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The Best Houseplants for Improving Air Quality

Updated on August 1, 2017
Dolores Monet profile image

An avid gardener for over 40 years, Dolores has landscaped for private clients and maintained one client's small orchid collection.

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Houseplants help keep the air in your home or office clean and fresh. They take carbon dioxide out of the air, replacing it with oxygen. Houseplants can also add moisture to dry air caused by heat and air conditioning.

Certain houseplants actually remove toxins from interior air. In order to learn how to keep the air in a closed environment clean, NASA studied various plants to see which ones did the best job.

It can be hard to believe that the air in our homes and offices can be tainted with poisonous fumes. There are several reasons for this:

1) During the energy crisis of the 1970s, buildings and houses were made to be more airtight in order to save on costly fuel. New buildings were created to be airtight and older buildings were renovated to follow the new standards. Those old drafty windows may have brought in the cold air, but they did bring in fresh air!

2) Many synthetic materials give off toxic fumes in a process called off-gassing. Plastic materials, paints, TV's, computers, carpets, and leather materials emit toxins like benzine, formaldehyde, ammonia, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.


The combined forces of today's many synthetic products, chemically treated products, and our air tight living and working environments can lead to respiratory problems, fatigue, focus issues, skin irritations, and more. (More information on chemicals at the end of this article)

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In the 1970s, scientists noted that the synthetic materials used in the construction of Skylab Space Station gave off chemical fumes. Research conducted on various houseplants showed NASA that some plants clean the air better than others.

You can grow many of these plants to freshen your air and remove harmful chemicals from your home or office. Most of these houseplants are easy to find, inexpensive, and relatively easy to grow. They would make a great addition to a room that is next to an attached garage, in a garage, or in a workshop.

Only 2 plants appear to remove all the tested toxins - Peace Lily and Chrysanthemum morifolium. Mums, however, do not make good houseplants. Most popular houseplants are tropical evergreens. Mums are deciduous and flower in cool weather. They may be nice to keep around for a few weeks are not usually kept as permanent houseplants.

Mums are typically fall flowers
Mums are typically fall flowers | Source

Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum

Peace Lily is a lovely houseplant and the best air cleaner, removing benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene, toluene, and trichloroethylene from the air.

Peace Lily has deep green oval leaves that grow up from the soil like Lily of the Valley. The plant bushes out nicely and produces a pretty, white singe petaled flower in Spring.

This easy houseplant prefers low light. Set several feet away from a window. Do not place Peace Lily in a South facing window. If the leaves turn brown at the edges or develop yellow streaks, the plant may be getting too much sunlight.

Once a week place Peace Lily in a sink and water heavily. (Allow the water that you use to sit out overnight to off-gas chlorine.) Make sure the plant has drained before placing the pot back in its saucer. Peace Lily does not like wet feet.

Dust off the leaves every so often and check for insects.

Keep Peace Lily out of drafts. Avoid chilly temperatures.

Fertilize with a light, liquid organic fertilizer, once a month in Spring and Summer.

Peace Lily
Peace Lily | Source

Snake Plant - Sansevieria trifasciata

Snake Plant filters benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and trichloroethylenefrom the air, making it the second best air purifying plant. The fact that it is one of the easiest to grow of all houseplants makes it all the more appealing.

Snake Plant has tall, lance shaped leaves that are thick and variegated. Some types show a yellow outline around each leaf.

Snake Plants need very little light and get by with infrequent water (every other week, monthly in winter). Dust off the leaves occasionally.If the plant looks pale, it may be getting too much sunlight.

Feed infrequently in Spring and Summer.

This plant is tough and long lived, easy to divide and easy to revive after neglect. It's the perfect plant for busy people or those who travel.

(My own plants are over 40 years old!)

Snake plant
Snake plant | Source

Dracaena Marginata

Dracaena marginata removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene from the air. Also called Dragon Tree, Dracaena marginata resembles a Dr. Seuss kind of palm tree. Long thin, pointed leaves edged in red emerge from a narrow trunk. The plant can grow a single or multiple trunk.

Grow Dracaena in bright but not direct sunlight

Do not over water. Water with room temperature water that has set out overnight. Drain well.

Fertilize lightly once a month in Spring and Summer.

When Dracaena marginata grows too tall, simply cut off the plant one foot or so below the leaves. Place cutting in loose, rich soil. Keep slightly moist. Not only will the cut off end root, but new leaves will sprout on the old trunk!


Dracaena marginata
Dracaena marginata | Source

Dracaena deremensis - Janet Craig

Janet Craig Dracaena removes benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from indoor air.

In a young Janet Craig, the dark green leaves emerge right from the soil. Mature plants grow a cane like trunk up to 10 feet tall. The leaves are shiny and should be dusted with a damp cloth. The plant and leaves are thicker and more lush than Dracaena marginata.

Janet Craig may flower producing an aromatic cluster on a long stalk, as shown in the picture on the right.

Care is similar to Dracaena marginata. Allow to dry out between watering. Do not let the container sit in a saucer of water. Brown leaf tips mean that the plant is too dry.

Place in bright, indirect light.

Fertilize lightly with a liquid fertilizer once a month in warm months.

Dacaena deremensis Janet Craig is also known as a corn plant.







Dracaena deremensis - Janet Craig
Dracaena deremensis - Janet Craig | Source

Dracaena deremensis Warneckii

Warneckii removes benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene from indoor air.

Dracaena Warneckii is similar to Janet Craig but the leaves are more narrow and more sharply pointed. The gray green leaves are attractively edged in white or various shades of a lighter green.

This plant prefers bright indirect light but is tolerant of low light conditions and artificial light. Warneckii grows up to 6 feet tall.

Treat like other Dracaena. Go easy on the water!


Dracaena Warneckii
Dracaena Warneckii | Source

Golden Pathos - Scindapsus aures

Golden Pathos or Devil's Ivy removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethythene, xylene, and toluene from interior air. This pretty vine features variegated, heart shaped leaves.

Allow Pathos to grow up a stake or spill over the edge of a pot. Though it may look pretty, think twice about letting this vine crawl up a wall. It can go crazy and will be very hard to remove.

It's shiny leaves are thicker, sturdier, and larger than those of the Heart Leaved Philodendron that it resembles.

Golden Pathos grows well in low light conditions. Water every other week. Fertilize once a month in warmer seasons.

Pathos
Pathos | Source
Chinese Evergreen loves low light!
Chinese Evergreen loves low light! | Source

Other Plants that Clean the Air


To a lesser extent, the following plants will also reduce chemical fumes in your home, workshop, garage, or office:

Boston Fern

Kimberly Queen Fern

English Ivy

Spider Plant

Flaming Lily

Chinese Evergreen

Bamboo Palm

Weeping Fig

Gerbera Daisy

Boston Fern

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Chemicals Produced by Synthetic Materials in Home or Office

Benzene is used in the production of other chemicals such as certain plastics, nylon, lubricants, dyes, detergents, and pesticides. Benzene is carcinogenic and can lead to anemia, leukemia, and has been associated with birth defects.

Toluene has, in many instances, replaced and is used in the production of paints, coatings, nylon, soda bottles, dyes, cosmetic nail products, paint thinner, adhesives, and synthetic fragrances. Toluene exposure can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, and kidney problems.

Xylene is used in paint thinner, cleaning products, printing ink, rubber, and in the manufacture of leather goods. Xylene exposure can cause headache, coordination problems, dizziness, confusion, and irritation of the eye, nose, and throat.

Formaldehyde is used in some plastics, resins, crease resistant fabric, and the adhesives used in the production of plywood and carpeting, in paints and in wart treatments. It is carcinogenic, an eye irritant and can cause respiratory problems.

Ammonia is a cleaning agent and is used in textile production, and wood working. Very low level exposure is not unsafe but highly toxic to fish and amphibians.

Trichloroethylene was used until 2009 in dust wipes and is used today in degreasers, typewriter correction fluid, paint remover, adhesives, spot removers, and is a carpet cleaning agent.

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