Plants are amazing air-cleaners. You may already know they absorb carbon dioxide, but they also consume a surprising number of other chemicals from the air—even some that are dangerous for us to inhale.
NASA’s Air-Cleaning Plant Study
Clean air is something that NASA has had to tackle in the past. Synthetic materials, which space shuttles and suits are made of, release low-level toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. These chemicals, combined with an airtight environment, could do a real number on an astronaut’s health.
But purifying the air is not just a problem for NASA. These nasties are all found in our homes, too. They hide in pressed wood, paint, carpets, and drapes—to name a few.
In the late ‘80s, NASA built the Biohome to study plants’ air-cleaning abilities. First, they tested the space without plants. Anyone who entered started having burning eyes and breathing problems within minutes. Then, NASA added a whole bunch of houseplants to the building. Within days, they had done enough air-cleaning that visitors no longer showed symptoms of exposure, and they found that these plants purified the air from the off-gasses of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
Plants breathe, just like we do. When they “inhale”, they pull toxins out of the air and down to their root systems. Microorganisms in the soil feed on the toxins and help enhance the plant’s overall health. It’s hard to believe, but the formaldehyde that makes us sick can make our Boston Ferns healthier than ever before.
There are a few air-cleaning houseplants that are exceptionally good at clearing the air. Scientists have identified the 50 best indoor plants for air purification. We’ve got a few of them available at our garden center. Here’s a rundown on the 9 best plants to clean the air.
Top 9 Air-Cleaning Plants For Your Home
- Peace Lily
Peace lily removes alcohols, acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. Peace Lily also helps to humidify indoor air. One of the few tropicals that bloom indoors, its white blossoms resemble calla lilies. The peace lily prefers indirect light and high humidity. It likes to get moderately dry. The leaves are toxic to humans and pets, so keep this one out of reach of paws and little hands! It can grow to 3 feet tall with a 2-foot spread.
- Boston Fern
The Boston fern is the plant with the best ability to pull formaldehyde out of the air. The Boston fern can grow up to 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It has feathery fern leaves and likes to hang out in a cool spot with some indirect sunlight. It likes humidity, so its leaves should be misted regularly, and the soil should be kept slightly moist. Boston ferns like to be a bit root bound, so don’t transplant it until you see roots poking out of the drainage holes.
- Ficus Alii
Ficus Alii is excellent for removing chemical vapors from the air. It’s easy to grow indoors. It needs a little humidity and full or partial sunlight. It does not like drafts or air vents. Soil should get nearly dry between waterings. If its leaves turn yellow, it may be getting too much water. Ficus alii is poisonous, so keep yours away from pets and children. Ficus Alii can grow up to 10 feet tall.
- Dwarf Date Palm
Dwarf date palm is especially effective at pulling xylene out of the air. It likes to live in a controlled temperature environment. It wants bright light, but not direct sun, and doesn’t like drafts. It grows quite slowly, but can eventually grow up to 10 feet tall. It has poky needle-like spines on the base of the leaf that can even pierce protective clothing, so keep this palm away from children! Soil should be kept moist. It does like humidity, so give yours a mist regularly!
There are many varieties of philodendron available. The highest-ranking ones in the NASA study were Red Emerald, Lacy Tree, Heart-Leaf, and Elephant Ear. Philodendrons are easy to grow and require very little care. They prefer indirect light for most of the day but can tolerate low-light as well. Some varieties of philodendron can get up to 6 feet tall. They do like humidity, so misting is essential, and they don’t like dusty leaves. They like to get dry between waterings, and they don’t enjoy extreme temperature changes.
- Dracaena “Janet Craig”
Dracaena is excellent at pulling trichloroethylene out of the air. They can get up to 10 feet tall. They like indirect light or partial shade. Don’t overwater dracaenas; they don’t like soggy roots. They do like to be misted frequently, and dead leaves should be cleared away. If the leaf tips are turning brown, it is not getting enough water. Water and trim the brown tips off. Dracaenas don’t like fluoride, so if possible, use water without fluoride.
- Rubber Plant
Rubber plants are very good at removing formaldehyde from the air and grows happily indoors. They prefer partial sun to partial shade, and can even tolerate low-light. Rubber plants do not like direct sun. They may be prone to pests in dry environments, so keep an eye out for tiny guests. Rubber plants can grow up to 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide, and may need to be supported. If you’re going to prune, wear gloves. The sap is a skin irritant. The Rubber Plant needs a moderate amount of water; it does need a deep watering now and then (it’s not really made of rubber), but it also doesn’t like soggy roots.
- Bamboo Palm
The bamboo palm removes formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene. Bamboo palm adds a tropical style and humidity to the room. It is also called the reed palm. It prefers bright but indirect light. You can remove dead palm fronds, but don’t pinch the tips of new ones; it can entirely stop new growth. Bamboo palms like sandy soil, and even watering. They don’t like to dry out or have soggy roots. In summer it can be watered generously, though be sure to empty the catch tray at the bottom.
- Areca Palm
The Areca Palm was the top plant because it removes more toluene and xylene than any of the others. The Areca palm puts out a significant amount of water vapor, increasing the humidity in a room. If its tips are getting brown, the air is too dry. This fast-growing palm is also known as the butterfly palm. It can grow up to 12 feet tall. Areca palms with skinny stems are likely to topple over, so look for ones with thick trunks. It likes consistently damp, but not soggy, roots, and regular misting.
So, are you ready to breathe easier? Stop by Wallace’s and browse through our collection of air-cleaning houseplants. For maximum purifying power, NASA recommends two air-cleaning plants per every 100 square feet in your home. Our horticulturalists can help you find the right options that will thrive in any room!