Best Plants for Healthier Indoor Air

Indoor Plants

When you add houseplants to rooms in your home, you’re not just adding attractive greenery. These living organisms interact with your body, mind and spirit in ways that enhance the quality of your life.

NASA’s 1989 study of a plant’s leaves, roots, soil, and associated microorganisms sought to evaluate plants as a possible means of reducing indoor air pollutants. Since that initial groundbreaking work, many other studies have been conducted. At every turn, the health benefits of plants is confirmed.

It shouldn’t really surprise us, though. Simply walk into a room that includes healthy plants as part of its decor and you will experience a positive reaction, whether you consciously realize it or not. Our response to indoor plants is an extension of our love of nature. It feels good to be around plants.

Scientists are beginning to document many of these benefits. For instance, the Dutch Product Board for Horticulture commissioned a workplace study that discovered that adding plants to office settings decreases fatigue, colds, headaches, coughs, sore throats and flu-like symptoms. In another study by the Agricultural University of Norway, sickness rates fell by more than 60 percent in offices with plants (See “5 Benefits of Houseplants”

There is far more work to be done to understand how plants can be used to improve air quality in our homes. For now, though, there’s more than enough evidence to support adding as many plants to your home as you’d like.

“There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs there’d be no place to put it all.” —Robert Orben

Air Purifying Plants

This list of plants comes from the 1989 NASA studies of plants that have air-purifying capabilities.

English ivy

English ivy (Hedera helix)

Spider plant

Spider plant (Chlorophytum elatum)

Pothos plant

Pothos plant (Epipremnum aureum)

Peace lily

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)

Chinese evergreen

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)

Bamboo palm

Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Snake Plant

Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)

Heart Leaf Philodendron

Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)

Red-edged dracaena, marginata

Red-edged dracaena marginata (Dracaena marginata)

Cornstalk dracaena

Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)

Weeping fig

Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)

Gerbera Daisy

Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

Florist’s chrysanthemum

Pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Aloe vera

Aloe vera (Aloe vera)

Janet Craig

Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”)

Dracaena deremensis Warneckii

Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”)

Banana Plant

Banana (Musa oriana)

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Pollution and Health

According to the American Lung Association, people take an average of 21,600 breaths per day. With 80% of our time spent indoors, the quality of the air we breathe is very important to our health. A variety of harmful containments including carbon monoxide, radon, mildew, molds, secondhand smoke, allergens, and chemicals can mix together in our home creating polluted air that can lead to increased asthma rates and exacerbate respiratory conditions. In commercial settings the consequences can be even more severe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement

Published: September 15, 1989

“In this study, the leaves, roots, soil, and associated microorganisms of plants have been evaluated as a possible means of reducing indoor air pollutants. Additionally, a novel approach of using plant systems for removing high concentrations of indoor air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, organic solvents, and possibly radon has been designed from this work. This air filter design combines plants with an activated carbon filter. The rationale for this design, which evolved from wastewater treatment studies, is based on moving large volumes of contaminated air through an activated carbon bed where smoke, organic chemicals, pathogenic microorganisms (if present), and possibly radon are absorbed by the carbon filter. Plant roots and their associated microorganisms then destroy the pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and the organic chemicals, eventually converting all of these air pollutants into new plant tissue. It is believed that the decayed radon products would be taken up the plant roots and retained in the plant tissue.”

Read the full report at NASA’s website.

The NASA studies on indoor pollution done in 1989 recommends 15 to 18 plants in 6 to 8-inch- diameter containers to clean the air in an average 1,800 square foot house. That’s roughly one plant per 100 square feet of floor space. —

Following the guidelines of the 1989 NASA study, the following plants were found to have air-filtering capabilities, with the Florist’s Chrysanthemum and Peace Lily being the best plants for purifying the air.

English ivy (Hedera helix)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum elatum)
Devil’s ivy, Pothos plant (Epipremnum aureum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Variegated Sanseviera, (Dracaena trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)
Selloum philodendron, lacy tree philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
Red-edged dracaena, marginata (Dracaena marginata)
Cornstalk dracaena, mass cane/corn cane (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)[4] Barberton daisy, gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Florist’s chrysanthemum, pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Aloe vera (Aloe vera)
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”)
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”)
Banana (Musa oriana)

See Wikipedia article.

There’s quite a maelstrom of articles both for and against the results of the 1989 NASA Study that proved plants can clean our indoor air.

Appearing to contradict the findings of the original NASA Study is a new study published November 6, 2019 by Bryan E. Cummings & Michael S. Waring in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. If you read each of the 77 included studies, however, what you will find is far more of a compromise between the two polarized views currently taking shape in online media.

One study, in particular (#74 on the list), Biofiltration of airborne VOCs with green wall systems—Microbial and chemical dynamics by Mikkonen A, Li T, Vesala M, Saarenheimo J, Ahonen V, Kärenlampi S, et al, clearly states “Botanical air filtration is a promising technology for reducing indoor air contaminants, but the underlying mechanisms need better understanding.”

If you can wade your way through the dense research language, what you will find throughout many of the studies is confirmation that plants (their roots and soil) do have a filtering capability for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). What plants do not have is a mechanism for filtering the air in a home or building where doors and windows open, people pass through rooms, and all sorts of other factors that were not present in the original NASA study. This is why more research needs to be done.

Learn more about this new study from 2019.

While many plants release carbon dioxide, not oxygen, at night, having a few plants in the bedroom will not release enough carbon dioxide to be harmful at all. Also, not all plants release carbon dioxide at night. Some still release oxygen even when they are not in the process of photosynthesis.—

Indoor plants don’t just look good – they can make us feel good, too. Studies have shown that indoor plants…

  • Boost your mood, productivity, concentration and creativity
  • Reduce your stress, fatigue, sore throats and colds
  • Help clean indoor air by absorbing toxins, increasing humidity & producing oxygen
  • Add life to a sterile space, give privacy and reduce noise levels
  • Are therapeutic to care for (it’s true when we say Plants Make People Happy)

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