15 Houseplants That Will Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

The US Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that the air inside our houses is often more polluted than air outside. If you don’t smoke, most of… Simi - December 31, 2017

The US Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that the air inside our houses is often more polluted than air outside. If you don’t smoke, most of these toxins come from cleaning products, air fresheners spray, insecticides, cooking and the like. Of course, if you DO smoke, you pretty much know that you’re steadily increasing the level of toxins in your home for people other than yourself. We suggest you keep it outside!

While the levels of toxins aren’t a cause of serious illness (so don’t worry too much), they can cause low-grade issues such as low energy, poor sleep patterns, allergies, and even depression. We spend so much time in our homes that it is definitely worth doing something about it. A general home detox is easy enough to do, and stopping using harsh chemicals and pesticides is another method of reducing the toxins you are surrounded by.

But don’t underestimate the power of a small plant to clean the air in your home. Remember that most of what makes up a plant is drawn from the air, mostly from gases we don’t like. Much of the information on the plants in this list comes from research by the NASA Clean Air Project, who were interested in plants which can help scrub the air of toxins on long space flights. Imagine how helpful they would be in your home environment.

To make this article as helpful as possible, we have assumed that your home is compact, has limited ventilation (or has polluted air outside) and you are not a natural gardener. So, most of our recommended plants are smaller, hardy evergreen plants that anyone can grow. These plants were all popular indoor plants even before their air-cleaning super-powers were discovered.

1. Chrysanthemum

The florist’s chrysanthemum plant, also known as florist’s daisy and hardy garden mum, is one of the most effective plants for removing trichloroethylene, benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia and other chemicals from your home. This plant gets top spot on our list because of its exceptional cleaning powers and the beauty of its flowers. It is a compact plant that will sit nicely on a table or window-sill. Just make sure to place it where it can enjoy the sunlight.

If your plant is already in bloom when you buy it, the flowers may have been induced artificially and the plant will need to return to its natural seasons in your home, so re-blooming may take some time. However, the deeply etched foliage is attractive in its own right, so you can still enjoy the plant. Make sure you buy a plant that is not wilted and as healthy looking as possible with more buds than open flowers.

It might be best to re-pot the plant when you get home – in a slightly larger container so that you can spread out the roots a bit. And make sure you give the plant plenty of water – rather place it in a dish and water from the bottom to give the roots plenty of moisture. Don’t leave it in the dish though as it may get waterlogged and the roots may rot. After a good soaking, you can water it from the top daily.

As good as these plants are at cleaning the air, try and help the plants where possible: Ventilate your home frequently, and limit the use of harsher chemicals, such as cleaners and insecticide sprays and even air fresheners and definitely no smoking inside the house. Clean air conditioner filters regularly and keeps dust to a minimum. By the way, certain strains of these plants will help keep insects away, as well.

2. Snake Plant

Also known as “mother-in-law’s tongue” or “tiger’s tail” in Asia, the snake plant from West Africa is another good one to grow in your house and office for air purification. It’s one of the best air purifiers, removing formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide, xylene, trichloroethylene, and benzene. This succulent has leathery, strap-like leaves which are attractively variegated, usually with a creamy-colored edge.

The Snake Plant is one of the simplest plants to grow indoors as it’s highly tolerant of being ignored. It can even thrive in low light conditions, though does enjoy the light and prefers a mix of sun and shade during the day. Being a succulent, it needs little water, so keep the soil more on the dry side, especially in the cooler months. Over-watering is the most common cause of problems with your plant.

It’s quite a tall plant, but the leaves grow almost straight up, so they don’t take up much space and their clean architectural shape and strappy leaves keep them looking fresh even when somewhat neglected. While it doesn’t have thorns, you’re safest avoiding the tips if the long leaves, which can be a little pointed. You can easily grow more from cuttings or by dividing – simply remove the fleshy rhizomes from the roots and pot in free draining soil.

Don’t re-pot your plant too often – rather leave it in the same pot until the pot cracks. Give the waxy leaves a wipe with a wet cloth occasionally to remove dust and bring back the sparkle, and of course, this will help the plant to scrub the air as well as possible. While it is a flowering plant with small, greenish-white flowers, it is less likely to flower indoors, but your care might be rewarded with flowers one day.

3. English Ivy

The English Ivy or European Ivy is a powerful air purifier. It will absorb benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene. It will also help clear the air of cigarette smoke and is even good for “airborne fecal matter” if this is ever a problem in your house. It will also combat mold if your house is humid. And best of all, it makes a pretty indoor house plant that will bring light to your home.

This evergreen climbing vine has a dense mass of dark-green or variegated leaves and is very easy to grow and needs little space, moderate temperatures, and medium sunlight, but is very adaptable. Evidence of its hardiness and tenacity can be seen when it is planted outside, where it is used where grass won’t grow and for covering bare walls. So, don’t ever transplant your ivy outside, as it is a very aggressive grower.

It looks very attractive in a hanging basket with the long leaves draped over the edge of the pot. Alternatively, place it in a pot on the floor with a stake so that it can grow upwards if you prefer. It likes sun but copes well with low-light conditions, though it may become leggy and lose its color a bit. Keep the soil moist but make sure it has good drainage (i.e. add some sand to the soil mix). It’s best to let it topsoil dry out a little between watering.

Apply a drop of nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer periodically during Spring, Summer, and Autumn, to keep it healthy, but leave it during winter when it is dormant as this might do more harm than good. Periodic washing will remove any dust or pests and allow it to do its job of removing the toxins from your home. Give it a good spray in the shower or outdoors with a hose. This low-maintenance, attractive plant will give you many years of enjoyment.

4. Dracaena

If you have some space, the red-edged dracaena is another excellent air-cleaning plant. It helps remove toxins such as xylene, benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. It has long, wide leaves that are often variegated with red lines or white on the outside and are very decorative. While you may not recognize the name, you will probably recognize the plant itself, because they are very common in malls and offices.

It can grow tall and wide (up to 15 feet high), so make sure that you have the space for it, even though it only grows slowly. As it grows, you may need to cut the leaves and stems (or canes) back which you can do at any time. You can even pot the removed cane to grow another plant. If you have limited space, keep the pot on the small size when you re-pot it to prevent it from growing too big.

There are around 40 different varieties of Dracaena, some with white or cream edges, but they all absorb toxins, though they vary a little in what they absorb. It likes the soil damp but not soggy under moderate sunlight. You may even have a dracaena in your home already – but know it as Lucky Bamboo. These are often grown in water though can be transplanted into soil. They are known for being good for your Feng Shui.

Your Dracaena needs regular fertilizing in Spring and Summer and a bit less in Autumn with none at all during its dormant period in Winter. Be sure to wipe the leaves regularly with a damp cloth to keep them dust-free, shiny and absorbing toxins. The only maintenance required is to cut away weak or old leaves as necessary, making this the ideal houseplant for those who suffer from not-so-green thumbs!

5. Boston Fern

The Boston fern, sometimes called the sword fern, is also considered one of the most efficient air purifiers. It is highly effective in removing formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air. It will also return moisture to the air if your air is dry. One of the best know indoor plants, it has lacy, bright green foliage which will add an elegance to any home and, in the right environment, will last for many years.

Native to forest undergrowth, it prefers a cool environment in shade or indirect sunlight. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and pot it in soil containing peat moss. Give it a good soak once a month but drain it thoroughly afterward. It prefers a high humidity level, so it will grow nicely in your bathroom draping over a hanging basket from the ceiling. If the air is not humid enough, the leaves may turn yellow – give it a light mist spray a couple of times a week.

Trim away the old brown leaves occasionally to keep it looking neat. It grows best in shade and requires regular watering. This is a resilient plant and will usually thrive anywhere if the environment is right. If it is not doing as well as you would like (which is usually means the leaves turn brown at their edges); moving it to a place that may be a little cooler and more humid will usually do the trick.

Your Boston Fern will only need fertilizing a few times a year, so don’t overdo it. It can get infested with spider mites or mealybugs quite easily, even indoors. Treat with non-toxic insecticide and wash the leaves well. If you see small black spots on the underside of the leaves, don’t panic! These are spores which will drop off and reproduce in the soil below. You can re-pot the small plants to grow more of these delightful ferns.

6. Bamboo Palm

Also known as the reed palm or lady palm, the bamboo palm helps filter out benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde, which is sometimes released by new furniture. Originating in southern China, this slow-growing, attractive plant can grow from 4 to 8 feet high as the broad, dark-green leaves spread outwards. It is no longer found in the wild. Because it is a slow grower indoors, you may wish to purchase an established plant and place it on the floor in a spot with a fair amount of space around it.

This palm is able to cope better with low-light conditions than most palm trees, though is likely to grow taller in better lit conditions. It helps restore moisture to dry air, so is useful in homes which use lots of heating in winter or in arid climates. It can cope with a wide range of temperatures so survives well indoors throughout the year. This plant is not toxic so don’t worry if your pet has a bit of a go at it!

It’s important to purchase a healthy plant – look for dark green leaves, an upright structure, and no wilting or brown foliage. Re-pot your plant every two years into increasingly larger pots to a size suitable for the space you put it in. If you want to keep it smaller, re-pot it to give it fresh soil, but use the same sized pot. It is a resilient plant which will do well in bright indirect sun or a shady corner with soil kept moist but which drains well.

You only need to water your Bamboo Palm when the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch and then only water until the soil feels moist but not wet. Never leave standing in water as the roots will rot. Watch out for mites and if you find them under the leaves, wash with a soapy water mixture to ensure you do not increase the level of toxins in your home. This lovely plant will give you years of protection and beauty.

7. Spider Plant

The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), often called the airplane plant, is very common and is easily recognized by its white and green strap leaves. It is a smallish flowering perennial that is effective in reducing formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. It is called a spider plant because “baby plants” hang off the mother plant like spiders from a web. These “spiderettes” can be easily removed and re-potted to make new plants.

They were already a popular indoor plant before their toxin-absorbing powers were discovered because of they look so good and are so easy to care for. While this plant will grow almost anywhere, it does best with bright, indirect light. Keep the soil moist, but well drained to prevent the roots from becoming soggy, as they may rot – rather let them dry out a bit between watering.

The leaves may brown a little as a reaction to the fluoride if you use tap water, but don’t worry that your plant is sick if this happens. Just use rainwater if you can. They don’t like to be fed too often, and the tips of the leaves will turn brown if there is too much fertilizer. They prefer cooler temperatures, but will die in freezing temperatures as they are a tropical plant. They also prefer a bit of humidity otherwise their leaf tips might burn.

The plant looks good high up in a hanging basket or in a pot on a table or desk. Re-pot them every year in the spring to give them space to grow. Spider plants may be toxic to your cat, though some even say the plant is a feline hallucinogen, so best plant it in a hanging planter high up where it won’t be a temptation to a bored kitty. This hardy, easy and unfussy plant can last generations in your home.

8. Rubber Plant

The ornamental rubber plant or ficus elastica is another powerful toxin eliminator and air purifier that you can easily grow indoors. Its large dark-green waxy leaves are especially efficient at removing formaldehyde from the air. It also eliminates carbon monoxide. It has a number of varieties, all of which share the big, waxy leaves which help it do such a good job of scrubbing toxins from the air.

New varieties which may better suit your needs include the ficus robusta (which is more robust and hardy), the compact ficus decora may work well for you, while the almost black leaved Black Prince will definitely look distinctive. Plants with variegated leaves prefer lots of light and tend to revert to green in shade. The rubber plant, in general, prefers lots of bright, indirect light, not too much direct heat, and wet, warm conditions where it will grow reasonably fast.

Keep the soil moist but well-drained – wet “feet” will result in root rot or even soil gnats. Water it moderately, preferably with room-temperature water, and use a high-nitrogen fertilizer once a month, particularly in the growing season – those big leaves need feeding. As with most plants, droopy leaves indicate that it is thirsty, while yellow or brown on the edges of the leaves tell you it is being over-watered.

 It likes a rich soil. As it is a tree, it will grow large and wide depending on your choice of varietal and the size of its pot. Trim the plant regularly to maintain its size if necessary. To keep the broad, deep green leaves shiny, dust-free and sucking up those toxins, wipe them gently with tepid water and a soft cloth from time to time. Watch out for the milky latex of the rubber plant which can cause skin irritation and stick to your floor or furniture.

9. Weeping Fig

The weeping fig (ficus benjamina) or Benjamin fig, is one of the world’s most popular houseplants and can remove formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene from the air. This attractive plant is shaped like a tree with a slim trunk and spreading canopy. For this reason, it’s popular as a Bonsai as well as an outdoor plant or houseplant. They can, however, be a bit difficult so you do need to apply some basic care to keep them healthy.

It is originally from tropical Asia, so it prefers warm (i.e. indoor) temperatures and some humidity. It doesn’t like cold drafts but appreciates a little direct sunshine in the morning, but not the whole day as the leaves might burn and fall off. Indirect, filtered light is best. Water the plant enough to keep the soil moist but you can let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. Humidity is more important so do mist them regularly and keep them in a dish filled with pebbles and water.

If you live in a fairly warm climate, leaving the pot outside in the warmer months will encourage growth. In fact, most indoor plants enjoy an outing outside when the weather is good. Feed it regularly – monthly in Spring and Summer and every 2 months in Autumn and Winter. It is a tree that will grow tall and wide if allowed to, so it works best as a floor plant where there is space enough to accommodate it.

Remove the old leaves, and watch out for leaf drop which may be caused by incorrect watering, too little humidity or light, cold drafts, the wrong temperature or extremes of temperature, or pests. You might also like the banana-leaf fig, which grows in similar conditions and makes a very popular and attractive potted shrub even though, to my mind at least, it looks nothing like a banana plant.

10. Philodendron

The philodendron was the original Victorian houseplant and comes in just under 500 different varieties. Its broad leaves are excellent at clearing formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals from the air. Preferring low-light areas, it is hardy and adapts easily to different environments, which makes it a popular plant for places in the home where other plants struggle to thrive. The heartleaf varietal is an attractive and popular choice.

Some philodendrons, like the heartleaf, are climbers that will appreciate a stake to help them grow upwards. Other philodendrons are non-climbers but rather more tree-like and need plenty of room for their wide-spread branches. All varietals are easy to take care of, and occasional watering and feeding are all that is required. The plant will tell you exactly what you need to do, so keep an eye on it and respond accordingly.

While older leaves tend to yellow, too many yellow leaves mean the plant is probably getting too much light. The leaves will begin to droop if they are getting too little or too much water but will spring back quickly when this is corrected. A little fertilizer now and then will give you a big return – if your plant is growing slowly and the leaves are small, you may need to fertilize a bit more frequently.

If you have to trim the leaves, the sap can cause mild skin irritation, so wear gloves if you are sensitive. Toxicity is a favorite protection for many plants, although few houseplants can actually endanger life. It’s safest to assume that all plants which are not specifically grown as food are dangerous for babies and pets to eat and act accordingly.

10. Peace Lily

NASA identified the peace lily (or closet plant) as one of the most powerful plants for cleaning the air, especially as it is one of the smaller plants in this list. This tropical plant neutralizes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia and carbon monoxide. It also absorbs alcohol and acetone from the air, which are emitted by electronics, adhesives and certain cleaners. This makes it a perfect plant for the office and home.

The Peace Lily, with its dark green leaves and white flowers, enjoys prominence as one of the most popular indoor plants because of the elegance of its foliage, its hardiness, and its beautiful flowers. However, its leaves and blooms make it one of the more toxic plants on this list so take care. The blooms also have a lot of pollen if you suffer from hay fever. Note that the “flower” is actually a specialized leaf bract growing like a hood over the flowers.

Over-watering is the most common way to kill your peace lilies (and most pot plants). To prevent this, we recommend you water them only when they need it. Check weekly if the soil has dried out, otherwise, don’t water them. You can even wait until the leaves begin to droop before you water them. Peace lilies will appreciate it if you spray the leaves with a mist bottle every now and then and wash or wipe down the leaves occasionally.

The more light you give your peace lily, the better the chance of them flowering. Being tropical they enjoy a warmer temperature. They require very occasional feeding with a little liquid fertilizer and re-potting as they get bigger. You can divide a plant by cutting through the center of the rootball with a knife, then replanting each half. A stake in the pot will help a young plant grow. And don’t forget to deadhead faded flowers and cut away old leaves.

12. Golden Pothos

Sometimes called the Silk Pothos, this plant is a very attractive indoor plant that clears formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds from the air. There are many varieties of this fast-growing climbing vine, with white, yellow, or light green variegation on its broad leaves making it especially decorative. The golden pothos is sometimes confused with the philodendron, but can be distinguished by its variegated leaves and smaller size.

It is known by a variety of names, but one of the more common names is the “Devil’s Ivy” because it is so hardy it is considered unkillable.  This makes it the perfect plant for people unsure of their gardening skills. As a vine, it well suited to a hanging basket or in a pot with a stake that it can climb. It can even be grown in water or in an aquarium. Cuttings grow well when rooted in water though do not take well to being transferred to soil (and vice versa).

While your Pothos can tolerate shade, it prefers bright indirect light and may lose its variegation if the light is too dim. Sunlight will help enhance the variegation on the leaves. It has a shallow root system which helps it climb trees, so it requires only light watering to soak the roots all the way through. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. They don’t even need a particularly rich soil and can thrive with little fertilizing.

Pothos plants are actually poisonous if ingested and the sap can cause skin irritation. Though you should be careful with kids and pets, it will not kill them if they have a nibble, just make them very sick. It is an invasive species in sub-tropical and tropical forests outside its native Solomon Islands because of its exceptional hardiness and growth. For this reason, don’t plant this outside.

13. Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera (or Aloe barbadensis) is a succulent with spiky and serrated leaves. Although it makes a compact houseplant, the leaves do spread a bit and have a sharp point as well as serrations along the edges of the leaves. While these spikes are unlikely to cause much harm, they are sharp enough to encourage some space around the plant. The plant can clear formaldehyde and benzene from the air.

Aloe Vera plants are widely considered to be medicinal and have been grown by people for thousands of years for that purpose. There are claims that the liquid in these leaves has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and topical wound healing abilities, among other things. These are largely unproven by scientists. It is, however, safe to say that this plant is not toxic and a little aloe juice on a minor burn or rash will do no harm.

The plant originally comes from the area around Yemen, so the desert climate of that area provides clues as to how to care for your plants. Make sure that your plants receive lots of bright, indirect sun and use a well-drained potting medium such as cactus mix, or ordinary potting soil mixed with sand. The plant grows slowly but is very hardy and will probably suffer from too much water than too little – good drainage is essential.

It’s easy to create more aloe plants by dividing the pups, or offsets, that the parent plant produces. Gently take the adult plant out of the pot, then remove the “baby plant” at the base of the parent, along with its roots, leave it to dry a bit for 2 days and form a slight callus, then plant in a small pot. Don’t water until the roots have set in – about 2 weeks later. Alternatively, you can always grow them from seeds and try out some exotic varieties.

14. Chinese Evergreen

If one must choose as a pot plant, one might as well choose one reputed to bring good luck, such as the Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Not only are they lucky, but they will rid your home of benzene and formaldehyde. They are one of the most popular houseplants as they require so little care and effort to thrive – they will tolerate bad lighting, dry air, and even drought. If you’re a little challenged in the plant-rearing sphere, then this is the plant for you.

The textured, spear-shaped leaves are usually variegated and sport white or red marbling which make for a very decorative plant. The plant is tough and forgiving and will thrive in low light conditions, but enjoys indirect sunlight and a well-drained soil, such as a cactus mix or potting soil mixed with sand. It can also tolerate low water conditions, but does like a bit of humidity. To prevent over-watering and root rot, let the soil dry out a little before you water.

Tolerant as they are, they are native to the tropical and subtropical regions Asia and New Guinea, so they don’t like the cold and may form dark patches on the foliage if left in a cold environment for too long. Note that these plants are considered toxic to your pets so rather keep them on a table or shelf out of reach of digging dogs or curious cats. The juice can also cause skin irritation and rashes and ingesting them can irritate your mucous membranes.

A little liquid fertilizer once or twice a year is good. Older plants may produce flowers, which look a little like peace lilies, as well as red berries. You can cut the blooms before the seeds form or allow them to seed then harvest them for growing more plants. When you trim back the leaves and stems, you can save some cuttings and use them for propagating – rooting them in water works extremely well. Your new plants will make great gifts.

15. Dwarf Umbrella Tree

The Schefflera arboricola plant comes in many varieties, with one of the best known being the Dwarf Umbrella Tree. This statement plant works very well in a large pot with lots of space, because of its height (4-5 feet) and spread, but looks spectacular, so perhaps this is best suited to an office environment. It soaks up formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene. Some varietals offer variegated leaves and are a popular subject for bonsai trees if you like a challenge.

This tree needs bright, indirect light – keep it out of direct sun as the leaves will burn. If it starts to look a bit weak and spindly and the leaves droop and go yellow, it’s not getting quite enough light. Variegated varieties need a bit lighter than the green ones. This tree is pretty drought resistant so water only when the soil is dry, or the leaves start to wilt. Preferably use slightly warm water. Remember this is a tropical plant so it likes a humid environment.

You will need to prune your Umbrella tree by cutting off overgrown or leggy bits – try to shape it a bit and shortly after the pruning your tree will look healthier and fuller. Fertilizing is not really necessary. Watch for spider mites and mealybugs and wash the plant with soap and water to get rid of them. Try to avoid chemicals if you can.  These plants are poisonous if eaten – both to humans and animals. As the toxins affect the mucous membranes, it can cause a burning sensation, swelling, difficulty swallowing and sometimes breathing. Their larger cousins were a popular choice as outdoor trees in milder climes in the past, but are aggressive invaders, so don’t transplant yours into your garden.

Be warned that plants grown indoors are more susceptible to disease and parasites, so keep an eye out for anything that looks abnormal and seek help at your local nursery. A hardy indoor plant may mean an aggressive invading plant outside, so think before transplanting your potted plants into your garden. You will have noticed that the same simple steps are required to take care of most of the plants in this list, so you can now consider yourself an accomplished inside gardener