Did you know that NASA commissioned a two-year study regarding how to clean the air in space stations with house plants? I stumbled upon this information while researching how to maintain a healthy home. Plants in space — how cool is that?
NASA discovered that some house plants clean air by not only absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, but also by eliminating significant amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other chemicals from the air. We’ll talk about which indoor plants to consider for purifying the home, a little about the chemicals they remove, and the importance of good ventilation overall with fresh air and filters.
Chemicals These House Plants Clean From Air
NASA spent two years testing house plants for formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene removal properties. Another indoor plant study by Dr. B.C. Wolverton researched ammonia, xylene, and toluene so we’ll mention both.
Unfortunately, formaldehyde (in small amounts) is everywhere in the home from building materials to household products. A short list of where it can be found includes insulation, glues and adhesives, pressed wood products like particleboard (a material used in a lot of furniture, decorative plywood paneling, wrinkle removers, gas stoves and fire retardants. On the extreme, formaldehyde is thought to cause cancer while moderate exposure leads to allergic reactions. Either way, it’s not ideal to have around.
Human exposure to benzene occurs through inhalation, with cigarette smoke as a major offender as well as exposure to benzene-containing petroleum products. For example, WHO says that homes with attached garages have higher levels of benzene than those with detached garages. Other sources of benzene include smog (especially near industrial areas), building materials like paint and glues, paint stripper, detergents, rubber and inks. Benzene is an irritant and a well-known cause of cancer in cases of chronic exposure. There’s a long list of other health problems associated with benzene.
Trichloroethylene is an organic compound primarily found in building materials and industrial solvents that are used to remove grease. Unfortunately, it’s also found in water. Sources of trichloroethylene include rug cleaners, spot removal fluids, typewriter correction fluid, adhesives and paint remover. Trichloroethylene damages the central nervous system causing fatigue, blurred vision as well as cancer and birth defects in cases of chronic exposure.
Xylene and Toulene
Exposure to xylene and toulene happens through inhalation, swallowing or touching these compounds. Sources include fingernail polish, glues and adhesives, lacquer, paints, paint thinners, wood stains, rubber and plastic cements. Xylene and toulene are irritants that affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, kidneys and more.
We all probably know what ammonia smells like due to ammonia-based cleaners. Sources of ammonia include household cleaners, animal feces, fertilizers, wood fires and fuels. Low levels of ammonia in the home aren’t problematic but increased exposure leads to nausea and headaches. People with allergies and asthma are particularly sensitive to ammonia in the air.
10 House Plants That Help Purify Air
So, now let’s talk about which house plants clean air of these nasty chemicals. Interestingly enough, a lot of these plants might be toxic to cats and dogs (or even kids) if eaten, so do some additional research if you have pets.
1. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (really, could they have thought of a better nickname?) is a very popular house plant that also can be used outdoors in areas without direct sunlight. It’s native to West Africa and, with its upright leaves, has a lot of architectural interest. This makes it a popular choice for contemporary homes and I can vouch for house low-maintenance it is since I personally have it in several rooms. The snake plant is a very effective indoor air cleaner against formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
2. Peace lily (spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Peace lily helps clean the air of all the offending chemicals listed above. In addition, it helps get rid of acetone, a chemical released by electronics and certain cleaners. Peace lilies require shade and frequent watering. Keep dust of the leaves as well.
3. Boston fern (nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis)
Indirect light and moderate, Southern California warmth keep Boston ferns happy. They’re easy to find, inexpensive and can take some neglect. Boston ferns are some of the best filterers of formaldehyde, though they also clean small amounts of xylene and toulene.
4. Gerbera Daisy or Barberton daisy (gerbera jamesonii)
Three cheers for color! Gorgeous Gerbera daisies not only cheer up your home, but do it some good too. Gerbera daisies are rare plants in that they also release oxygen during the night, so keep them in the bedroom for restful sleep. They need sun and water as soon as the dirt in the pot dries out. Gerbera daisies rid the air of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.
5. Red-edged dracaena (dracaena marginata)
I bought my first red-edged dracaena at Home Depot for about $2. The leaves had a red edge that can add a pop of color to an indoor arrangement. However, these can grow very tall so remember that as you decide to increase pot size. I am actually also currently growing these in shade outdoors as well — they’re gorgeous. Red-edged dracaena filters formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
6. Pot mum (chrysanthemum morifolium)
Chrysanthemums like sun and water as soon as the soil is dry an inch or so from the top. Inexpensive to buy at even grocery stores, chrysanthemums not only have excellent feng shui properties, but they are house plants that clean all chemicals listed above from the air, especially benzene.
Though not a part of the NASA study, aloe is extremely good at filtering our formaldehyde. It loves sun so is the perfect plant to keep near a kitchen window. Break off a leaf to heal accidental burns and wounds as well–it’s dual purpose!
8. Lady palm (rhapis excelsa)
These gorgeous palm trees with their finger-like leaves do well inside the house without direct exposure to sunlight. Be careful not to soak the roots. Lady palms remove formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene, but they are also an extremely efficient ammonia cleaner.
9. Golden pothos (epipremnum aureum)
Golden pothos is a fast-growing vine that looks great in hanging pots or wherever it has the ability to cascade or climb. Consider placing golden pothos near the garage as it has an acute ability to clean benzene out of the air as well as carbon monoxide. Formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toulene are other chemicals the plant targets.
10. Philodendrons (philodendron oxycardium, philodendron bipinnatifidum, philodendron domesticum)
Philodrendrons are known specifically for removing formaldehyde from the air. With big, decorative leaves, they make for stunning container gardens indoors and out.
NASA recommends that you use 15-18 house plants (that live in 6-8 inch containers) in an 1800 square-foot home.
The Importance Of Good Ventilation
Though filling your home with gorgeous house plants helps the family breathe well, letting in the fresh air and re-circulating it in a healthy manner is also extremely important. I’ve been using 3M’s Filtrete filters for a few months now to trap dust, pet hair, and other particles. All seems to be going well and I haven’t had to use any allergy medicine yet during spring.
How do you use house plants to purify air?
Photo credits: snake plant, Wikimedia Commons; boston fern, Flickr/bifishadow; gerbera daisy, Flickr/conspiracyofhappiness; red-edged dracaena, Flickr/blumenbiene; chrysanthemum, Flickr/hbarrison; aloe, Flickr/tag.your_itt; golden pothos, Flickr/eggroll; philodendron, Flickr/Drew Avery
Sources: Wikipedia, WHO, EPA, Medline Plus
About Katie Dillon
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both). View all posts by Katie Dillon