Before HVAC air filters and portable air purifiers existed, people had another way of purifying the air in their homes. Houseplants served as a decorative feature and doubled as a natural air purifier.
Today, people still use houseplants as a natural form of air purification, but only a few realize how plants purify the air and which ones are the best at it. Before you make a trip to the local nursery, here’s what you need to know to pick the best indoor air purifying plants.
How Do Plants Purify the Air?
Plants are pretty amazing and not nearly as simple as they appear. Day and night, they perform a process known as photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is when a plant absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and “exhales” fresh oxygen. Carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water are necessary for the plant to grow. To kickstart photosynthesis, another process called Stomata occurs. This process is when the plant physically takes in the carbon dioxide through its leaves and roots. During Stomata, the plant also absorbs and neutralizes other gases in a process called phytoremediation. It’s this step in photosynthesis that removes toxins in the air.
What We Learned From the NASA Clean Air Study
There are a lot of logistical factors that NASA has had to overcome in its pursuit to put people into outer space. Providing clean air to astronauts in orbit is the greatest challenge.
One of NASA’s most famous studies reviewed how well different plants purified the air and produced oxygen. They found that some plants are much more efficient than others at clearing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. The researchers also discovered that different plants have unique ways of purifying the air, which is why some are better at air purification than others.
How Plants Supplement Air Filters
Here’s the thing about using plants to purify the air: Completely cleaning your indoor air of VOCs would require so many plants it would be floor-to-ceiling greenery.
Houseplants supplement air filters, which are much more effective at capturing particles and pollutants as they move through the HVAC system. Indoor plants can help capture the particles that the air filter misses or those that come into the home from outside before cycling through the air filter. Plants add an extra layer of protection rather than being the only layer.
As always, you want to be mindful of the air filters you use. If you have a MERV 13 air filter from an original manufacturer like Filterbuy, you won’t need many houseplants. But if you have a lower-rated air filter, more plants may be necessary to make up the difference in filtration.
10 of the Best Indoor Plants That Clean the Air
Which plants are the best at purifying the air? Here are ten plants that can remove toxins from the air and help your air filters last a little longer.
Spider plants may be one of the best air purifying plants on the planet. This fern-like plant is very hard to kill, making it the perfect option for homeowners who lack a green thumb.
If you want to remove formaldehyde from the air, pick up a few Boston ferns. It’s a common and inexpensive plant that can be placed anywhere in the home to reduce toxic air pollutants.
The NASA study found that aloe vera was particularly good at capturing VOCs. Place this succulent in the kitchen or bathroom to purify fumes from cleaners.
Chrysanthemums are bushy flowering plants that clean the air better with every bloom. The flowers help purify the air of ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, trichloroethylene, and xylene. Just watch out if you have pets because chrysanthemums are toxic to animals.
Not only does this beautiful flowering plant make a statement, but it can also make a difference in air quality. They are particularly beneficial in the bedroom, as they release oxygen at night and capture benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde.
More Air Purifying Plants to Try Include:
- Snake Plant
- Red-Edged Dracaena
- English Ivy
- Broadleaf Lady Palm
- Golden Pothos
Safety Concerns Before You Buy a Plant
Houseplants may not seem dangerous, but they can lead to pretty unsettling outcomes if you don’t choose the species carefully. Even the specific plant you pick out at the nursery can make a difference. Here’s what you need to watch out for:
Toxic and Poisonous Plants
Some plants, like poison ivy, are not recommended indoors. But many others are toxic to people or animals, yet most people don’t know it. Oleanders are one example of a plant that is highly toxic to adults, children, and animals. You may have also already heard poinsettias are mildly toxic to dogs and cats.
These are just a few examples of toxic plants that can cause problems in and around your home. If you aren’t sure, always check if a plant is potentially poisonous.
Thorns and Prickly Leaves
There are also plants with features that cause a direct physical threat. You’d never want to put small potted cacti inside a home with kids because one of them is bound to get stuck. Be careful to look over the entire plant for thorns, sharp twigs, prickly leaves, and needles that can hurt someone.
While you’re looking the plant over for thorns and other potentially dangerous physical characteristics, also keep an eye out for bugs. Invasive insects love hitching a ride on or inside houseplants. Once they are indoors, they can start multiplying. Before you know it, you have an infestation negatively impacting your air quality.
READ MORE: Air Filters vs Air Purifiers
Air Purifying Plants FAQ
Still not sure what plants to get, how many to buy, and where to put them? Keep reading for more information about air-purifying plants.
How many plants does it take to purify the air in a room?
That depends on the size of the room. National Geographic has noted that it takes a lot of plants to get 100% VOC purification. How many? As many as ten plants per square foot!
What plants release oxygen at night?
Orchids are well known for being great plants for bedrooms because they release oxygen at night while you’re sleeping. Spider plants, peace lilies, chrysanthemums, and snake plants also release oxygen at night.
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