Reduce Indoor Air Pollution with Houseplants

These 12 common houseplants are scientifically proven to reduce indoor air pollution.

| November/December 2014

  • Gerbera daisies remove chemical vapors and add a pop of color to any room.
    Photo by iStock
  • Reap the health benefits of reducing indoor air pollution with househould plants.
    Photo by Getty Images

Did you know the EPA ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to human health? Indoor air pollution is associated with numerous ailments including asthma, headaches, chemical hypersensitivity and even cancer. In large part because of chemicals that outgas from items such as furnishings, finishes and household cleaners, indoor concentrations of many pollutants are two to five times greater than outdoor levels. This is particularly concerning because many newer buildings are more efficiently sealed in the interest of energy efficiency, and most people spend up to 90 percent of their time inside.

Fortunately, we can count on nature to be our health ally when it comes to creating healthier indoor air. In the late 1980s, NASA researchers studied the ability of houseplants to purify the air and remove toxic agents such as benzene (in glue, paint and auto fumes); formaldehyde (in particleboard, paper and carpets); and trichloroethylene (in paint stripper and spot remover). They released a list of air-filtering plants, and subsequent studies have shown similar benefits of houseplants. For example, researchers at Penn State University proved that three common houseplants—snake plant, spider plant and golden pothos—all reduced ozone in a simulated indoor environment. Grow the following plants in your home or office to breathe easier.

Air-Cleaning Plants

Aloe Vera: This purifying plant from South Africa is shown to clear the air of benzene and formaldehyde, both known human carcinogens. Unlike most plants, aloe actually releases oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide at night, making it ideal for bedrooms. Aloe gel is also medicinal, used externally to treat burns and internally for numerous ailments. It is a sun-loving plant; beware of overwatering it.

Areca Palm: This palm, native to Madagascar, is among the best plants for removing a variety of toxins, especially formaldehyde. It likes bright, indirect light. Because of a high transpiration rate, it adds a lot of humidity to the air and needs to be watered regularly. This plant does not tolerate neglect; its tips will turn brown when moisture, light, temperature and fertilizer levels are not ideal.

Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’: This is one of the best plants for clearing formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Although native to tropical Africa, this plant adapts well to indoor environments and can even endure some neglect. It likes moderate to bright indirect light. Water after the soil begins to dry out, and use a pot with drainage holes to avoid soggy soil.

Dragon Tree: Native to Madagascar, this tree can grow up to 6 feet tall and is among the best plants for removing xylene, trichloroethylene and toluene (the latter is a solvent and additive to gasoline). This is another one of many houseplants belonging to the Dracaena genus and comes in four main varieties. It likes moist soil at all times, but not soggy soil. Keep the plant in semishade, and avoid strong, direct light.

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Another one is the Pinus Cembra or The Queen Of Alps , but this one is a tree and it grows only in the Alps and in the Carpathian Mountains between 1500 meters (5000 ft.) and 3000 meters (10000 ft.) above sea level. This tree survives the fierce power of high mountain environments, being constantly exposed to high levels of ozone, extremely low temperatures, and irradiance. Scientists of the Human Research Institute in Austria have shown the benefits of the Pinus Cembra wood to human health. So we can not have this tree in our home but is sufficient have a some wood curls. You can read more about it at

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