Urban Natural Homes January 9, 2015

Best Houseplants for Improving Indoor Air Quality


Houseplants are a great way to bring nature indoors. I don’t feel like a room is visually complete without a few plants here and there. But it turns out that plants do a lot more for our general well-being than provide a little visual up-lift. Sure, we all learned in middle school biology that plants give off oxygen and thus are healthful to have around. But did you know that houseplants are also very effective at breaking down pollutants in the air that effect indoor air quality? And apparently certain plants are more adept than others at targeting specific chemicals and pollutants given off from building materials, cleaning products, furniture, paint and varnish off-gassing and car exhaust. In the 1980’s, NASA studied houseplants as a way to purify the air in space facilities, placing various plants in sealed chambers and then exposing them to high concentrations of chemicals. Again, they found that some plants were better than others at ridding the air of toxins. More studies have been conducted since, and what follows is a list of some of the more common toxin cleaning ‘all-stars’ that are easy both to find and to grow:

English Ivy:

The NASA study listed English Ivy as the top best air-filtering houseplant as it is the most effective plant for absorbing formaldehyde. They need quite a bit of light and prefer to have the soil dry out slightly between watering.

Peace Lily:

Peace lily removes a long list of toxins including acetone, benzene, alcohols and ammonia and is also lovely to look at with its pretty upright foliage and unusual flowers. It’s very low maintenance and does well in shade and cooler temperatures.

Snake Plant:

Also one of the best plants for filtering out formaldehyde, snake plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the night, which most plants do during the day; so it’s a good choice for the bedroom to give you a bit of an oxygen boost while you’re sleeping.

Bamboo Palm:

Bamboo palms are easy to find and make a striking addition to living room décor. Known to be particularly effective at clearing out the chemicals benzene and trichloroethylene, bamboo palms need to be well-watered and thrive in either shade or indirect sunlight.

Rubber Plant:

Repeatedly mentioned as a plant that almost anyone can keep alive, this low maintenance plant is another that works well at eradicating formaldehyde. It can thrive in dim lighting and cooler temperatures—just give it some water now and then.

Gerber Daisy:

A favorite cut-flower for many, who knew the plant itself could be so effective at improving indoor air quality? Gerber daisy is especially good at removing trichloroethylene, which can be brought in from dry cleaning. Be sure to give this plant lot of light.

Golden Pothos:

This is a very common and easy-care houseplant. Because it stays green even when it’s kept in the dark, it has been suggested that one could keep a plant in the garage to help remove the formaldehyde from car exhaust!

Red-Edged Dracaena:

This very decorative plant has red colored edges and can grow to be quite large, even reaching to ceiling height. It is great at removing xylene and trichloroethylene, which can off-gas from lacquers and varnishes. Give it plenty of light.

Spider Plant:

Spider plants are one of the most common of houseplants (it’s the one with the little spider ‘babies’ that dangle down from the main plant) and are effective at fighting a long list of pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene. They prefer bright light, but will grow under a wide range of lighting conditions.