Houseplants that Clean Indoor Air Pollution

houseplant All winter you have the house closed up and the furnace on. A good part of the summer you have the house closed up and the air conditioning on. And with today’s newer homes being built tighter to make them more energy-efficient, more indoor pollution gathers and doesn’t have a chance to escape or let fresh air in. This could lead to the sick building syndrome and your feeling sick all the time. Here are specific houseplants you can easily grow to diminish indoor pollution plus other simple ways that can clean the air inside your home.

Indoor Air Pollution

Some of the poisons and indoor pollution that are found in homes are benzene, formaldehyde, acetone, carbon tetra chloride, chloroform, dichlorobenzene, ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, trichloroethylene and xylene. This could lead to the sick building syndrome or your feeling sick all the time.

More than 350 chemicals were found in the common home according to a 1984 study. NASA has conducted studies about how houseplants can eliminate some indoor poisons. In 1990, a more comprehensive study by PCAC and Wolverton Environmental Services, Inc expanded on the NASA study and tested fifty houseplants for their ability to remove these various toxins and gases.

Formaldehyde might be the most common toxin found in homes. It is found in foam insulation, plywood, particle board, floor coverings, carpet backing, adhesive binders, tobacco smoke and most common household cleaning products to name a few.

Benzene is found in tobacco smoke, gasoline, synthetic fibers, inks, oils, plastics and detergents. Trichloroethylene (TCE) is another commonly found poison in inks, paints, dry cleaning, varnishes and lacquers. Other toxins removed by the listed houseplants plants are xylene, toluene and ammonia.

Of the 86 houseplants that were tested, ferns were found to remove the most formaldehyde.

Using Activated Charcoal with Houseplants

Plants by themselves can reduce and eliminate a small amount of poisons, toxic gases and odors from your home. You can enhance the removal of these toxins by surrounding the roots of the plants with activated charcoal. According to the NASA study, the activated carbon or activated charcoal absorbs larger quantities of the toxins and poisons and retains them until the roots, soil and microorganisms degrade and assimilate these toxins.

You can put the activated charcoal on the top of the dirt and also at the bottom of your pots to attract the harmful toxins into the pots. One brand of activated charcoal that you can buy at garden shops is Hoffman Horticultural Charcoal. This also keeps the soil fresh in each houseplant pot.

Over watering houseplants plants can have a negative effect if the soil starts to get moldy. This can cause allergies in the home. Water when the plant is dry down to 1” to 2” or you can buy a water meter for houseplants.

Removing Toxins with Houseplants

A 2006 study used a small fan-assisted planter/air filter inside a travel trailer that was being used to temporarily house those made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. These trailers were highly contaminated with formaldehyde. The plant/air filter contained a mixture of activated charcoal and expanded clay pebbles. The formaldehyde levels were reduced from a toxic level of 0.18 ppm (parts per million) down to 0.03 ppm, which is in the safety limits [1].

Another study using the golden pathos houseplant and an activated carbon filter system inside a Plexiglas chamber lowered the levels of benzene and trichloroethylene from 36 ppm to barely detectable [1].

Golden pathpos houseplant
Golden Pathos

Where to Put Houseplants

Plants can look nice almost anywhere and you should put them where you want to, but there is an area called your personal living area. This is an area where you spend most of your time, sitting at the computer, sleeping or on the couch or chair reading or watching TV. Your personal breathing zone is an area of 6 to 8 cubic feet (0.17 to 0.23 cu. m.). Put at least a couple of plants in this zone.

At the bottom of the article, there is a list of the most efficient plants for reducing toxins.

Other Ways to Clean Indoor Air

To get rid of odors including cigarette smoke, you can leave a couple bowls of white vinegar or activated charcoal sitting out. Both will do a nice job of getting rid of odors. You can put baking soda on carpet and furniture and let it sit before vacuuming.

Note: Some people are very allergic to products like Carpet Fresh, so be careful when using products like this. Baking soda is always a good choice.

Use ventilation fans occasionally, most homes have at least one ventilation fan. Turn it on once in awhile and cause the air to circulate as this will dilute the accumulated toxins in the indoor air.

Use a HEPA vacuum. HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air filter.

When changing filters in your air conditioner or furnace, look for a filter with a high MERV rating, which stands for minimum efficiency reporting value. This is the industry rating system that measures the ability of the filter to trap particles.

This last method of cleaning your house isn’t simple nor can you do it yourself, but having the ducts in your house cleaned professionally can remove many allergens and accumulated dust.

Ficus houseplant
Ficus benjamina or weeping fig

Top 10 Houseplants to Clean Indoor Air

These are the top 10 houseplants based on the criteria of removal of 1) chemical vapors, 2) ease of growth and maintenance, 3) resistance to insects and 4) transpiration rates.

  1. Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  2. Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  3. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea)
  4. Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
  5. Dracaena or Janet Craig
  6. English ivy (Hedera helix)
  7. Dwarf date (Phoenix roebelenii)
  8. Ficus ("Alii")
  9. Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
  10. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii)

Other plants are; Aloe vera, Arrowhead vine, Boston fern, Chinese evergreen, Christmas cactus, Chrysanthemum, Dracaena marginata, Ficus alii, Golden pathos, Heart leaf philodendron, Lacy tree philodendron, Marginata, Moth orchid, Mother-in-law tongue, Mums, Prayer plant, Red emerald philodendron, Rubber plant, Schefflera, Spider plant, Wax begonia

Remember, if you have kids or pets, some of these houseplants are toxic if eaten.

Copyright © 2009 Sam Montana


[1] National Institute of Health - Planting Healthier Indoor Air. Environ Health Perspect. Oct 2011; 119(10): a426–a427.

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