The 8 Best Air-Purifying Plants for a Cleaner, Healthier Home

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Air-purifying plants
Credit: Bogdan Kurylo

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Foxx, MD

Whether you live in the city or the country, a new build or an old home, there are environmental toxins in the air you breathe. Indoor air pollution can come from furniture, rugs, carpets, and appliances, as well as particles coming in from outside. Dust can also compromise the air quality in your home.

There are a few things you can do to limit the pollutants, and one of the best techniques may involve air-purifying plants.

Indoor plants do more than just add color and atmosphere to your home. A NASA clean air study from 1989 found that plants absorb air toxins, especially in spaces that have little airflow. That seminal study has spurned more research to look at the effects of air-cleaning plants.

NASA recommends two or three eight- to 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet to experience benefits. The plants can help purify the air, while potentially helping to improve mood and energy levels, enhance memory, and reduce fatigue.

8 Best Plants for Boosting Indoor Air Quality

1. English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English ivy is an evergreen climbing plant that grows easily indoors. There are different types that prefer different lighting situations, but no matter how well-lit the room is, you can find an English ivy to grow—and it will likely survive for years with proper care.

It can be toxic to both humans and animals, so wash your hands after touching. It can lead to dermatitis in humans if you come into contact with the sap.

These plants can help eliminate toxins like benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and more.

2. Snake Plant, Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Snake plants are very easy-to-maintain succulents that can survive in a number of conditions. Mother-in-law’s tongue can stand up to low or high light, cold and hot temperatures, and is great houseplant for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. It gets its name from its growth pattern and shape, growing straight up in the form of a tongue/snake. Be careful not to oversaturate these plants with water.

These plants release oxygen at night to help you breathe better, while also working to filter toxins like formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene.

3. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)

Peace lilies are relatively easy to care for and can grow in a variety of temperatures, but prefer darker, shadier areas. This makes it perfect for the indoors. They are typically used as floor plants and can grow up to about three or four feet and have big, wide, bold leaves.

They are very easy to care for because they begin to droop if they need water. Peace lilies are mildly toxic to pets and humans, so make sure you wash your hands after touching them and keep pets away.

These plants can help fight against carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.

4. Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider plants are considered one of the most adaptable house plants and are very easy to grow. They can withstand some neglect and grow best in cooler temperatures and indirect sunlight. Watering them lightly two to three times a week will suffice, but be sure not to saturate them too much.

Often used as hanging plants, their leaves dangle down to take on the appearance of a spider.

These plants help eliminate formaldehyde and xylene.

5. Golden Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)

These plants can grow in virtually any condition and up to eight feet tall, so they’re best used as a floor plant. To care for them, all you really need to do is observe when the soil is dry. When it is, add some water. Devil’s ivy can be toxic to cats and dogs, so keep it out of their reach.

These plants can help purify your air from formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene, carbon monoxide, and more.

6. Dragon Tree (Dracaena)

Dracaenas tolerate low-light conditions very well and come in a number of varieties. The rainbow and purple- or red-edged versions may work best for indoors. They can grow up to eight feet high. Care involves keeping soil damp but not soggy—too much water can drown dragon trees. They may also cause cats and dogs to vomit, salivate, or have dilated pupils if eaten.

Toxins it can help control include formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene, and trichloroethylene.

7. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)

These plants can be an effective air purifier but do require a little more attention than the other varieties listed so far. The plants do best in humidity, so will generally work best in the bathroom.

If it’s not stored in a humid location, misting the leaves occasionally will prevent browning. Repotting the plant every couple of years is also a good idea.

Although these plants are toxic to dogs, they do help remove benzene, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, and more from the air.

8. Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

These pretty plants can help keep your air clean by fighting back against a number of toxins, including ammonia. In order to get the air-purifying effects, the flowers must be in bloom. Unfortunately, they only stay in bloom for about six weeks. You can re-fertilize the pot or buy new ones if needed.

Chrysanthemums need to be kept damp, so check moisture every other day. They are also toxic to cats and dogs.

These plants help remove ammonia and benzene that can be found in plastics and cleaning products, as well as xylene and formaldehyde.

Plants: An Inexpensive, Soothing Way to Improve Air Quality in Your Home

Plants are a useful, proven tool to promote better breathing and cleaner air in your home. They are rather inexpensive and easy to maintain, and can provide a colorful, relaxing atmosphere. They may even add to the efficacy of other air-purifying tools like air filters.

In fact, the NASA study combined the use of houseplants and activated carbon to construct an air filter system. However, it’s unlikely you would need to do this to achieve cleaner air in your home; the filters were built in order to measure efficacy. Plants are known to limit carbon and other pollutants and promote cleaner, more breathable air.

Article Sources (+)

Wolverston, B., “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement,” NASA, September 15, 1989; https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf, last accessed July 26, 2019.
Sanders, K., “10 Best Plants for Cleaning Indoor Air,” HGTV, 2019; https://www.hgtv.com/remodel/interior-remodel/10-best-plants-for-cleaning-indoor-air-pictures, last accessed July 26, 2019.
Riley, E. & Robbins, S., “The Best Air-Purifying Plants for Your Home,” Healthline, September 12, 2016; https://www.healthline.com/health/air-purifying-plants, last accessed July 26, 2019.
Prattey, S., “10 best air purifying plants for the home,” Country Living, April 11, 2019; https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wellbeing/a668/houseplants-to-purify-house-air, last accessed July 26, 2019.