The Best Air-Purifying Plants
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The Best Air-Purifying Plants for Your Home

Indoor air pollution

Living in an energy efficient, modern building can have unintended side effects. One of these side effects is less air flow. Lack of air flow allows for indoor air pollution to build up and cause health issues like asthma or sick building syndrome.

In fact, modern furnishings, synthetic building materials, and even your own carpet may carry more chemicals than expected. These chemicals can make up to 90 percent of indoor air pollution.

Plants to the rescue

In 1998, NASA discovered that houseplants can absorb harmful toxins from the air, especially in enclosed spaces with little air flow. This study has been the basis for newer studies about indoor plants and their air cleaning abilities. While plants have less horse power than air purifiers, they’re more natural, cost effective, and therapeutic.

Plants are also known to:

  • increase mood and productivity
  • enhance concentration and memory
  • reduce stress and fatigue
Sick building syndrome
NASA astronauts experience sick building syndrome all the time in their sealed space stations. Sick building syndrome occurs when people who work or live inside a building experience symptoms such as:
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • irritation in the eyes, throat, or nose
  • coughing
  • dry or itchy skin
  • inability to focus
  • allergies
These symptoms usually go away when you leave the building for a certain amount of time. While the cause is unknown, sick building syndrome is known to reduce productivity.

NASA recommends two or three plants in 8 to 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet. Some plants are better at removing certain chemicals than others. Household chemicals come from objects and materials like:

  • carpets
  • glues
  • ovens
  • cleaning solutions
  • synthetic materials such as plastic, fiber, and rubber

You’ll benefit the most when you include a variety of plants in a room.

Safety concerns before you buy a plant

You may want to reconsider air-purifying plants if you have pets such as cats and dogs. Many of these plants can be toxic to them. Ask the staff at your local greenhouse about pet-safe and allergy-safe options. You can also look up which plants are toxic to animals on the ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants page.

An increase in plants can also affect humidity and promote mold growth. You can prevent this by letting the water drain into a pan or a tray, removing excess water regularly, and using sub-irrigation planters. Covering the top of the soil with Spanish moss or aquarium gravel also removes mold.

Which air-purifying plant should you get?

Take the quiz below to see which plant will thrive best in your home!

Plants that are easy to care for

For people who want to try out their green thumb first, these plants may be for you. While they don’t require daily care, most of them will thrive better if they get fertilized once a month.

Spider plant

Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)

Also known as air plants, spider plants grow quickly and look great in hanging baskets, especially in your work space. Sometimes they even produce lovely white blossoms.

Spider plants have more than 200 species and many of them can survive a little forgetfulness from us.

Plant care: Water your spider plants two to three times a week. 

Non-toxic: For children or animals who like to play with swinging things, this plant is safe.

Eliminates: formaldehyde, xylene

Dracaenas

Dracaenas

Dracaenas are a newbie green thumb’s dream. This large group of houseplants comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Choose from the tall corn plant, which has interesting markings, or the rainbow plant, which comes in bright purple.

Plant care: Keep the soil damp but not soggy, as too much water is a kiss of death for this plant.

Toxic to animals: Your cat or dog may vomit, salivate more, or have dilated pupils if they eat dracaenas.

Eliminates: formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene, trichloroethylene

Golden pothos

Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

Also known as devil’s ivy, this plant may be as close as plants can get to indestructible. It flourishes in a variety of conditions and can grow up to 8 feet long.  It’s also considered one of the most effective indoor air purifiers for removing common toxins.

Plant care: Water when the soil is dry. You can trim the tendrils when the plant gets too big.

Toxic to animals: Keep this plant out of reach for both cats and dogs.

Eliminates: formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene, carbon monoxide, and more

Areca palms

Areca palms (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

This small plant from Madagascar is easier to grow outdoors. But if you have a space with bright filtered light, its gracefully arching leaves will make a pretty addition to the room.

Plant care: This thirsty plant needs plenty of water during growth, but less in the winter.

Non-toxic: These tall plants and their leaves are non-toxic to both cats and dogs.

Eliminates: benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and more 

Mums

Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Florist’s chrysanthemums or “mums” are ranked the highest for air purification. They’re shown to eliminate common toxins as well as ammonia.

Treat yourself to a fresh pot, as this flower only blooms for about six weeks. Or you can fertilize the pot again in the spring when new growth appears. But without the flowers, it won’t be purifying the air. If you don’t want to wait, you might want to just get a new pot.

Plant care: Check the soil’s moisture every other day, and keep it damp.

Toxic to animals: Even though it has a friendly name, mums are toxic to both cats and dogs.

Eliminates: formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, ammonia

Plants that need a little extra love

These air-purifying plants are ideal for people who want to spend more time with their plant. All of them require fertilizer once a month, as well as extra care like misting or repotting.

Bamboo

Bamboo palms (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

This sturdy plant is known for its easy elegance and height. It likes bright, but not direct sunlight, and does have preferences about its care. Bamboo palms also transpire a healthy dose of moisture into the air, making it a welcome addition in dry winter months.

Plant care: Keep the soil moist. Place bamboo palms where air circulates freely, and mist occasionally to prevent spider mites.

Non-toxic: Bamboo palms are safe to keep in a house with pets.

Eliminates: formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide, xylene, chloroform, and more

English ivies

English ivy (Hedera helix)

This evergreen climbing plant is well adapted to indoor conditions. Different varieties will prefer different light situations, from bright, indirect light to low-light spaces. It’ll look especially picturesque growing from a hanging basket or around your windowsill.

Plant care: Water generously during growth, but don’t overwater during the winter.

Toxic to animals and humans: Although the English ivy thrives almost anywhere, it’s known to cause problems in dogs, farm animals, and humans when eaten. The chemicals in the sap can also cause severe contact dermatitis in humans, especially those with sensitive skin.

Eliminates: benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and more

Rubber plant

Rubber plants (Ficus elastic)

Rubber plants are evergreen trees from India. Their roots grow upwards and often become entwined around the plant’s trunk, forming interesting shapes. These plants love bright, filtered light and a little attention now and then.

Plant care: Water moderately to keep the soil moist, especially in the winter. Prune the leaves and wipe them down to keep them looking pretty.

Toxic to animals: Rubber plants are toxic to cats and dogs.

Eliminates: carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and more

Chinese evergreen

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema)

These evergreen perennials are native to tropical forests in Asia. In addition to looking patterned and colorful, these pretty plants can remove many common toxins. But caring for these plants may require extra attention.

Plant care: Water moderately and allow compost to almost dry out before watering. Chinese evergreens like high humidity, a little regular misting, and getting repotted every few years.

Toxic to animals: Chinese evergreen plants are toxic to dogs.

Eliminates: benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and more

Peace lilies image

Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum)

In the 1980s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America discovered that peace lilies were one of the top three plants for removing common household toxins, even ammonia.

Plant care: Keep soil slightly moist. Peace lilies thrive in most lighting conditions, but too little light can prevent flowers from blooming.

Toxic to animals and humans: Despite its calming name, this beautiful plant is toxic to cats, dogs, and children. It’s best to keep this as an ornamental plant as it can cause burning, swelling, and skin irritation in adults.

Eliminates: formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, ammonia, and more

More ways to purify the air in your home

Besides houseplants, there are other ways you can purify the air in your home:

  • Keep your floors clean by vacuuming and mopping.
  • Avoid synthetic cleaners or air fresheners.
  • Reduce humidity in your air.
  • Increase ventilation.

In fact, some studies also used air filters in combination with plants. So if you’re new to planting or don’t have enough room, purchasing an air filter is one easy step to cleaner air. 

Learn more: How to protect your home against hidden toxins »

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