Skip to main content

Are plants that clean the air a myth? Yes (but also no — it’s complicated)

With COVID still on our minds, there’s never been a time when the desire for cleaner, healthier air has been stronger. And, with winter approaching and with it, more time spent indoors, it’s even more important to be sure that the air we breathe is as clean and healthy as can be. 

You can change your air filters, schedule a thorough cleaning of your ductwork, and even purchase an air purifier or two, but you can also introduce your home to the most natural purifier of them all: plants. If you remember from elementary school science, plants, through the process of photosynthesis, deliver the very oxygen we need to breathe. So if we all want cleaner air, can indoor plants really do the job?

Decorative plants
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Can plants clean the air?

Plants convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into fresh oxygen, and they also have the power to help remove toxins from the air. A famous series of studies by NASA in 1989 cited the ability of certain common house plants to remove organic chemicals from indoor air, namely benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde.

Unfortunately, today’s research indicates that the NASA study may have been a touch too optimistic. You would need a really large number of indoor plants for the foliage to really be able to wipe out the toxins. But, they still provide great health benefits, and even just a few can make a significant difference. 

According to Bill Wolverton, a former NASA research scientist who conducted the 1989 plant study, plants that are bigger and leafier have the best chance of actually making a difference in helping to purify the air. Wolverton recommends at least two “good-sized” plants for every 100 square feet of interior space. He also recommends two plants, in particular, stating: 

“The Boston fern is one of the most effective plants for removing airborne pollutants, but it is often difficult to grow indoors. I usually recommend the golden pothos as my first choice, since it is a popular plant and easy to grow.”

Getty Images

7 indoor plants that help clean the air

  1. Aloe vera
    You may already know about the healing properties of aloe vera for soothing kitchen burns, but you may not be aware that this amazing succulent has the ability to purify the air of formaldehyde and benzene, found in many varnishes, floor finishes, and detergents. It makes a lovely, and practical, addition to a sunny windowsill in your kitchen.
  2. Bamboo palm
    Able to thrive in low-light conditions, the bamboo plant is a striking centerpiece for any room. With its graceful, arching leaves, this air purifier is particularly skilled at removing formaldehyde from the air. 
  3. Chrysanthemum
    These pretty blooms love any sunny spot in your home, and with this plant’s ability to filter out a host of toxins such as ammonia and benzene (often found in plastics, detergents, and glue), it makes a wonderful addition to a kitchen or family room as well.
  4. English Ivy
    Airborne fecal matter is not a topic people like to discuss, but it does exist, which is why this easy-growing perennial is the perfect addition to your bathroom. It’s particularly effective at reducing these nasty airborne particles and can combat mold, too.
  5. Snake plant
    Want to sleep better? Of course you do, and this yellow-tipped succulent can make sure you do. It releases oxygen at night, which helps you breathe better while you sleep, and is one of the best plants around for filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene from the air. Plus, it’s really easy to care for, provided you don’t overwater it.
  6. Spider plant
    Don’t have a super green thumb? Look no further than this ultra-resilient house plant: the spider plant. It practically takes care of itself, even sprouting little “spiderettes” that you can repot to grow even more easy-to-care-for house plants. This delicate-looking plant can battle carbon monoxide and xylene — a solvent found in printing and rubber industries. Bonus: This house plant is completely non-toxic to pets. 
  7. Rubber plant
    Hardy, good-looking, and low maintenance, too, this popular plant received NASA’s stamp of approval as one of the best for cleansing the air. It’s also a lovely way to brighten up a bare spot on your counter or windowsill. Note: The rubber plant is toxic to dogs and cats, so be sure to keep it out of reach of pets. 

House plants are a fan-favorite way to bring color and beauty to your home, and, while they may not be able to purify the air in your home on their own, they do offer many health benefits. Add a few well-chosen house plants to your home and you just may find yourself breathing a little easier this winter. 

Editors' Recommendations

Kim Renta
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kim has written for Bloomingdales, Movado, and various e-commerce wine sites. When she's not writing about wine and…
The best hanging indoor plants for your living room to give you a relaxing vibe
Your living room deserves nice hanging indoor plants to fill empty space
Hanging indoor plant

Plants have become one of the most in-style items you can place in your home, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon. To change it up a bit, why not add some hanging indoor plants to your space?

Hanging indoor plants reach eye level so they’re easier to spot than standing plants, and they can also cover up high corners of the room that are otherwise more difficult to decorate. In a living room especially, hanging plants offer a relaxing, inviting vibe. Here are some of the best hanging indoor plants for your living room.

Read more
These are the best plants to put in your shower for a nature-inspired sanctuary
Adding a plant to your shower benefits both you and the plant
Bathroom with orange walls

Bathroom plants are a rising trend, and for good reason. Who wouldn't want to add a touch of refined nature or create a cozy farmhouse feel in their bathroom? Placing a plant in the shower, however, might seem a bit odd. The truth is, there are many benefits to having a plant in your shower, both for you and for the plant itself. We're going to discuss some of these benefits, and we're going to give you some ideas for the best plants to put in your shower. Once you've added a touch of nature to your shower, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

Why put plants in your shower?
Above and beyond adding a bit of color to your dim shower, there are some health and environmental benefits to keeping plants in your shower.
Less unwanted moisture
It's no secret that bathrooms tend to be hot spots for humidity. Excessive amounts of moisture, however, can have some adverse effects. Mold can grow around your bathroom, the paint on the walls can peel, and certain nasty bugs are attracted to moist places. A shower plant can help reduce unwanted moisture in your bathroom and minimize some of these issues. Since plants need water, they suck it right out of the air, providing the added benefit of not having to water the plant as often.
Cleaner air
You probably know that plants pull carbon dioxide out of the air and emit oxygen, right? But did you know that while this process is taking place, the plant is also filtering the air and pulling toxins out of it? With all of the cleaning products, hair products, and other nasty molecules that leave toxins in your bathroom's air, having a shower plant will allow you to breathe a bit easier and healthier.
Mental health benefits
Having indoor plants comes with numerous health benefits, but the most significant are the benefits to your mental health. We all know that plants are therapeutic, and studies have shown that plants help with stress relief, energy boosts, and even increased concentration and productivity. Why not reap all these mental health benefits right at the start of your day while you shower in the morning?
Elevated decor
Let's face it, indoor plants are beautiful, and they add so much charm and character to any room. Why not apply that same philosophy to your bathroom and shower? Having a plant in your shower is not only trendy and aesthetically pleasing, but it will leave you feeling like you're showering in the tropics.
The plants love it
Putting a plant in the shower not only benefits you, but it also benefits the plant itself. Many plants thrive in humid environments, so you'll see them flourish in your bathroom. If you tend to forget to water your plants for long periods of time, having them in an already moist area will allow you to feel less guilty about neglecting them.

Read more
How to propagate prayer plants for a flourishing indoor garden
These tips to propagate prayer plants will help yours thrive
side view of prayer plant in white planter

Being a plant parent leads to a satisfying life. Prayer plants, in particular, are great indoor plants to take on as plant babies. They are easy to care for, give the room a splash of life and color, and they're even beneficial to your health. They're also an indoor plant that can be propagated and multiplied easily. We'll discuss the best way to propagate prayer plants so you can enjoy watching new plant babies grow and flourish in your home.

Are prayer plants easy to propagate?
There are many types of indoor plants that you can propagate over and over again to create your own indoor jungle, and some plant varieties are more difficult to propagate than others. When compared to other plants, the process for propagating prayer plants is incredibly easy and requires minimal time and effort.
Can you propagate a prayer plant in water?
While there are a few methods for propagating a prayer plant, including soil propagation, water propagation, root division, and propagating from seed, the easiest method is, by far, water propagation. It requires fewer materials than other methods, demands the least amount of effort on your part, and is a much simpler process that's less messy than soil propagation.

Read more