easy to take care of making it a good option for beginner gardeners. It will grow to a maximum of 3 or 4 feet so make sure to pot it in a container with ample space. This plant loves low light and shady areas. Make sure to keep it out of direct light. Water freely during the growing seasons (spring and summer) and water much less in dormant seasons (fall and winter). This plant enjoys humidity so you can spray it with a water bottle or set up a humidifier in its room.
How It Takes Care Of You: Aloe Vera may be one of the more effective air purifiers on this list. While many purifying plants can remove up to 60% of toxins in a room, the aloe plant can remove up to 90% of pollutants in a time period of 24 hours. This plant is helpful in removing carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene. It is also medicinal to use the leaves for treatment of small topical injuries, bug bites, and sunburn.
How To Take Care of It: Aloe plants like bright indirect sunlight. They do best in temperatures between 55F and 80F. They should be watered once every three weeks and less often in the winter. They do well in rocky well-draining soil.
Broad Lady Palm
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant can help to remove toxins such as formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene, and toluene from the air.
How To Take Care of It: This palm can grow as tall as 6 feet so make sure to provide it with a large deep pot. This plant likes to be well-watered and should be watered when the soil is dry. Make sure you plant it in well-draining soil so that it doesn’t develop root rot from stagnant water. It prefers partially sunny or shady areas of the home. Make sure to keep this one out of direct sunlight. It prefers temperatures between 60F and 80F.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant can effectively break down the toxin toluene. It helps reduce airborne dust levels and can increase humidity in a home.
How To Take Care of It: Since the fittonia is a tropical plant, it needs regular watering. Additionally, it is best to mist it’s leaves once or twice a day. This plant prefers bright indirect light. Darker lighting conditions may cause its leaves to lose some of its color and grow slower.
Ficus (Weeping Fig)
How It Takes Care Of You: The ficus plant is a great purifier that can filter formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene out of the home.
How To Take Care of It: Water your ficus once a week. You can water it until you notice water flowing into the saucer. Then you can stop and pour out the excess fluid. This plant thrives in temperatures ranging from 60F to 75F. It can do well in average humidity conditions, but you can regularly mist its leaves with water to create an ideal environment.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is highly effective at removing ammonia, xylene, toluene, and formaldehyde from a room.
How To Take Care of It: This plant can be harder to take care of and is recommended for intermediate to advanced house plant growers. It should be potted in a high-draining soil and placed in an area that receives bright indirect sunlight. You can water your flamingo lily once the soil is dry. However, it will not do well if left dry for too long, as it isn’t drought-tolerant. You can use a flowering fertilizer once a month as most. Mist the plant’s flowers frequently when they bloom.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is considered to be the top air-purifying palm by the popular NASA clean air study. It can remove xylene and toluene from your indoor environment and also produces a high amount of humidity. Many areca palm owners say that it can replace a humidifier in winter months.
How To Take Care of It: Water the palms enough so that it is slightly wet between waterings in the spring and summer. Let the soil dry slightly between waterings in the winter and fall. The plant will do well if it is fertilized once during the spring season. They do best in indirect light and partial shade. They are very temperature tolerant and can withstand temperatures between 20F to 90F.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant can help absorb benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde, common irritants found in indoor environments.
How To Take Care of It: Poinsettias need 6 hours of bright indirect sunlight each day. They prefer cooler temperatures ranging from 60F to 70F. Water the plants when the soil begins to get dry. Make sure to avoid dramatic temperature drops which will cause premature wilting.
Purple Waffle Plant (Red Ivy)
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is helpful in removing carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene. It can also add moisture to the air.
How To Take Care of It: This plant likes medium to bright indirect sunlight. Its purple leaves may fade if it doesn’t get enough sun or grow light exposure. This plant does well with water. Water it frequently enough to keep the soil slightly moist, but not soaking wet. These plants prefer a temperature range of 55F to 80F.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant is known for its ability to filter out benzene and toluene from indoor environments.
How To Take Care of It: This relatively low-care plant will do well in low-light conditions, but requires a larger amount of light to bloom. This plant is drought tolerant and prefers a slightly drier environment. In spring and summer, water them once every week. In fall and winter, water about once every two weeks. Make sure the soil drains well so the roots are not sitting in the water.
How It Takes Care Of You: This versatile house plant can help break down formaldehyde, xylene, ammonia, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene in your home.
How To Take Care of It: This plant will need a space that allows for 4 by 3 feet of height and width. This fern is happiest in temperatures from 50F to 75F. They do best in moist environments, so consider misting your plant consistently or placing a humidifier in the same room as your plant. The asparagus fern likes bright indirect lighting. Be careful with direct sunlight, which could burn and yellow the plant’s leaves.
How It Takes Care Of You: This plant can remove formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from indoor environments.
How To Take Care of It: These plants really enjoy moisture so make sure to keep them fairly moist when growing in containers. If you cut the plants back once flowing has ceased, you can often encourage a second bloom. This also can prevent the plant from seeding. It prefers the temperature range of 55F to 80F.
How It Takes Care Of You: The Boston Fern is known to remove a significant amount of formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene from the atmosphere.
How To Take Care of It: This plant likes bright indirect light. A soil that drains well will be best for keeping the root system happy. In the winter it’s a good idea to provide them with a little additional moisture by misting them consistently. They prefer a temperature range of 65F to 75F. Ferns like indirect sunlight where they can receive lots of light without being damaged.
There is a lot more work to do when it comes to high-quality research in regards to plant purifiers. In reality, it would take a significant amount of plants to convert the air quality of an average-sized home. However, as city homesteaders, we tend to believe that increasing green space, inside and out, makes us happier and healthier people!
What air purifying plants do you have in your home? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Hi there, my name is Rachel Dennis. I love finding affordable, sustainable, and enjoyable solutions for indoor gardeners and urban homesteaders. I love learning and writing about DIY wellness, fermentation, gardening, and all things small-space homesteading. Find out more.