Living in an energy-efficient, modern building can have unintended side effects. One of these side effects is less airflow. Lack of airflow 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% of indoor air pollution.

In 1989, NASA discovered that houseplants can absorb harmful toxins from the air, especially in enclosed spaces with little airflow. While this study was promising at the time, further analysis clarified that experiments in a closed system don’t necessarily translate to real-life situations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a response to the NASA study, explaining that to replicate the effects of the experiment, you would require 680 plants in one typical home.

While indoor plants do clean the air to a degree, and it is true that they increase the oxygen in your environment, they should not be viewed as a substitute for air purifiers.

Indoor plants have been shown to:

  • increase creativity and productivity
  • enhance concentration and memory
  • reduce stress and fatigue

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

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.

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 plants (Chlorophytum comosum)

Also known as air plants, spider plants grow quickly and look great in hanging baskets, especially in your workspace. 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 2–3 times a week.

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


Dracaenas are a newbie’s green thumb 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.

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.

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.

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.

Nontoxic: These tall plants and their leaves are nontoxic to both cats and dogs.

Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Treat yourself to a fresh pot of chrysanthemums or “mums,” as this flower only blooms for about 6 weeks. Or you can fertilize the pot again in the spring when new growth appears. 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.

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

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.

Nontoxic: Bamboo palms are safe to keep in a house with pets.

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.

Rubber plants (Ficus elastic)

Rubber plants are evergreen trees from India. Their roots grow upward 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.

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema)

These patterned and colorful evergreen perennials are native to tropical forests in Asia. 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.

Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum)

Peace lilies may be one of the plants that remove household toxins.

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.

Besides houseplants, there are other ways you can more effectively 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, whether you have plants in your environment or not, purchasing an air filter is one easy step to cleaner air.