Mother Nature’s Air Purifiers

With winter fast approaching, we will be spending more and more time indoors. This is a perfect time to consider some special indoor plants to help keep the air clear of toxins.

Torpedoing toxins

While certain indoor plants show promise in eliminating toxins, there are other important steps we can take to decrease indoor toxins and airborne particles. These include

  • never using a power generator indoors— including in an attached garage
  • getting a professional to inspect appliances and chimneys annually
  • vacuuming to help keep dust and particles from the air
  • regular carpet and upholstery cleaning
  • maintaining a healthy humidity level in the home
  • having vents for the stove
  • proper fresh air circulation
  • not idling cars or gas-powered devices near doors or windows
  • air filtration (consider a planter with an activated charcoal filtration system to maximize the air-cleaning performance of plants)

Plants versus pollutants

In addition to the steps above, try growing these houseplants to help purify indoor air. Keep in mind that the soil and root zones of plants play an important role in air purification, so try to keep as much soil exposed to the air as possible. This could mean trimming off low-growing leaves on some of the plants as needed.

1. Aloe vera

This is the famous healing plant that no home should be without. It’s great for treating minor cuts and sunburns—and for ridding the air of a more insidious threat: formaldehyde. Grow aloe vera by a bright or sunny window in well-drained soil that’s kept slightly on the dry side.

2. English ivy (Hedera helix)

English ivy is an attractive climbing or trailing evergreen plant with many cultivars to choose from. It prefers moisture in the air (or misting) and moist, well-drained soil in a partially sunny to shady location. The plant is adept at clearing several toxins from the air, including toluene and benzene.

3. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Grown for its grasslike, often striped foliage, this is an undemanding plant that thrives in medium to light shade and moist air. It is popular for hanging baskets. The spider plant cleans several toxins from the air, but is perhaps best known for decreasing carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels, as well as ethylbenzene and formaldehyde.

4. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

The snake plant has long, fleshy, pointed leaves with several variegated forms to choose from. It rarely flowers indoors. It is undemanding, though it prefers well-drained soil with bright to indirect light. In a recent study of 12 plant species, snake plant was the most effective at removing toluene from the air.

5. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)

The peace lily blooms reliably well indoors with attractive oval, white, papery spathes and leathery, glossy leaves. These plants prefer well-drained soil and filtered light with moderate to high humidity levels. The peace lily helps clear the air of many toxins, including benzene, trichloroethylene, and more.

6. Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

Golden pothos is an attractive evergreen vine that is effective as a trailer or climber. Its leathery, bright to dark green leaves are splashed or marbled with yellow. It prefers fairly rich, moist yet well-drained soil in bright, filtered light. Golden pothos can help clear the air of formaldehyde, and it also helps to remove benzene.

7. Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

The Boston fern has a graceful arching habit that is especially attractive in hanging baskets. It is a hardy, easy-to-grow evergreen plant. It prefers fairly rich, well-drained soil, moderate to high humidity with good air circulation and bright, filtered light. The Boston fern works well against formaldehyde; in fact, a recent study found ferns to be the most efficient class of plants for removing formaldehyde.

8. Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)

The weeping fig is a popular houseplant that prefers fairly rich, well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade exposure. The weeping fig helps to remove a variety of pollutants from the air, including octane, terpene, and xylene.

9. Dracaena, especially red edged (D. marginata), Warneckei (D. deremensis ‘Warneckei’), and Janet Craig (D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)

Draceanas are well-known indoor houseplants that prefer well-drained soil and partial shade. They are good at removing a variety of toxins from the air. The red edged variety is particularly good at clearing xylene from the air, while D. deremensis varieties are adept at clearing trichloroethylene from the air. a

Toxic plants

Some plants remove toxins from the air but are toxic themselves if consumed. Keep the following air-cleaning plants out of the reach of children and pets:

  • English ivy
  • peace lily

For the long haul

Won’t plants exposed to toxins over long periods of time succumb to toxin overload? At least one study says no. When an air-cleaning plant and its soil are constantly exposed to a chemical such as benzene, the plant’s air-cleaning capacity actually increases, the study found. This is likely due to micro-organisms in the soil genetically adapting to better utilize toxins as food.

Herb helpers

There are many fragrant herbs and shrubs that can be used to freshen or even help purify the air.

A recent study of 86 plant species found that, among the herbs tested, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula spp.), and pelargonium (Pelargonium spp.) were the most effective at removing formaldehyde from the air.

If you’re looking for a fresh scent in the home, thyme and sage are two great-smelling herbs that can be grown indoors by a sunny window with well-drained, moisture-retentive soil. Each of these plants comes in several different scent sensations.

For a stronger refreshing scent, eucalyptus can be grown as an indoor plant by pollarding (keeping it small by cutting the tree back on an annual basis to maintain a short, bushy shape). Try blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), peppermint eucalyptus (E. radiate), or lemon eucalyptus (E. citriodora).

Mix it up

Because different plants are effective at removing different toxins, it’s likely best to grow multiple species indoors for maximum air quality improvement.

Indoor air pollutants

Indoor air pollutants include, but are definitely not limited to, the following.


Where it’s found: particleboard, paper, carpets, foam insulation, plywood, grocery bags, waxed paper, fire retardants, natural gas, and cigarette smoke

Why it’s bad for us: Formaldehyde is carcinogenic and can irritate our skin, eyes, nose, and throat, causing itchiness, coughing, and nosebleeds.


Where it’s found: varnishes, spot remover, inks, paints, and adhesives

Why it’s bad for us: Trichloroethylene is a known carcinogen that, if inhaled, can irritate the nose and throat and harm the nervous system. Symptoms of exposure can include headaches, nausea, drowsiness, and dizziness.


Where it’s found: paint, detergents, inks, plastics, dyes, synthetic fibres, vehicle exhaust, and emissions from gas-powered equipment and stored solvents

Why it’s bad for us: Benzene is classified as a carcinogen. At high exposure levels, it may cause dizziness, tremors, nausea, and drowsiness. At lower chronic exposure levels, it has been linked to bone marrow damage and altered immune response.


Where it’s found: auto exhaust, synthetic perfume, and paint

Why it’s bad for us: Xylene causes depression of the central nervous system with symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It may also irritate lungs, causing shortness of breath.


Where it’s found: adhesives, floor coverings, paint, chipboard, cleaners, polishes, lubricants, tobacco smoke, and running engines

Why it’s bad for us: Toluene has been shown to cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as adverse neurological effects such as problems with short-term memory and motor function.

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