It turns out that houseplants aren’t just a great way to spruce up a room, they can freshen the air in a room as well. NASA researchers, while trying to determine a veritable method for cleaning the atmosphere, discovered that many common indoor plants can double as air purifiers for the home. (To learn more about actual air purifiers for the home, see Finding The Best Air Purifiers For Allergies.)
Through photosynthesis, houseplants can pull volatile organic compounds such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene out of the air and absorb them through the soil. In some cases, this can render the chemicals harmless, making the air clean and healthy to breathe. If you're looking to improve the air quality in your home, put down the chemical-based air freshener and try one of these air purifying plants instead.
While most air purifying plants are not flowering plants, chrysanthemums are one of the few exceptions. Chrysanthemums work best at ridding the air of benzene, a chemical that is used in many laundry detergents, glues and plastics. These flowers will need sunlight to bloom, so place them in a sunny spot near a window. Since this plant is a flowering plant, it probably won’t last year-round as other types of house plants do.
Gerbera daisies, which are most commonly known as Gerber daisies, are bright and cheery, and a symbol of springtime. They’re also good at clearing the air of benzene, which is also found in many types of paint. So if you have a room that’s freshly painted, you may want to add a vase of Gerber daisies to it to get rid of the benzene particles that may be floating in the air.
While daisies may be the choice plant for spring, azaleas may be your best choice in the fall since they thrive in cooler temperatures. They mostly absorb formaldehyde, which can be found in insulation and wall finishes. For that reason, azaleas are a good option for a basement or for the kitchen.
Aloe vera is probably known best for its healing properties. The leaves contain a gel that can soothe and heal burns, cuts, bites and other skin irritations. But aloe vera actually does double-duty as both a healer and an air cleaner. This plant can easily absorb both benzene and formaldehyde. Aloe vera does well in the sun, so it’s best to keep it on a sunny windowsill.
The long spider-like leaves of the spider plant are great at absorbing benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene, a chemical that is used in the leather and rubber industries. This plant is very resilient, so it’s great for those who don’t have much of a green thumb.
The snake plant, which is also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, is a common house plant that is actually poisonous if ingested. Ironically, it also filters toxins, such as formaldehyde, out of the air. Like the spider plant, the snake plant is also resilient and great for those who can’t devote a lot of time to taking care of plants. Since formaldehyde is commonly found in personal hygiene products, it would work best if placed in the bathroom.
Another good formaldehyde-fighter is the Golden pothos plant, which is a vine-like plant. Unlike some of these houseplants, the Golden pothos doesn’t need a lot of sunlight to survive. In fact, its leaves will remain green even if the plant is left in the dark. Because of this, the Golden pothos would be beneficial in a room that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, such as the garage.
Although this plant can also filter formaldehyde, studies show that English ivy filters airborne particles of fecal matter as well. This plant needs bright, sunny weather to survive, so the best place for it is on the bathroom windowsill. (For information on where fecal matter can turn up, see 9 Surprising Places Where You Might Find Fecal Matter.)
This plant, which is also known as the reed palm, often produces flowers and berries and is best kept in a shady place. It filters both benzene and formaldehyde as well as trichloroethylene, which is a chemical used in the dry-cleaning process. This plant would be beneficial in the laundry room or in room with furniture that may be giving off formaldehyde, such as the living room or bedroom.
The peace lily is at the top of NASA’s list for filtering chemicals from the air. Not only does it absorb formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene, it also pulls xylene and toluene, a chemical found in gasoline, from the air. The peace lily can survive in the shade and only needs to be watered once a week, so it’s also a good choice for those who don’t have the time to care for a plant. Since it absorbs so many chemicals, it will work well in any part of the house.
Since plants absorb chemicals through soil, they work best when the lower leaves are clipped away so that the soil is exposed. According to an article from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, NASA recommends using 15 to 18 plants for a house that’s 1,800 square feet. The better they thrive, the better they’ll clean the air.