Full disclosure: This is one of those “we’ve got bad news for you, but” articles. Stick with us, though, because the but in this case will make you happy — and more to the point, potentially healthier. So, here goes. The air you breathe indoors is riddled with pollutants. In fact, the EPA ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental health risks. Ready for that but? There’s an easy, affordable and pretty way to combat indoor air pollutants in your home: houseplants.
Most of us are aware of air pollutants outdoors. There’s no shortage of information floating around (pun intended) about “bad” ozone, particulate matter and smog to name a few common outdoor air pollutants. What we learn less about are the things that affect the quality of air when we’re inside. And, sure, perhaps there’s a bit of out-of-sight-out-of-mind at play here — since air pollutants inside the home aren’t visible, it’s easy to ignore them. They’re unavoidable, so we all resign ourselves to living with them to some extent.
Here’s the rub, though: Per the American Society for Horticultural Science, people in industrialized countries spend an estimated 80 to 90 percent of their time indoors. Not so easy to shrug that off, right? Especially when you consider that significant, prolonged exposure to these pollutants can have side effects ranging from the minor (dizziness, nausea, headaches, confusion) to the downright scary (heart problems, kidney failure and even coma).
Enter: houseplants. In 1989, NASA completed its seminal Clean Air Study to determine how effective indoor greenery was at filtering out pollutants. They subsequently came to the conclusion that certain houseplants prove highly effective at doing just that, making them excellent alternatives to super-pricey air filtering machines and other high-tech devices that promise to do the same. To that end, NASA officially recommends at least one plant per 100 square feet of home space.
More than 25 years later, the research still stands. So, when you’re ready to dive into purifying the air in your home, refer to the following list of NASA-approved houseplants.
1. Florist’s mum
As powerful as it is pretty, this (inexpensive!) classic packs an air purifying punch — NASA found it to be the most effective among houseplants for removing formaldehyde. It’s particularly adept at taking benzene, xylene and ammonia out of the air. Just bear in mind that it is mildly toxic to pets if consumed.
2. Aloe vera
This sunshine-loving succulent boasts plenty of perks. Namely, it gets rid of formaldehyde and benzene in the air. Beyond that, though, it’s easy to care for and its gel doubles as a medicinal salve. No wonder ancient Egyptians dubbed it the “plant of immortality.”
3. Variegated snake plant
Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue,” this West African native plant sucks benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene out of the air. Bonus? Not only is its vibrant pattern beautiful, but the variegated snake plant’s also nearly impossible to kill. Rejoice, black thumbs!
4. Boston fern
Not all ferns make great indoor choices, but the Boston fern is an exception. They’re a little fickle, sure. However, if you care for them properly, they’ll return the favor by sapping formaldehyde, xylene and toluene from your surroundings.
5. Weeping fig
Best known as the weeping fig, Ficus benjamina lets you bring a bit of treelike grandeur into your home in a manageable size (they typically don’t exceed 6 feet). Plus, this particular ficus comes in a variety of styles. Prefer the elegance of a leafless braided trunk? You got it. More of a bushy plant person? You can have that too. Either way, you’ll wind up with a plant that rids the air around you of formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.
6. Golden pothos
First things first, let’s get through this plant’s tricky business. You may hear it referred to as devil’s ivy, taro vine or any other number of names. However, you should be able to find it fine if you ask for a pothos or Epipremnum aureum — its scientific name. And you should track it down, because this trailing beauty will break down the formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and toluene in your home.
7. Areca palm
Its aesthetically pleasing appearance and easy-to-care for nature make the areca, or butterfly, palm an appealing houseplant option. If you factor in that this lush foliage landed at the very top of NASA’s study for purifying indoor air, snagging one for your own home is truly a no-brainer.
8. English ivy
Aside from having a super-cool scientific name (Hedera helix), English ivy definitely gets the job done where cleaning indoor air is concerned. Benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and even fecal particles are no match for this charming creeper.
9. Corn plant or cornstalk Dracaena
A member of the Dracaena family, this popular household plant KO’s benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Be forewarned, though, these shiny-leafed guys can get big — in nature, they can grow up to 45 feet. However, if you limit the size of your pot and cut back to scale occasionally, your corn plant will likely grow to be around 6 feet tall (and full of air purifying potential).
10. Gerbera daisy
If you’d like a splash of color with your air purification, look no further than the oh-so-sweet Gerbera daisy. This happy flowering plant may be a bit temperamental, but who wouldn’t put in a little extra work for such beautiful blooms? Besides, the Gerbera also gets rid of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene in the air. It’s a win-win!
11. Peace lily
The peace lily is a practical choice for its ease of care and affordable price point. However, those aren’t the only reasons to bring one of these plants into your home. Other pros of ownership include its natural beauty and its ability to filter the surrounding air of benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.