14 Plants that Clean Your Indoor Air of Toxic Chemicals

Monday Mar 25 | BY |
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Plants Purify Air

The simple Chrysanthemum can help you breathe cleaner indoor air.

In a 1987 study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked indoor air pollution fourth in cancer risk among the 13 top environmental problems analyzed. The United Nations Development Program estimated that more than two million people die each year due to the presence of toxic indoor air.

Most people spend more time indoors than outdoors these days, and acording to research from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (ARB), indoor air pollutant levels are often higher than those outdoors, and contain potentially dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, chloroform, and styrene, in ranges two to 50 times higher than outdoor levels.

What can you do? In addition to standard safey measures like testing for radon, installing an air filter, allowing and allowing for regular ventilation, and using eco-friendly cleaners, recent research shows that several types of houseplants can help significantly reduce the levels of pollutants in your home or office.

Studies Show Plants Work

Several studies have indicated that indoor plants can help us breathe cleaner air.

  1. Study 1: A research team from Pennsylvania State University published the results of a study on the effects of three common houseplants on indoor ozone levels in HortTechnology. They released ozone into two chambers—one with houseplants, and one without—and found the ozone depletion rates were higher in the chambers that contained plants. Ozone is the main component of air pollution, or smog, and frequently infiltrates indoor environments. Toxic effects on humans include pulmonary edema, inflammation, and reduction of lung function.
  2. Study 2: In 1989, a two-year study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America found that certain tropical plants commonly used as houseplants were effective in removing formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethane from the air and replacing it with breathable oxygen. Though all plants provide some benefit to air quality, the tropical ones proved more effective at processing gas and chemicals.
  3. Study 3: Studies over the past five years by the University of Technology, Sydney, found that installing small groups of the Janet Craig and Sweet Chico plants in offices reduced total levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by up to 75 percent, and dust by 20 percent, with results consistent over the 5-12 weeks studied. Researchers estimate that six or more plants in a 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot house could achieve significant reduction of indoor air pollution.
  4. Study 4: Research from the Washington State University found that dust was reduced as much as 20 percent when a number of plants were placed around the perimeter of a computer lab and small office for one week.

Plants That Can Clean Up Your Indoor Air

Plants clean indoor air in two ways—by absorbing contaminants through pores on the leaves, and by metabolizing contaminants through organisms living in the soil. In fact, plants are so effective that some stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, are starting to label the most effective ones with tags.

Though it seems most plants will benefit indoor air, the following are those that have been shown in scientific studies and shown to work. These plants can also help maintain humidity levels and remove mold spores and bacteria from the air.

  1. Spider Plant: formaldehyde, xylene and toluene.
  2. Golden Pothos: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.
  3. Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue): benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.
  4. Bamboo Palm or Reed Palm: formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.
  5. Chinese Evergreen: benzene, formaldehyde.
  6. Peace Lily: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia.
  7. English Ivy: mold and mildew, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and toluene.
  8. Gerbera Daisies: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene.
  9. Red-Edged Dracaena (Dracaena Marginata): benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
  10. Warneck Dracaena: benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
  11. Weeping Fig: formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.
  12. Chrysanthemum: formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia.
  13. Boston fern: formaldehyde, xylene and toluene.
  14. Philodendron: formaldehyde.

Do you use houseplants to clean up indoor air? Which ones?

* * *

“Reducing Indoor Air Pollution a Serious Health Problem,” California Air Resources Board, May 2, 2001, http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/rediap.htm.

American Society for Horticultural Science (2009, September 9). Houseplants Cut Indoor Ozone. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 25, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/09/090908103634.htm.

“Best Houseplants to Improve Indoor Air Quality,” Pro’s Who Know, March 1, 2010, http://proswhoknow.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/best-houseplants-to-improve-indoor-air-quality/.

“A Superhero Scrubs the Air: the Mighty Houseplant,” The Wallstreet Journal, March 14, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704893604576200423930895948.html.

Heather L. Papinchak, et al., “Effectiveness of Houseplants in Reducing the Indoor Air Pollutant Ozone,” HortTechnology, April-June 2009, 19(2): 286-290, http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/19/2/286.full.pdf.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. DeniseKan says:

    Well, it appears there are only 13 –
    #5 Chinese Evergreen: benzene, formaldehyde
    is the same as #13 Chinese Evergreen: benzene and formaldehyde

  2. Teddy says:

    Ozone is the most powerful natural healing modality on the planet.
    Re. Study 1: The only reason ozone is a “component” of air pollution is
    because of the electrical differential regarding laws of attraction.
    The more pollution, the great the amount of ozone is attracted to
    neutralize, decompose and literally purify all the pollutants into harmless
    compounds. Ozone is God’s or nature’s ultimate natural purifier.
    The only reason pure ozone is a temporary lung irritant is because
    it is detoxifying the lungs to rapidly relative to the concentration.
    In over a million internal ozone treatments in Germany the “side effects”
    were less than .00005% and were actually not side effects, but a temporary cleansing reaction.
    There is not one harmful anaerobic bacteria, virus, fungi, toxin, poison or heavy metal
    that can exist in the presence of sufficient concentration of ozone (which is 3 molecules of oxygen).
    We are a “sea” of oxygen related micro-organisms. Ozone becomes hydrogen peroxide when in contact with moisture and thus in the body. The killer “T” cells create microcidal amounts of hydrogen peroxide to kill the pathogens in the body.

  3. Tiffany says:

    We have a tower garden in the house, which several plants grow from. It waters them regularly, is very water/energy efficient and has minerals that we add to the water to feed the plants. Practically anything other than root vegetables can be grown in it.

    • Where did you get the tower planter? Sounds like a smart move.

    • kristhiana says:

      Thanks for the info Tiffany! Is there a special name for the one you like so much or should I just google plant towers? The idea of having “cleaning” plants in my home is one I wish to pursue. Anybody know if these are safe for pets? Cats especially?

  4. Zyxomma says:

    Aspidistra not only cleans up indoor air, but will help stop bleeding if you cut yourself.

  5. Renata says:

    I have 3 plants. I put 2 by the couch/TV room and one in the bedroom. I picked the EASIEST ones to care for as I have no green thumbs hehe. I have had them over a year now and I have named them all and talk to them everyday. It seems to be working. None have died yet where normally I get a plant and it dies within a month. (true and sad at the same time). So this time I wanted to purchase plants even an idiots could take care of and not have it die… hehe or for a person who does not have the magic touch in caring for a plant. Here are the 3 I chose and if you think you have no green thumb…ALL of these are ALMOST self-sustaining with remembering to water every week. They do not need tons of sunlight and they are the BEST for clearing toxins. If I had to choose just one it would #1 of the 3. It is the most powerful and effective and you see them always in restaurants or banks or hotels.

    1 – SNAKE PLANT (sansaviera) …great to bring along with you in your RV and put beside your bed or put a couple in your bedroom… this one is the KING of purification and extra awesome oxygen for you when you sleep. Yup yup. You will see these everywhere in commercial places ie restaurants, banks, lobbies etc. Little effort to take care of and powerful purification.

    2- CYCAD

    3 – PEACE LILY …I find you really have to water this one. When you do water it, it looks so amazing. From droopy to perky and full in so little time.

    ORGANIC fertilizer is the BEST! It smells so good and you are not adding chemicals to feed your plants in your home. Just a thought. It is not expensive. A huge bag of organic dirt is about $6. That fills 3 large pots + some.

    • aaron says:

      Hi Renata,
      how is it possible that the snake plant produce extra oxygen during the night? in my biology class, i learnt that plants produce CO2. is this an exception?

    • KatyLee says:

      A peace lily grows great in a self-watering pot. I have two in larger self-watering pots in my bathroom under the sky light. They look beautiful!

  6. aaron says:

    plants give out CO2 at nite. is that a concern, esp when u r sleeping ? i also have problems with fungus growing in the soil before. anyone know a solution to that?

    • reen says:

      Aaron, the process of photosynthesis explains that all plants absorb carbon dioxide and oxygen is released. There is a really nice book called How To Grow Fresh Air that is very basic and explains it all and gives much extensive information on the use of may more plants. I highly recommend it.

  7. Robin says:

    Thank you for this fantastic article and list! I need all these plants! My concern is my two cats–how many are toxic to my cats that I must figure out strategic places to put the plants?

    Again, thank you for such great information! I also appreciate the sources–so weary of people not believing me when I tell them about the wonders of green plants.

  8. Janet Wise says:

    This could not be more timely for us. Our department was just moved into a renovated building full of new carpet, paint and cubicles. Many of us have developed hacking coughs and headaches since the move two weeks ago. My air purifier doesn’t seem to be as beneficial as I would like, as it is not always on but the carpet off-gassing is 24/7. We have many of these plants at home that will be relocating as early as tomorrow morning.

    I cannot say THANK YOU enough!

  9. mork says:

    Two questions:
    1. Do these plants need to be organic to be helpful?
    2. How many plants per square foot of house?
    Thank you! M

    • LynnCS says:

      Per square foot, I don’t know, but I have plants around in every room. I’m sure there are helpful and not so helpful reasons to have plants. I just love them. My Allergist told me to get rid of all my plants, even tho I didn’t test allergic to them. Ehem…I didn’t do it, but since I tested allergic to molds, cat dander, houshold dust, mites, etc. I checked out my plants and the surface of some had mold on them. This is something I could do something about. First I cleaned up the surfaces, topped off the soil with a good ph balanced soil, and started using a good liquid food in with the water each time I water. I use Schultz’. Keep the leaves clean. There are some good cleaning products, but I just use water. If they are small enough to carry to the shower, every now and then I put them in the shower and give them a good flush. It seems to clean the leaves pretty well.

      About the organic question. I have not found nursery plants that have been grown without some kind of spraying. There might be. My suggestion is to buy starters as small as possible and rear them yourself. When you get it home and are preparing it to pot it up, turn the small container on it’s side protecting the soil from falling out and squirt it with the hose to rinse of any residue. Keep some natural pest spray on hand for things that either come with or infest the plant once it is in your home. Use a good soil. I like Whitney Farms Premium. Read up on how deep to plant them and get a good sense of how to water. Too much kills them and too little will too. They’re pretty hardy, but require care.

      My Christmas/Easter cactus is blooming right now. Make sure to use the right kind of food to encourage green growth or to encourage flowering.

      It’s all very easy, but takes some thought and attention.

      You will be rewarded with some great plant friends. Enjoy!

  10. Thanks so much for this informative article! I never thought that indoor air is much more dangerous than the outdoor ones. I don’t have a plant inside my home, I put all of them in the garden. But with this article, I might consider buying a peace lily and put it in my living room. This is really alarming and I’m glad that I was able to read this article. Thanks!

  11. Nicole says:

    Isn’t it incredible how mother nature can solve problems. To be able to reduce cancer by having a few selective plants around your home is great.
    I am very interested to hear that some of the plants you list will help lower mould spores. This is a contributing factor to my son’s asthma.

    • Nicole,
      It obviously does not help your son having mold in the house. However, as a mom whose son had asthma, I just wanted to share with you that emotions often trigger asthma, as well as other dis-eases (I prefer to use the word dis-balance).
      Therapeutic grade essential oil of tea tree is very helpful for the physical part of asthma.

    • Dana says:

      The food your son is eating could be a huge contributor to his asthma—a connection most people don’t make. The plants are nice but look into changing his diet. Food for medicine. Incorporating more plant-based, whole, organic, clean foods into one’s diet can reverse a multitude of common ailments from minor skin conditions, allergies, digestive issues, asthma, to more serious health issues such as cancers. Again, food for medicine—ridding the body of all “processed” foods that are ladden with ingreds. detrimental to human health. Chances are, if you do that, his asthma will diminish.


  12. Stephen Patterson says:

    Hi Kevin:

    I bet our friend the cannabis plant would remove alot of indoor toxins as it removes more CO2 emmissions than trees on a per acre basis.

    How about this amazing plant for your health. Google cannabis oil cures cancer. On you tube do a search cannabis oil cures cancer. Look for the Dan Hill interview. Dan Hill is a cancer researcher who cured his own prostate cancer using cannabis oil.

    Look up phoenixtears.ca
    Follow phoenixtears on facebook

    Stephen Patterson

  13. Kristin says:

    Wow, I guess I was under the impression that all plants took in CO2 and gave out Oxygen…I have a lot of plants, not sure of their specialty though, I’ll have to look it up!

  14. laura says:

    They are all poisonous to your pets, beware. do your research

  15. violet says:

    Since someone brought up cannabis, I’d like to “clear the air”, haha, on that one. It is not a cure-all. It’s use medicinally has become much more wide-spread than it should be. I think this is one of those cases of people wanting it to be good for you, just like there’s a study published every day about how good coffee is for you. I work for an Ayurvedic nutritionist, and in Ayurvedic terms, pot is very Vata-aggravating. Long-term use will intensify nervous disorders, cause certain kinds of brain damage like memory loss, and many other problems depending on the person’s constitution. Please do not mistake this for a defense of Pharma or a moral issue, it is not. I have no agenda. This is only what the ancient wisdom reveals, and it may be a good idea to get additional advice before using pot for any problems a person may have.

  16. This is great information!

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to “air out” house plants, or at least remove them from the bedroom?

    I diffuse therapeutic grade essential oils to purify the air. However, I always love to have plants around.

    Has anyone read The Secret Life of Plants? – this is one of my favorite books.

  17. Judith u.k. says:

    Hi I’ve had a book about all this for quite a few years based on the NASA research. This lists exactly which plants treat which chemicals. Eco-Friendly House Plants – B.C. Wolverton ISBN-10: 0297834843
    ISBN-13: 978-0297834847 Have used a lot of the plants mentioned to keep my environment clean. Peace Lily found it especially good when I had a new carpet. Also you can make a shake and vac shampoo with talc and aromatherapy oils for the new carpet which helps, you leave it on for a few hours and the oils help combat the toxic fumes then vac it up, renew again if necessary. see Valerie Ann Worwood’s Fragrant Pharmacy aromatherapy book. ISBN-10: 0553403974 | ISBN-13: 978-0553403978

  18. Kathy says:

    What about pets and the plants you listed. Cats and dogs for me. Cats can reach anywhere. Can you list the safest ones.

    Thanks, Kathy

  19. Victoria says:

    Yes. English Ivy. Good to know about the others. Thank you!

  20. Albertha says:

    Thanks for posting this article, Kevin. It reminded me of a TED video I watched from several years ago.
    The person gave the number of 3 different kinds of plants to use indoors and the quantity needed per
    person to grow cleaner indoor air. I found it again and posted the link if anyone is interested. Your article gives a larger variety. Much needed and appreciated information. Here is the link to that video: http://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meattle_on_how_to_grow_your_own_fresh_air.html

  21. barbara says:

    Been using plants as air purifiers for many many years. They really do a good job. Keeping them clean is important too. Dusting, wasing them off, make sure no mold is present.

  22. Lindsay says:

    Great post, I will share with the safer chemicals, healthy families community!

  23. V. Sandberg says:

    I actually have 12 plants in my house, but only two made your list. I have them for looks as much to clean the air, but I thought they were all about the same. Thanks for the article and the sources, Will consult this list before my next plant buying spree

  24. mary says:

    I do have a few plants in my house for decoration and for clean air. 2 spider plants and I forget the others.

  25. Karen says:

    I just recently heard Don Tolman speak. He said if you want to get toxins out of the house, cut a red onion in half and all the toxins will migrate to it!

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