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Houseplants and Clean Air

February 11th, 2009

Many of us spend a lot of time indoors, particularly this time of year. We know that the air in our homes can often be more polluted than the air outside, due to cleaning products, chemicals released into the air by furniture and building materials.

One potted plant per 100 square feet will clean the air in an average home or office. Without a doubt, the most important job of an indoor plant is its air purifying abilities.

Formaldehyde is found in virtually all indoor environments. It is used in particle board or pressed wood products to make office or household furniture, in many consumer paper products, in carpets, permanent-pressed clothes, water repellents, and fire retardants. Other sources of formaldehyde include natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke. Formaldehyde irritates the membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and can cause headaches and allergic dermatitis. It is suspected of causing a rare type of lung cancer in cases of long-term exposure.

So what are we to do? Get a few house plants. One potted plant per 100 square feet will clean the air in an average home or office. Without a doubt, the most important job of an indoor plant is its air purifying abilities.
Certain plants work better than other at cleaning the air in our homes. Here’s a list of a few plants and which chemicals they clean out of the air.

Boston fern, golden pothos, philodendron, and spider plants reduce levels of formaldehyde.

Areca palm, moth orchid, and the dwarf date palm can remove xylene and toluene.

Gerbera daisy, chrysanthemum, spider plants and peace lily can remove benzene.

Other beneficial houseplants include: bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, English ivy, indoor dracaena species and the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).

All plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis, so any plant you choose, in addition to these varieties, will increase the concentration of oxygen in your home.
I have always had houseplants (probably because I grew up in a jungle of houseplants). The pothos above was on the stage at our wedding, and it’s been cleaning the air in our homes for the past 11 years. I also have a dwarf citrus, a few other pothos, baby tears, mother-in-law’s tongue and few other plants. We have houseplants not just to clean the air, they also provide much needed green in the our home during the dark snowy winter in Ohio.

Do you have houseplants? Are they for cleaning the air or for enjoyment?

20 Comments to “Houseplants and Clean Air”
  1. Judy on February 11, 2009 at 7:29 am

    We have lots of houseplants. For a variety of reasons. We have the spider plants that all the children started in school, plants that we found abandoned when students left for the year, and grapefruit trees the kids started from seeds. We have several poinsettias that have been gifted to us over the years that I really wish would just die already but I just can’t leave them outside in the fall. But we also have a huge jalapeno pepper in a pot that we carry in and out every year. We just harvested a pepper off it a few weeks ago. Yum.

    Reply to Judy's comment

  2. Mangochild on February 11, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I would like to have houseplants, they have so many benefits and you gave me more that I never even knew about. But I have been worried about bugs that might come with them and lodge in the house…. are there kinds that tend to be more “bug free” that are also easy to tend?
    There are old pics in our family albums of this huge trailing vine plant my father used to have…. it was hanging in the living room and then he put the veil/vine all around the edge of the ceiling and into the bedroom, and then into the hall and back to the living room. Wow. Its amazing (and also a bit freaky!) to see :-)

    Reply to Mangochild's comment

  3. Susy on February 11, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Most of my houseplants stay indoors all year long (with the citrus being the exception), that way I don’t have to worry about bugs. But I sometimes spray them with insecticidal soap, but usually I check for big spiders and bring them in (I figure any bugs than come in will be eating by the spiders that already live in the house).

    That vine you probably are talking about it a pothos (like the one pictures last). This plant grows so long. I keep mine trimmed. The trimmings can be put in water and they root, then you have a free plant! I have many pothos for this reason.

    Reply to Susy's comment

  4. N. on February 11, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    We have a couple houseplants, they were more than enough for our small apartment but now that we are in a larger house we have room for some more. I’m waiting until spring when nurseries will have lots of options available to purchase some new ones.

    Reply to N.'s comment

  5. Pampered Mom on February 11, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    We’ve got two house plants. I haven’t the foggiest idea what they are (they’re the same as the last picture on your post), but I got them for free! The place where I worked six or seven year ago had a couple of these plants. The lady who took care of them was trimming them up and gave me a few of the trimmings to sprout roots at home. They’ve been happy ever since and tolerate the fact that I often forget to water them for weeks at a time!

    Reply to Pampered Mom's comment

  6. Susy on February 11, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Oh yes, these are Pothos plants. They’re the easiest houseplant ever. They can take low light, not much fertilizer, lack of water. They’re very vigorous plants.

    Reply to Susy's comment

  7. cheesychick on February 11, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Gees, the oxygen levels better be good in both the farmhouses on the farm (my folks and ours) because they are filled to the brim with plants. Every window on the south side of the houses have hanging plants and there are two sunrooms attached to both houses filled full of plants. I love plants and even rescue geraniums out of peoples trash. Why can’t they compost them instead of sending them in the trash. Your 11 year old wedding Pothos made me think of the same geraniums that I still have from our wedding…15 years ago. That’s so cool that you did that too. It takes me about 2-3 days to move all the plants out of the house for the summer and 5 truckloads. It’s just a small plant fetish that I have! I always make the youngins help me move the plants in and out and my 7 year old son has informed me that he is not going to let his future wife ever have houseplants.
    I liked this post. Cool one.

    cheesychick’s last blog post..Random thoughts

    Reply to cheesychick's comment

  8. warren on February 12, 2009 at 9:52 am

    I have a regular jungle at the office…with the bunch of guys I work with, it’s necessary! Anyhow, the cats at home won’t allow us to have plants there!

    warren’s last blog post..Blowhard

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  9. lee on February 12, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I like to have a few plants in the house. When some of my favorite orchids are in bloom I bring them in. From what I hear orchids do a good job of cleaning the air.

    Reply to lee's comment

  10. Susy on February 12, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Warren – our one cat eats our spider plants, that the only kind we can’t keep.

    Lee – oh yes the orchids are very good for cleaning. I’d love to have some someday.

    Reply to Susy's comment

  11. Frugal Trenches on February 13, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Fascinating, thank you for this!!

    Frugal Trenches’s last blog post..Bullets!

    Reply to Frugal Trenches's comment

  12. Darvin @ Best Ionic Air Purifiers on January 19, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Many people forget about the air cleaning power of plants and trees. They are nature’s air purifiers. This is why deforestation should be a major concern of everyone. Forests (and algae) are the main source of clean air on our planet. So if we kill them off, where will our clean air come from.

    You can think of houseplants as your own private forest :-)
    .-= Darvin @ Best Ionic Air Purifiers´s last blog ..HEPA Air Purifiers =-.

    Reply to Darvin @ Best Ionic Air Purifiers's comment

  13. shielah on March 4, 2010 at 11:45 am

    what is the name of the plant number two on this page?

    Reply to shielah's comment

    • Susy on March 4, 2010 at 11:53 am

      I believe it’s a Dieffenbachia also called “Dumb Cane”. It’s one of the most common plants and really easy to care for.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  14. Feeding Indoor Plants | Chiot's Run on March 4, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    […] the season to feed those indoor plants. Typically plants are dormant in winter and are actively growing from early spring to late fall. […]

    Reply to Feeding Indoor Plants | Chiot’s Run's comment

  15. Jane@HealthmateAustinAir on June 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the information. We are all trying to do our part to keep the air we breath cleaner – especially in our homes. Plants are a great way to do just that. I just have to be able to keep my cats out of the plants.

    Reply to Jane@HealthmateAustinAir's comment

  16. Reagan on July 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Hi – what is the name of the plant second from the top? It looks like the plant I have in my office, which is not doing well for some reason. thanks!

    Reply to Reagan's comment

    • Reagan on July 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

      dah! I see someone asked this already

      Reply to Reagan's comment

  17. The Indoor Garden | Chiot's Run on January 20, 2011 at 2:47 am

    […] that pollute the air in your home (and they don’t use any electricity to clean the air). I wrote a blog post about this specifically a while ago, it includes all the different plants and what chemicals and […]

    Reply to The Indoor Garden | Chiot’s Run's comment

  18. angie h on August 29, 2012 at 8:14 am

    are all of those safe for pets, especially dogs? I wouldn’t put it past mine to snack on a few leaves!

    Reply to angie h's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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