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The Best Air Purifying Plants: Houseplants That Clean the Air

Updated on September 20, 2017
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With over two decades of experience in medicine, Melissa Flagg writes patient information articles, keeping you informed about your health.

Purple Chrysanthemums
Purple Chrysanthemums | Source

Most of us don't realize our indoor air quality is atrocious. It can be polluted by a number of different toxins, the most common if which are formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.

  • Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is commonly used in paints, printer inks, lacquers, adhesives and varnishes. Most TCE is used in the dry cleaning industry and for degreasing metal. The National Cancer Institute has declared TCE an extremely toxic liver carcinogen.
  • Benzene is a solvent that is commonly used in gasoline, inks, rubber, paints, plastics and oils. It has also been used in the production of detergents, dyes, and explosives. However, its most troublesome use is in the production of pharmaceuticals.
  • Formaldehyde is found everywhere. Its use in urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, of UFFI, and particle and pressed wood products has been well publicized. Unfortunately, it is also used in consumer paper products such as paper towels, facial tissue, grocery bags, and waxed papers as well as the majority of household cleaning products.

Other toxins include ammonia, xylene and toluene.

Plants not only filter toxins, they also regulate the humidity in the home. NASA recommends that for an 1800 sq-ft house, there should be 15 – 18 large plants in the home. This should provide optimal coverage.

How many houseplants do you have?

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The Peace Lily

The Peace Lily
The Peace Lily | Source

Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum, or Peace Lily, is one of the more ornate houseplants that double as an air purifier.

It is able to filter benzene, formaldehyde and TCE, as well as ammonia, xylene and toluene.

It has a single petal, known as a spathe, which surrounds a spadix, or fleshy stem, and the leaves are large and broad.

It is an herbaceous perennial plant that requires little light (it does best in the shade) and only needs to be watered when the soil is dry.

The Peace Lily is toxic to cats and dogs if ingested. Humans are only mildly affected by its toxic effects.

The Spider Plant

The Spider Plant
The Spider Plant | Source

Also called Chlorophytum comosum, the spider plant is actually an herb. It’s also a flowering perennial native to South Africa. There are three different varieties. One plant has all green leaves and there are two variegated versions:

  • Middle to dark green leaves with a white stripe down the middle
  • White margins surrounding middle to dark green leaves

The two variegated versions of the spider plant are most commonly sold as houseplants.

The spider plant is a hardy one; it can withstand temperatures as low as 35 F. It prefers temperatures between 65 F and 90 F. It’s the perfect plant for someone who has a tendency to kill plants because of neglect.

It works well for filtering benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene. It’s mildly toxic to dogs, and non-toxic to cats.

Red-Edged Dracaena

The red-edged dracaena
The red-edged dracaena | Source

Dracaena marginata, also called the red-edged dracaena, is a quite popular as an ornamental houseplant. As its name suggests, it has a red edge on its leaves, and is a rather tolerant plant.

It does not need a lot of sunlight, and will survive despite being watered sporadically. Soil should be well-drained, however, because the plants roots are susceptible to root rot. Although not as tolerant of extreme temperatures as the spider plant, it will does well in the temperature range of 64 F to 77 F.

It’s unfortunate that this beautiful plant is toxic to both cats and dogs because it filters out several toxins including formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.

Plants and Toxicity

Plant Name
Toxicity
Filters
Peace Lily
Toxic to both cats and dogs
Formaldehyde, ammonia, toluene, benzene, xylene
Spider Plant
Not toxic to cats, may be mildly toxic to dogs
Formaldehyde, xylene and toluene
Red-edged Dracaena
Toxic to both cats and dogs
Benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene
Snake Plant
Toxic to both cats and dogs
Benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, trichloroethylene
Chrysanthemum
Poisonous to cats, dogs, horses and humans
Formaldehyde, ammonia, benzene, toluene, xylene, trichloroethylene

The Snake Plant

The snake plant
The snake plant | Source

Sansevieria trifasciata, also called the snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, is an evergreen perennial plant that is native to West Africa.

It is typically used as an ornamental plant because of its showy flowers.

The snake plant does well even in areas with very little light, and tolerates drought well.

However, it is not tolerant of being over watered. Its roots are susceptible to root rot, so soil should be well drained.

Unfortunately, this plant is also toxic to both cats and dogs, but it does filter out trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, benzene and formaldehyde.

Flowers of the Snake Plant

The flowers of the snake plant
The flowers of the snake plant | Source

Chrysanthemums, also called mums, are most commonly used as ornamental plants because of their showy, brightly colored flowers. There are actually about 30 different species of mums and 140 varieties.

Not as hardy as other air purifying plants, the chrysanthemum needs direct sunlight in order for its flowers to open. It requires well-drained soil and regular watering.

This is definitely not a plant for pet owners, despite its beauty. It is poisonous to cats, dogs, and even horses, as well as humans if ingested. However, like the Peace Lily, it filters out the most common toxins including formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene, trichloroethylene, and ammonia.

Maroon chrysanthemums
Maroon chrysanthemums | Source

© 2013 Melissa Flagg OSC

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    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 2 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Apparently I am doing a good job! I have several peace plants and spider plants in my house. I have 2 snake plants, but I don't have any chrysanthemums inside the house. Ironically, I just sat down from re-potting 2 of my spider plants.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 3 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Dim Flaxenwick, I know what you mean! I've gotten much better at not killing my plants over the years, but I had no idea there were so many plants that actually cleaned the air! And yes, both central heating and central air can easily spread mold spores among other things. Living in Florida, we always have our A/C on, so I'm slowing getting a collection of these plants throughout the house!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 3 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I don't mind at all! Share away! lol :D

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 3 years ago from Great Britain

      Forgot to mention. I hope you don't mind l shared this with all my facebook friends.(I also spelled your name wrong).

      Think l need a lie down..

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 3 years ago from Great Britain

      WOW! This is fascinating information for me. I have only one spider plant, because l feel even I can't kill a spiderplant.!!!!!

      I've been concerned about the air in my home in Winter.My husband needs the house to be pretty warm and central heating has its drawbacks. I really needed to read this because as I am sure you and every man and his dog on hubpages knows that l am very unhappy about being dragged from my lovely island in the Atlantic Ocean to live out my old age in the North of England.

      Now l have a mission, thank you. I think i'll start with the snake plant.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thanks Phoenix. I was amazed myself. Plants are actually more effective than an air purifier (and cheaper!)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
      Author

      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thanks Pamela, I myself have a tendency to kill most plants, but after researching this article, I think I may have teach myself some gardening! I'd like to put plants all over my home, because its an older home so I'm sure the air really needs to be cleaned lol

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thanks nArchuleta! I have pets myself, and I live in an older home so I was really interested in which plants would clean my air but still be safe for my pets (I have 6 cats!) You're sister is quite lucky!! You might want to look into seeing if you can grow your own mother-in-law's tongue from one of her cuttings.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg OSC 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Thanks Sue! There are actually quite a few plants that can clean the air, I was amazed at how many there were.

    • Sue Bailey profile image

      Susan Bailey 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      Very interesting. I had no idea. Voted up and interesting

    • nArchuleta profile image

      Nadia Archuleta 4 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Great information -- I especially appreciate how you describe which plants are toxic to pets. My sister has a mother-in-law's tongue that grows rampant -- I don't even think she realizes its air purification benefits. Thanks for sharing!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      I had heard that plants help purify the air but I did not know the specifics. I love plants fortunately, so I have quite a few but after reading your article I think I need to get a couple more large ones. Very interesting information.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      I never knew plant could purify the air. And the ones you've suggested would greatly enhance the look and feel of any room. Good hub.