10 Plants That Can Help Clean Indoor Air

Updated on April 5, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Friends say I have "green-fingers" and the garden certainly seems to respond to my efforts. I enjoy observing wildlife and being outdoors.

Flamingo Flower houseplants help purify indoor air.
Flamingo Flower houseplants help purify indoor air. | Source

Houseplants Help Reduce Indoor Pollution

Not only do houseplants help lift your mood, but they also clean the surrounding air. NASA research in 1989 concluded that interior plants have an important role to play in controlling indoor pollution. It studied chemicals known to affect health and included the following:

  • Benzene
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Formaldehyde

Here are the top 10 best air-filtering houseplants according to NASA:

  1. English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
  2. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum)
  3. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exalta Bostoniensis)
  4. Dracaena (Dracaena Deremensis)
  5. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans)
  6. Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata)
  7. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
  8. Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa)
  9. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)
  10. Snake Plant (Sansevieria Trifasciata)

1. English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

English ivy requires little maintenance and grows in virtually any indoor condition. It is recommended for removing carcinogens from secondhand tobacco smoke.

English Ivy (Hedera Helix), also known as Common Ivy.
English Ivy (Hedera Helix), also known as Common Ivy. | Source

2. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum)

Golden pothos was NASA’s top recommendation for indoor formaldehyde removal. It is also good for lowering carbon monoxide levels.

Golden Pothos or Money Plant (Epipremnum Aureum).
Golden Pothos or Money Plant (Epipremnum Aureum). | Source

3. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exalta Bostoniensis)

This large ornamental fern has a great visual impact and is easy to care for. It acts as an air humidifier and helps eliminate formaldehyde.

The Ornamental Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata Bostoniensis) is also known as a Fluffy Ruffles Fern.
The Ornamental Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata Bostoniensis) is also known as a Fluffy Ruffles Fern. | Source

4. Dracaena (Dracaena Deremensis)

Dracaena is a very large plant which may not be suitable for many homes, but it can be useful for offices to eliminate trichloroethylene, which comes from solvents and varnishes.

Striped Dracaena (Dracaena Deremensis).
Striped Dracaena (Dracaena Deremensis). | Source

5. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans)

NASA found this small decorative palm to be a good air filter for benzene and trichloroethylene. It is also a great air humidifier, is easy to grow, and is resistant to insect attack.

Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans).
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans). | Source

6. Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata)

A dragon tree is low maintenance and recommended for offices and homes that need to remove xylene from the air. Xylene is released from car exhaust, paints, and cigarettes.

Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata).
Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata). | Source

7. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

The peace lily is an attractive plant that is effective at removing indoor air pollutants. However, if eaten, its leaves can be poisonous. Therefore, it should not be placed it in areas frequented by children or pets.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum).
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum). | Source

8. Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa)

The attractive palm requires frequent watering in hot weather, so it is not as easy to care for as some other plant options. However, it does effectively reduce multiple indoor pollutants so is worth the extra effort.

Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa) also known as Minature Fan Palm.
Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa) also known as Minature Fan Palm. | Source

9. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)

The spider plant grows well in bathrooms, kitchens, and areas where the air is moist. It requires very little attention and removes carbon monoxide from the air.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum).
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum). | Source

10. Snake Plant (Sansevieria Trifasciata)

The snake plant is a good all-rounder and is low maintenance. It absorbs formaldehyde and other chemical air pollutants, which makes it a great choice to have indoors.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria Trifasciata).
Snake Plant (Sansevieria Trifasciata). | Source

What Are Some Indoor Health-Damaging Pollutants?

Fine particles
Combustion (room heating), cleaning, cooking, smoking.
Carbon monoxide
Combustion (room heating) and smoking.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Combustion (room heating), cooking and smoking.
Nitrogen oxides
Fuel combustion
Sulphur oxides
Coal combustion
Arsenic and fluorine
Coal combustion
Volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds
Fuel/tobacco combustion, consumer products, furnishings, construction materials, cooking
From "Indoor air pollution: a global health concern" British Medical Bulletin Vol 68 (1) 2003
African Violet (Saintpaulias) is another plant that can help remove indoor pollutants.
African Violet (Saintpaulias) is another plant that can help remove indoor pollutants. | Source

Sources of Indoor Pollution

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission lists indoor pollutant sources as:

... building materials, furnishings, and household products like air fresheners, release pollutants more or less continuously.
Other sources ... include smoking, the use of unvented or malfunctioning stoves, furnaces, or space heaters, the use of solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, the use of paint strippers in redecorating activities, and the use of cleaning products and pesticides.
High pollutant concentrations can remain in the air for long periods after some of these activities.

Prevent Sick Building Syndrome

How to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution

  1. Reduce or remove the source of the pollution. For example, have your boiler serviced regularly so it burns without producing dangerous carbon monoxide. You could also forbid smokers from lighting up indoors, as secondhand smoke contains carcinogens.
  2. Improve room ventilation. Increasing the number of air changes per hour will remove many pollutants. You can do simple things like opening up a few windows to increase air circulation.
  3. Use air cleaners to filter and remove pollutants. Many mechanical air cleaners are available on the market, but they can be expensive to buy and maintain. The NASA research study has shown that houseplants provide a practical, low cost, and easy-to-maintain alternative.

Ficus Elastica Robusta (Indian Rubber Tree) helps cleans indoor air.
Ficus Elastica Robusta (Indian Rubber Tree) helps cleans indoor air. | Source

A growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.

Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.

— US Environmental Protection Agency

Detox Your Home with NASA’s Advice

NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has proved that having plants in an enclosed space can improve breathable air quality by up to 90%. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from air and replace it with oxygen, so it was a natural step to test their ability to absorb other pollutants. NASA’s research showed that indoor plants are very effective at improving interior air quality.

NASA Clean Air Study Results in Big Improvement to Air Quality

Air Quality Improvement Using Plants For Indoor Spaces

For more detail on how to grow NASA’s air-improving plants, I recommend How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office. The author was the lead scientist on NASA’s research project. He gives a comprehensive list of the 50 best house plants for improving your indoor air quality. He discusses each plant’s ability to filter out and remove common pollutants such as ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene. He also gives guidance on which ones are easy to care for and which rooms they would suit best.

Plants For Clean Air

Can Plants Be Used To Clean Air In Space?

Plants are proven air detoxifiers. NASA's research study was carried out specifically with astronauts in mind. Scientists hope that someday plants could replace the expensive air-purifying systems that are currently needed in spaceships.

If the air in spaceships can be kept clean and pollution-free with plants, astronauts could survive longer and travel further in space.


The research referred to in the article is “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement” B.C. Wolverton, A Johnson, and K Bounds. It was published as a NASA report on September 15th 1989.


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