In the late 1980s, NASA, concerned about low-level off-gassing of certain chemical pollutants in the Skylab space station, conducted a series of experiments to measure the indoor air purifying capabilities of various plants. The studies concluded that certain plants not only remove toxins from the air, but that the root system plays as important a role as the above ground foliage. While these plants are likely most potent in a closed environment, like the Skylab, most researchers support the wisdom that adding them to a home setting can have significant detoxifying effects.
Among the greenery studied were some common houseplants, many of which are easily cultivated, even by those who feel they were born with the proverbial “black thumb.”
It’s all about starting with the easiest. Here’s a list of some of the top indoor air purifying plants, beginning with the ones that are hardest to kill!
For beginners and doofuses:
- Snake Plant (aka Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) have a reputation for being “unkill-able” because they’re more accepting of crummy indoor conditions — like low lighting — than just about any other houseplant, IF you don’t over water. Water every 2-6 weeks, depending on temperature, humidity and light levels. Good for removing formaldehyde (common in cleaning, hygiene and personal care products), carbon monoxide and toxins from plastics. It also increases oxygen levels at night.
• Aloe vera. Succulents like aloe and cactus are very low-maintenance. Use minimal water, very little futzing. Just put the plant in sunlight and it will pretty much keep itself alive.
• Jade plants, another succulent, are quite resilient, so fairly easy and fuss-free. They do best in full sun. Let soil dry between waterings, avoiding splashing water on the leaves. If brown spots appear on the leaves, it needs more water. Jade plants are useful for removing toxins from gasoline, paint, kerosene and lacquers.
• Peace lilies have a very resilient and forgiving nature, used to hot, shady rainforests. Keep the soil moist, but don’t overwater. They are sensitive to chemicals in tap water, like fluoride, so purified water is best. They are good for increasing humidity, mediating EMFs, absorbing mold spores.
• Philodendron are easy to grow, if set in bright, indirect sun. Make sure the top inch of soil is dry before watering. Philodendrons are potentially poisonous to household pets, but they can rid the air of xylene, a toxin found in many glues and leathers.
• ZZ (Zamioculcas zamifolia), one of the toughest houseplants out there, tolerates full sun and low light, though best in a bright, indirect lighting environment. Because they are native to semiarid areas of Eastern Africa, they are also able to endure long periods of drought. In general, they handle neglect well. ZZ removes toluene and xylene.
• Fern plants can be a little finicky indoors, so more sun is better. They can increase indoor humidity and remove formaldehyde.
• Bromeliads do best in a humid environment and watering should be done when the soil is dry. Good for removing benzene emitted from glues, furniture wax, detergent and paint.
• Chrysanthemums require more frequent watering, especially in high heat, because of shallow roots. NASA labeled this plant the “air-purifying champion” for removing ammonia, benzene, formaldyhyde and xylene.
• Dracaena plants need less water than most indoor plants. Keep them hydrated by misting the leaves and keeping the soil lightly misted (not soggy) with good soil drainage. Always allow the top soil to dry out before watering. You don’t want to overwater, which may cause root rot. They are particularly useful for absorbing acetone, as well as removing odors, airborne mold and toxic byproducts of cigarette smoke.
Palm/ bamboo palm generally don’t like full sun, unlike other kinds of palm. In fact, they can do well in full shade and should be planted in well-drained soil. They are particularly effective for outgassing of chemicals like formaldehyde.
Ficus/weeping fig like a bright room with little direct morning sun. Keep steadily moist; if they sit in too much water, they will suffer from root rot. Removes odors and other toxicities.
Note: Does talking to your plants help them grow? While no conclusive scientific evidence exists on this, many people claim to have seen benefits. One controversial theory posits that, because increased concentrations of CO2 increase photosynthesis, when humans, who emit CO2, speak up close to their plants, the extra CO2 spurs growth. In a study by the Royal Horticultural Society, researchers discovered that plants grow faster to the sound of a female voice than to that of a male voice. Other experiments have focused on different sound levels and even the kinds of things that are said to plants—do they respond better to compliments or insults? The TV show “Mythbusters” conducted a study in which 60 pea plants were divided among three greenhouses. In one greenhouse they played recordings of humans saying nice things to the plants. In another, recordings played humans voicing insults to the plants. The third greenhouse was silent, with no recordings played. After two months, the pea plants showed greater—but roughly equal—growth in the two greenhouses with the recordings, while those in the control greenhouse with no sound showed the least growth.
So the jury is still out. However, it would seem, as they say in Brooklyn, it can’t hoit!
““Common Houseplants Scrub the Air of Indoor Toxins” — The Vaccine Reaction
“Houseplants for Beginners” — New York Times
“Top Ten Houseplants that Literally Clean the Air” — Perrywood.co.uk
“These Plants Are Oxygen Factories! At Least One of Them Should Be in Your Home! — Bright Side.me
“Does Talking to Plants Help?” — Wonderopolis.org