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Cure Indoor Air Pollution with Plants - NASA Study to Improve Air Quality

Updated on July 19, 2014

The EPA, NASA and Indoor Air Pollution

The EPA rates indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to public health. Fortunately, NASA, in studies designed to find ways of improving indoor air quality in closed environments such as space capsules and space stations found a solution.

NASA learned that indoor plants were effective in removing the volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) emitted, or off gassed, from the synthetic materials used in the construction of the space capsules.

Due to a change in the composition of products commonly brought into our homes these same synthetic materials and fabricated wood products are major contributors to indoor air pollution in our homes. In addition, in the name of energy efficiency, our homes and offices have become more and more sealed environments.


NASA, Our Homes and Indoor Air Pollution

The result? Polluted air trapped in our homes. We now have the same indoor air pollution issues in our homes and offices that NASA faces with space capsules and space stations.

Dr Bill Wolverton, NASA research scientist, and author of the book “How to Grow Fresh Air—50 houseplants that purify your home or office” suggests the inclusion of 2-3 plants in 8-10 inch containers, for each 100 sq feet of living space to improve indoor air pollution problems.

Plants Improve Indoor Air Quality

Bring the outdoors in and improve indoor air quality
Bring the outdoors in and improve indoor air quality

Top Five Plants for Removing Indoor Air Pollution

Dr Wolverton’s top five recommendations, for ease of growth are:

Peace Lilyhas long dark green leaves and a unique white flower. It thrives in low light and breaks down benzene and trichloroethylene.

Areca Palm is an excellent air purifier. It removes acetone, formaldehyde and xylene from indoor air.

Lady Palm is very resistant to plant insects and will tolerate a wide range of indoor environments.

Ficus Alii is easy to grow, insect resistant and known for it's braided trunk.  It is effective at filtering formaldehyde

Golden Pathos is a low growing vine that is very easy to grow. It removes benzene and formaldehyde from the air.

These five indoor plant species, not only clear toxins and improve indoor air quality, but they add healthy moisture to indoor air.

Next Top Five Plants for Removing Indoor Air Pollution

Rounding out the list to give Dr Wolverton’s top 10 recommendations for removing indoor air quality are:

Arrowhead Vine is a climber that removes formaldehyde, toluene, trichlorothylene and xylene from the surrounding atmosphere.  Cuttings grow easily in a moist environment.  Buy only one, and in no time you will have many plants.

Bamboo Palm adds moisture to dry air while removing benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde.

Dwarf Date Palm removes formaldehyde and xylene from surrounding indoor air.

Rubber Plant excels at removing formaldehyde, but be warned rubber plant leaves may be toxic. 

English Ivy is tolerant of low light and irregular watering habits.  It removes benzene, mold and feces from indoor air

For the Top 50 household plants for improving indoor air quality, purchase his book: 

“How to Grow Fresh Air—50 houseplants that purify your home or office” from Amazon. 

Some plant leaves are toxic, and the book provides alternate lists of plants that are safe around pets and small children.


 Plants not only improve indoor air quality by removing chemical toxins that contribute to indoor air pollution, they have also been shown to reduce stress, raise humidity and filter dust from the air. 

What they ask for in return is water and occasional fertilizing; but please, don’t compound indoor air pollution by using a chemical fertilizer!


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    • profile image

      Carly Wyatt 4 years ago

      Laura, you are right. There is a book available that actually gives a list of clean air plants that are safe for children and/or pets. I used to have an amazon capsule linking to it on this hub, but that seems to have disappeared! - likely user error - that would be me. Now to see if the book is still in stock!

      I too am a big fan of spider pants. Almost impossible to kill and they thrive in all sorts of environments. And they self propagate. Once the plant is big enough it shoots out a little runner with a new plant on it. Just brilliant....

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      This is SOOO cool! Just watch out because some of the clean air plants aren't safe for pets (or kids?) to eat.

      I love spider plants--I don't seem to kill them as quickly as other plants. LOL I'll try branching out more in the future, however. (Pun irresistible.) :D

    • profile image

      Carly Wyatt 4 years ago

      This research was also the reason I decided that "real" plants belonged in my home too! Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • Rasimo profile image

      Rasimo 4 years ago


    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 4 years ago from Austin, TX

      Really interesting. I haven't had any natural plants inside my home, but now I'm considering on getting one. Thanks for the well researched hub

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 6 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      Thanks for the great tips! I just bought a new house and am in need of new houseplants--I'll simply buy "green" ones. Now I just need to figure out what won't harm my dog...a true Lab who'll eat just about anything once :-) . I'd better buy that book before going to the greenhouse.

      One question: you say, "Don't compound the problem by adding a chemical fertilizer". What do you recommend?

      Also, houseplants can be a source of mold, excessive humidity, and allergy/asthma triggers. Would you write about that for me please?

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 8 years ago

      I have indoor plants, but apparently I need more according to the information here. I know they also help humidify the air which is another positive.