Your home’s air might smell fresh, but if it’s like the air in most modern homes, it still harbors airborne contaminants that can harm your health. Some of the worst offenders are chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which come from a wide variety of household materials.
By absorbing and neutralizing some of these chemicals, certain plant species can effectively clean the air around them. Choose species known for their air purification abilities, and you’ll get improved indoor air quality along with a more beautiful and relaxing home.
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Variegated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
This plant takes its name from its tall, narrow, green-and-white leaves. Widely popular for its minimal maintenance requirements, it’s easy to keep alive even in dry, low-light conditions. In addition to being an efficient air purifier, the snake plant is unusual because it continues to converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen at night when most other plants are doing the opposite. This makes it an ideal bedroom plant.
Give your snake plant indirect sunlight and let its soil dry in between waterings, and it might even produce one of its rare stalks of pale white flowers.
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
A lush, graceful plant that grows from 5 to 7 feet tall, this palm will bring a tropical air to your home without making too many demands. In a well publicized NASA study on using plants to reduce indoor air pollution, the bamboo plant ranked as one of the most effective air-cleaning species. Unlike many plants, it can remove trichloroethylene, which can evaporate into the air from contaminated water.
It prefers warm temperatures and indirect light, but tolerates low light well. Take care not to overwater it or let its soil get soggy, though.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Although not particularly showy, the Chinese evergreen’s large, oval variegated leaves do a fair job of clearing away the VOCs benzene and toulene. The plant thrives in indirect sunlight, warmer temperatures, and moderately high humidity, but it’s flexible and will do just fine in less than ideal conditions.
Just keep it away from drafts, which can damage the leaves. Keep it away from dogs and cats, too, because the plant is toxic to them.
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Also known simply as a ficus, this small tree produces a profusion of shiny leaves in a compact form that reaches up to 8 feet indoors. It does moderately well at reducing airborne VOCs, and its large size at maturity helps even more.
Caring for a ficus can be tricky, but in the right conditions, this tree can live 50 years or longer. Put it in a draft-free location with bright, indirect light and relatively high humidity, which might require misting. The weeping fig is a creature of habit, so find a permanent place for it, then establish a care schedule and stick to it.
Trailing and Basket Plants
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
The elegant Boston fern can neutralize a wide variety of VOCs, but it’s particularly effective against formaldehyde, removing more of this chemical than any other plant in the NASA study.
It’s not a highly demanding species, but it does need the right environment and care to survive. Place it in a cool spot with indirect sunlight and high humidity, and keep its soil damp.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
From within a mass of long, narrow leaves, the spider plant sends out runners with “babies” and occasionally with delicate white flowers. Although popular for its striking looks and undemanding nature, this common houseplant also happens to be an excellent remover of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Give it moderate to bright sunlight and water when the soil feels dry, and it’s happy. For low-light conditions, choose the less common all-green variety, rather than one of the variegated varieties.
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
As an air-purifier, this timeless favorite removes not only VOCs, but also mold spores and feces particles. In fact, it can improve the quality of the air around it within just six hours.
It grows best in moderate lighting conditions, temperatures, and humidity, but it’s somewhat finicky about watering. Water the plant when the top inch or first quarter of the soil is dry. Don’t let it dry out more than that, but don’t overwater, either.
Scarlet Star (Guzmania lingulata)
Although its name comes from its spiky, brilliant red floral bracts, this plant is also a star among natural air purifiers. It can neutralize more types of VOCs than any other plant studied. It flowers only once every three to four years, but still cleans the air between flowerings.
As a tropical plant, the scarlet star likes bright, but indirect light and moderate temperatures with high humidity. Place it near a window, but make sure it doesn’t dry out. It’s sensitive to chlorine, so use rainwater or distilled water when possible.
Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
If you love big, bright flowers, this is the houseplant for you. It’s not the easiest to grow, but with a little effort, you’ll get cheerful, colorful blossoms and cleaner air. Like the bamboo palm, the Gerbera daisy is especially good at removing trichloroethylene.
It needs bright light, but moderate temperatures that never reach above 70 degrees. A window that gets bright morning sunlight, but little hot afternoon sunlight, is an ideal spot.
Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
This classic autumn beauty ranked highly in the NASA study, but it’s most effective during its blooming period, which lasts just 6 to 8 weeks. Fortunately, that period arrives sometime from late summer to early winter, just when you’re starting to close up the house and need a little extra air purification.
Regular watering is the most critical part of the Chrysanthemums’ care requirements. These plants are perennials, but getting them to bloom again indoors is a challenge, so they’re usually treated as annuals.
While a few of the right houseplants can clean up your air, don’t overdo it. One or two medium-sized plants per 100 sq. ft. of space is enough. Too many will raise your home’s humidity levels, which encourages the growth of mold and bacteria that worsen your air quality.
Exactly how much plants improve indoor air quality outside a laboratory environment isn’t well studied. If you have concerns about your air quality, bring in some plants, but also look into improving your ventilation and having a whole-house air purifier installed.