Air Purifying Plants

Seeing as how we’re all often stuck in our homes these days, it’s nice to get a breath of fresh air. The parks out here were closed (post link) for a couple weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, and I started getting antsy for some indoor green. Bonus points if those plants kept the air clean of all my cooking.

Plants are natural air purifiers. We put out a heck of a lot of carbon, and all plants will help reduce that to some degree. The only issue is that carbon isn’t the only thing we’re putting into the atmosphere. Our atmosphere indoors, where we’re spending so much time, is equally important. We put out a few other notable bad chemicals (aside from the various carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen oxides) in the course of daily living – ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene.

There’s plenty of electronic air purifiers on market that deal with these sorts of chemicals. Of course, those air purifiers take toxic work to produce, and run on energy that isn’t always clean. Plants provide the right kind of alternative: lovely to look at, more meditative to maintain, capable of processing these chemicals into something useful, and all around less of a drain on the environment.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve formed a pretty close bond with my plants. After researching for this post, I’ve definitely formed a better appreciation for my Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), and for the chrysanthemums I’ve left outside to sun and flower.

If you’ve been looking for plants that clean the air, you’ve probably come across a study done by NASA on which plants could keep a spaceship clean long-term. Their best interest was not only in scrubbing carbon and making some of that sweet sweet O2, but also in clearing up the other chemicals that are released by packaging, cleansers, and even paper.

Plants don’t clean the air on their own. Later studies showed that plants aren’t entirely responsible for processing all these compounds. The fungus in the soil – myccorhizae – assist the plants in processing and moving stored nutrients. Additionally, you’re going to need to help the plant breathe by cleaning off all the dust and particulate matter than builds up on the surface. Normally, wind and rain would take care of this, but those things aren’t a good sign when you’re indoors.

Their main benefit is acting as an air purifier, so it sounds only reasonable that NASA did a Clean Air Study, that found which are the best indoor plants at removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia from our surroundings – chemicals that have been linked to adverse health effects…

Bored Panda

Still, whether your plant receives the best care in the best conditions or just reasonably enough to stay alive, it’s beneficial. Every little bit helps.

The Chemicals

Below is a list of some of the harmful chemicals that may be popping up in the atmosphere of your home, as well as some of their associated symptoms.

Ammonia

Window cleaners, fertilizer, and floor cleaners.

Leads to eye irritation, sore throat, and coughing.

Benzene

Tobacco smoke, furniture polish, glue, paint, drugs, pesticides.

Headaches, drowsiness, confusion, eye irritation.

Formaldehyde

Paper bags, paper towels, plywood paneling, synthetic fabrics.

Nose, mouth, throat, and lung irritation.

Trichloroethylene

Paint, ink, laquer, varnish, adhesive.

Dizziness, headache, drowsiness, and vomiting.

Xylene

Printing, rubber, leather, tobacco smoke, vehicle exhaust.

Throat and mouth irritation, dizziness, headache, liver and kidney damage.

The Plants

Below is a list of air cleaning plants, and some general care notes to help you start looking for the plant that’s right for you.

Bamboo Palm

Chamaedorea seifrizii

Can reach a height of seven feet and a width of four feet. Overall balance can be maintained by rotating your plant every week. Grows slowly.

LightBright, indirect, dappled light
SoilHouseplant potting soil, high organic content
WaterConsistently moist, but not soggy
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
NotesEvergreen perennial from forest floor
Zone 8b

Barberton Daisy

Gerbera jamesonii
LightFull sun to partial shade
SoilOrganic-rich, well draining
WaterOverly moist soil leads to root rot
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Xylene
NotesHerbaceous perennial
Zone 8 to 10

Boston Fern

Nephrolepis exaltata

Sensitive to smoke and other noxious chemicals. I can attest that burning pancakes seems to have no ill effect, however.

LightBright with no direct light
Will tolerate shade
SoilCompost mix
WaterConstantly moist
During winter, can allow top to dry
Do not use cold water
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
NotesLoves humidity
Avoid drafts
Zones 9-11

Broadleaf Lady Palm

Rhapis excelsa

6-15ft tall outdoors, less than 6ft indoors.
Gets damaged below 55F.

LightPartial light, shade
Prefers dappled light
SoilLoamy, well-drained
Lightly acidic
WaterAverage, top 1″ dry during summer
Drought tolerant
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
Ammonia
NotesVery slow growing
Zone 9-11

Chinese Evergreen

Aglaonema modestum

This is one of the plants with Calcium oxalate crystals, which are toxic to humans (and many pets). The poisonous parts are: Bark, Flowers, Fruits, Leaves, Roots, Seeds, Stems. Just don’t eat any of it, and try not to pet it.

LightWell-diffused, or low light
SoilClay, loam, sand
WaterAllow dirt to dry completely for one day between waterings
Avoid using cold water
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Benzene
NotesSensitive to cold, prefers 70-80F
Herbaceous perennial
Poisonous to humans and most pets
Zones 10b, 11a-b

Cornstalk Dracaena

Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’

Awarded the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Grows up to 10-15 ft tall and 4 feet wide.

LightPart shade
No direct sun
SoilOrganically rich
Well drained
WaterUniform soil moisture
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Benzene
NotesLow stress
I’ve grown one in a fishbowl
Zone 10-12

Devil’s Ivy / Golden Pothos

Epipremnum aureum

Grows 8 feet wide as groundcover, but can reach 40 feet long as a climbing vine.
Wipe down leaves to remove collected dust from time to time.

Has calcium oxalate crystals, can be toxic to humans or pets.

LightMedium, well lit
No direct sun
SoilLoamy, rocky, shallow
WaterMedium humidity
Mist leaves and mist soil
Occasionally let dry
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Benzene
Xylene
NotesGrows better as a climbing vine
Zones 10 – 11

Dwarf Date Palm

Phoenix robelenii

Grows to 5 or 6 feet tall.

LightBright, indirect light
SoilGood organic content
Well draining
WaterWater when top 1/2″ of soil is dry
Focus slow watering on root ball
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
NotesEnjoying being around room temperature
No drafts
Zones 9b – 10a

English Ivy

Hedera helix

This plant is seen as largely invasive out in SoCal. Keeping it contained to a pot is definitely a friendly alternative.

They prefer cooler temperatures, 50-70F

Leaves are heart-shaped, which is adorable.

LightMedium to bright light
Can survive direct light growing outdoors
SoilNormal potting soil
Add rocks to the bottom to help with draining
WaterDon’t overwater, better to underwater
Let top of soil dry out
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Benzene
Xylene
NotesEnglish Ivy doesn’t like wet soil, but it likes higher humidity
Zones 4-9

Flamingo Lily

Anthurium andraeanum

You can stuff sphagnum moss around the edges of the plant to increase ambient humidity. The leaves will start to brown and crisp if the air is kept too dry.

LightBright, diffuse light
Won’t flower in lower light
SoilPeat-heavy potting soil
WaterConsistently moist soil
Water when top of dirt is dry
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
Ammonia
NotesAppreciates a tight-fitting pot
Zone 10

Florist’s Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum morifolium

There’s more than a few flower-shape varieties!

They have a better chance of blooming outdoors, but the greenery will still grow indoors. May become leggy in low light.

Light6 or more hours of full sun
SoilGood drainage
WaterKeep plant moist, but not wet
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Benzene
Xylene
Ammonia
NotesPlant oil can be irritating
Poisonous to cats and dogs
Zones 5a-9a

Kimberly Queen Fern

Nephrolepis obliterata
LightBright, indirect light
Tolerates low light
SoilPeat-based potting soil
WaterConsistently moist soil
Do not let it dry out between waterings
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
NotesThrives around room temperature
May need increased humidity in winter
Zones 9a-11

Lilyturf

Liriope spicata
LightFull sun to partial shade
SoilPrefers fertile, moist soils
WaterModerate water
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Xylene
Ammonia
NotesGrows underground through rhizomes
Zones 4-10

Peace Lily

Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’

Can grow to 6 feet tall, but usually only 3 feet in an indoor setting.

Fertilize at only one-quarter strength.

Leaves form calcium oxalate crystals.

LightTolerates heavy shade
Blooms more in medium light
SoilSoil high in organic matter
WaterKeep soil moist, but not soggy
Let water sit for chlorine to evaporate
Use room temperature water
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Benzene
Xylene
Ammonia
NotesNo specific bloom time
Flowers freely
Zones 11a-12b

Red-Edged Dracaena

Dracaena marginata

Can grow to 15 feet or more outdoors, but are often kept pruned to 6 feet or less indoors.

LightBright indirect light
SoilLoam and potting soil
WaterWater when top half of soil is dry
Restrict water in winter
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Benzene
Xylene
NotesCan be overwatered
Rarely needs fertilizer
Zones 10 – 12

Spider Plant

Chlorophytum comosum

LightPartial to full shade
SoilWell draining organic mix
WaterModerate water
Tolerates drought
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
NotesRarely add nutrients
Zone 9 – 11

Variegated Snake Plant

Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’
LightFull sun
SoilWell-drained soil, potting mix
Tolerates many soil types
WaterWater regularly
Let soil dry between waterings
ChemicalsTrichloroethylene
Formaldehyde
Benzene
Xylene
NotesPropagates by suckers or division
Zones 10 – 12

Weeping Fig

Ficus benjamina

Fast grower, may need to be repotted every year.

LightBright, filtered sun
SoilFast-draining potting soil
WaterRegularly water during growing season
Allow to dry some during fall and winter
ChemicalsFormaldehyde
Xylene
Notes
Zones 10 – 11

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, take a gander at my other spots for media:

3 thoughts on “Air Purifying Plants

  1. This is absolutely excellent information
    I think we should also have similar info on Herbal plants regularly used for Home-cure medicines
    and sweet-sugar producing plants for diabetic sugar substitutes.
    Please do so,
    Thank you very much
    Arvind

    Like

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