We use houseplants just for decoration but we can also turn to houseplants for clean air.
You’ll have no problem finding these ordinary houseplants in your local florist or garden centre
Back in the 1980s NASA conducted research into houseplants in order to provide clean air for space stations. The science proved that many houseplants do indeed help to filter harmful volatile organic compounds. VOCs include formaldehyde (found in carpets, upholstery, glues, paint, …) and benzene (found in plastics, synthetic fibres, lubricants, rubber, pesticides…).
Houseplants happily draw in carbon dioxide and release clean oxygen for us to breathe – plus they filter poisonsClick to tweet
Easy-care houseplants that look after you
English ivy (Hedera helix)
Of all the houseplants for clean air ivy is perhaps the easiest to find. In the garden it can become invasive but it makes a perfect houseplant. It’s a good choice for people who own pets as it can reduce the amount of airborne fecal particles – but remember that the leaves are poisonous.
Surprisingly for such a common plant, ivy is the best of all houseplants at absorbing formaldehyde in the air.
It’s very easy to grow. Give it rich soil that retains moisture and bright light, especially the variegated varieties.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are one of the most important houseplants for clean air. Within two days it can remove up to 90% of toxins in the air. It removes xylene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide as well as mould and other allergens.
Spider plants are extremely easy to grow. They like moist soil but it must be free-draining as the thick roots may rot in excess water. Having said that… spider plants can also be grown directly in water as the roots get used to the absence of soil.
They thrive in cool temperatures and moderate light but give them sunlight to promote variegation and avoid the tips turning brown.
NASA’s top recommendation of all houseplants for clean air
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)
The peace lily is NASA’s top recommendation of all houseplants for clean air. It absorbs mould spores through its leaves so it’s particularly helpful in damp environments. It also absorbs vapours from alcohol and acetone.
They thrive in warm and humid conditions. Let the soil almost dry out in between watering and feeding. It flowers even in the shade but it blooms continuously if given ample light. The white petal-like portion is actually a leaf called a spathe that protects the flower. Remove older spathes to encourage more flowers.
Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
The stand-out feature of these houseplants is their rich colours. They’re usually grown in the garden as a half-hardy perennial but you can grow them as houseplants if you give them lots of direct sunlight. Ideally return them to the garden in the spring and bring them indoors after the buds develop.
Chrysanthemums absorb many chemicals including xylene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, toluene, and benzene.
Snake plant (Mother-in-law’s tongue, Sansevieria)
The snake plant is rare among plants in that it releases oxygen at night rather than during the day. This makes it ideal for the bedroom to help you breathe better while you sleep. Their position as one of the most important houseplants for clean air is assured – they absorb a host of chemicals including xylene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, toluene, and benzene.
You can tell from the thick leaves that this plant is tough. In fact it’s almost indestructible. It survives shade and neglect, it’s not affected by pests or diseases and it doesn’t need much watering. For variegated leaves do give them sunlight and watering. No feeding required other than a general houseplant fertiliser once or twice a year.
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
This houseplant is another that’s easy to care for. It does well in full shade and thrives even with infrequent watering. It’s a tropical plant so mist the leaves occasionally – if the air becomes too dry the tips of the leaves turn brown.
It clears the air of benzene and formaldehyde .
Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
This houseplant is usually grown outdoors in tropical climates but you can grow it indoors if you water regularly. They thrive in both humid or dry conditions and they survive in low light, though bright sunlight encourages growth. It does flower but only under certain circumstances.
This is one of the few houseplants to absorb ammonia, which is found in cleaning products. It also absorbs formaldehyde and xylene.
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
Weeping figs absorb formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene . They are sensitive to draughts so site them in a cosy part of the home – but keep them away from radiators as they prefer high humidity.
We don’t think of daisies as strong but…
Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
This flowering houseplant absorbs trichloroethylene which is one of the chemicals used in dry cleaning so site the houseplant wherever you keep your laundered clothes, possibly the bedroom?
All those flowers mean you’ll need to feed this plant regularly all through the season. You can limit watering to reduce the risk of diseases but don’t let it dry out.
These plants are often used as cut flowers too. They’re usually grown as hardy annuals outside but you can grow them indoors in direct sunlight. Avoid afternoon sun as it can scorch the leaves.
This houseplant is very easy to grow however you must remember that as they consist of 95% water they are extremely frost-tender. Keep it close to a sunny window.
Aloe vera absorbs benzene and formaldehyde . It’s also useful to have at home for its ability to treat minor burns.
The dragon tree plant (Dracaena marginata, D. fragrans ‘Massangeana’, D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ and ‘Warneckei’)
This architectural plant is one of the most effective at removing pollutants, including formaldehyde and benzene . NASA found the red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata) to be the most effective variety.
It’s slow-growing but it can reach 8ft in height. You can keep the height under control by pruning the canes when they get too tall.
Many plants are toxic to pets. If you have a dog or a cat please pay special attention to the plants you choose for your home. If in doubt place plants well out of reach.