Indoor Plants for Air Purification

By: Evan Scoboria, Last updated: June 12, 2023

In an age where we are increasingly conscious about the air we breathe, finding natural and effective ways to purify indoor air has become paramount. Indoor air pollution can be up to five times worse than outdoor air pollution, so implementing strategies for cleaner air in our homes and offices is essential. One such method is the use of indoor plants for air purification. This article will delve into the science behind how plants can purify the air, highlight some of the best indoor plants for air purification, and provide you with tips to care for these plants. We'll also discuss some considerations to consider for the best benefits.

Plants for Air Purification

The Science Behind How Plants Purify Air 

Indoor plants don't just brighten our living spaces; they also play an active role in purifying the air around us. This is based on a process known as phytoremediation, a technique that harnesses the power of plants to clean up our environment.

At a fundamental level, plants absorb gases through their leaves and roots, a part of the natural process of photosynthesis. During this process, they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which already contributes to a healthier indoor atmosphere. However, photosynthesis isn't the only way plants purify the air.

NASA’s Clean Air Study, led by Dr. B. C. Wolverton in the late 1980s, uncovered a more complex interaction between plants and the air around us. Wolverton's team found that certain indoor plants could eliminate significant amounts of harmful gases from the air, including substances like benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia.

These harmful substances, often volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are common in modern homes. They're released from synthetic building materials, carpeting, paint, and common household cleaners.

Plants don't just absorb these harmful gases; they break them down into harmless substances. The pollutants are transported into the plant's roots, where tiny microorganisms break down the toxic substances. In essence, the plants convert harmful pollutants into their food, which helps them to grow.

Furthermore, the humidity plants generate through transpiration can benefit indoor environments. It can help to maintain a comfortable level of indoor humidity, which can contribute to the alleviation of respiratory conditions and promote general health.

In conclusion, plants have an intrinsic ability to clean up the air. Their leaves and roots take in gases, including harmful ones, broken down and used for the plant's growth and development.

Best Indoor Plants for Air Purification

Various indoor plants offer air purification benefits. Here are some of the best ones to consider:

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider Plant

Spider plants are among the easiest air-purifying indoor plants to grow, making them an excellent choice for beginners or forgetful owners. A fan of bright, indirect sunlight, spider plants will send out shoots with flowers that eventually grow into baby spider plants or spiderettes. This resilient plant is excellent at removing pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and xylene from the air. Furthermore, its hardiness and low maintenance requirements make it a perfect choice for beginners or those with a less-than-green thumb. It prefers bright, indirect light and should be watered well but allowed to dry out between waterings. Its non-toxic nature also makes it safe to have around pets and children. With its beautiful arching foliage, the Spider Plant adds a touch of beauty to your space while keeping your air clean.

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy, or Hedera helix, is a hardy and versatile plant known for its exceptional air-purifying abilities. It absorbs toxins, including benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene. This adaptable plant can thrive in light conditions, from full sun to partial shade, and prefers moist, well-drained soil. However, it's crucial to note that English Ivy is considered an invasive species in some regions, so it's best kept indoors and carefully managed. It's also toxic when ingested, so it might not be the best choice if you have curious pets or young children. Nevertheless, its climbing or trailing habit and lush green leaves make it a beautiful and beneficial addition to any indoor space.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

The Peace Lily, scientifically known as Spathiphyllum, is a top contender for air-purifying indoor plants. This elegant plant is known for its ability to filter out harmful toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide, all common in modern homes. Not only are Peace Lilies powerful air purifiers, but they are also low maintenance and easy to care for, requiring only indirect light and consistent watering.

Their lush green leaves and beautiful white blooms also make them an aesthetically pleasing addition to any room. However, it's important to note that while they are beneficial for air purification, they are toxic if ingested by pets or children. Therefore, they should be placed in an area that's out of reach if you have little ones or furry friends in your home.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Also known as "Mother-in-Law's Tongue," the Snake Plant is another highly effective air-purifying plant. The Sansevieria trifasciata stands out because it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen at night, making it an excellent plant for bedrooms to enhance sleep quality.

According to NASA studies, Snake Plants can remove toxins such as formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air. This easy-to-care-for plant doesn't require much water, and it can thrive in both low and indirect light conditions, making it suitable for indoor environments with less natural light.

Its tall, green leaves with yellow edges add a touch of architectural elegance to any interior space. But like many other houseplants, Snake Plants are toxic when ingested, so they should be placed in a spot inaccessible to pets and children.

Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

The Bamboo Palm, scientifically known as Chamaedorea seifrizii, is another top plant for air purification. Known for its elegant, arching green fronds that resemble bamboo stems, it's an attractive addition to any indoor space.

The Bamboo Palm made its name in the NASA Clean Air Study for its impressive ability to cleanse the air of harmful chemicals. Specifically, it effectively eliminates pollutants such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde, commonly found in indoor air due to off-gassing from furniture, carpets, and cleaning products.

Bamboo Palms are relatively easy to care for. They thrive in bright, indirect light but survive in lower light conditions. They prefer to be kept moist but also need well-draining soil to prevent waterlogging. Furthermore, Bamboo Palms are non-toxic to pets, making them a safe choice for households with furry friends.

Red-Edged Dracaena (Dracaena reflexa)

Red-Edged Dracaena (Dracaena reflexa)

The Red-Edged Dracaena, or Dracaena reflexa, is an excellent plant for purifying indoor air. It's named for the red or purple lines that accentuate its narrow, pointed leaves, which give the plant a vibrant, lively aesthetic.

Red-Edged Dracaenas have an extraordinary ability to remove toxins from the air. According to the NASA Clean Air Study, these plants can filter out pollutants like xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde, making them a practical choice for improving indoor air quality.

These plants are low-maintenance and can adapt to various indoor conditions. They do well in medium to bright indirect light but tolerate low-light conditions. They're relatively drought-tolerant, so they don't need to be watered frequently – wait until the top inch of soil is dry before watering again. This resilience, combined with their air-cleaning capabilities, makes the Red-Edged Dracaena an excellent choice for air purification in homes and offices.

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston Ferns are a popular houseplant well known for their air-purifying capabilities. This lush and leafy plant is known for removing toxins like formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air, making the air healthier to breathe. It's also known to act as a natural humidifier and can help restore moisture in the air, so it is excellent for those who suffer from dry skin. They prefer a cool environment with high humidity and indirect light, which makes them ideal for bathrooms or naturally humid climates.



Philodendrons are attractive with their glossy leaves and easy to care for, but they also rank high on NASA’s list of top air-purifying plants. These tropical beauties efficiently remove toxins, particularly formaldehyde, from the air. This makes them an excellent choice for indoor spaces, especially if you're seeking to improve the air quality in your home. They thrive in moderate to bright, indirect light and require watering only when the top inch of soil is dry. However, it's important to note that Philodendrons are toxic if ingested, so they should be kept away from small children and pets.

Care Tips for Your Air Purifying Plants

Proper care for your air-purifying plants is crucial to ensure they continue to thrive and provide air purification benefits in your indoor spaces. Here are some essential tips:

  1. Lighting: Most indoor plants do well with moderate exposure to sunlight. Some prefer indirect light, while others thrive in direct sunlight. It's essential to understand the specific light needs of your plants. Always refer to care instructions for each particular plant type.

  2. Watering: Overwatering is a common mistake when caring for indoor plants. Please make sure the soil is almost dry before watering again. Some plants prefer their leaves to be misted with water, simulating a more humid environment.

  3. Temperature: Indoor plants usually prefer consistent temperatures. Avoid placing them near heat sources like radiators or cold drafts from windows or doors.

  4. Fertilizer: While not all plants require regular fertilizing, many indoor plants benefit from an occasional boost of nutrients during their growing season, usually spring and summer. Use a fertilizer designed for indoor plants, and always follow the instructions on the label.

  5. Cleaning: Plants absorb light through their leaves for photosynthesis. If dust builds up on the leaves, it can limit their ability to photosynthesize efficiently. Wipe leaves gently with a damp cloth or give them a light shower to keep them clean.

  6. Pest Control: Indoor plants can sometimes attract pests. If you notice your plant has an issue, try a gentle solution first, like soapy water, and if that doesn't work, you might have to use a specific pesticide.

  7. Potting and Soil: Not all plants need the same type of soil. Research the best soil conditions for your specific plants. Additionally, ensure the pot has proper drainage to prevent overwatering.

Taking care of your air-purifying plants isn't just about keeping the plants alive. It's also about maximizing their air-cleaning abilities. Healthy, thriving plants are much more efficient at purifying indoor air than stressed or dying ones.

Potential Issues and Considerations

While indoor plants offer numerous benefits, such as air purification and enhanced aesthetics, there are several potential issues and considerations to consider. Firstly, certain plants can be toxic to pets and even children if ingested, so it's crucial to research the safety of the plant species you introduce into your home. Though excellent air purifiers, species like the Peace Lily or Philodendron can be harmful if chewed or eaten.

Secondly, while plants can help to purify the air, they are not a substitute for good ventilation. Some plant species can even contribute to humidity levels, which might be an issue in already humid environments. You can add a quality dehumidifier to your home to counteract this effect. 

Thirdly, plants can sometimes attract pests like fungus gnats or spider mites. Regularly checking your plants for signs of pests and taking immediate action when needed can help manage these issues.

Lastly, each plant type has its care requirements, including specific lighting, watering, and soil needs. Juggling these needs can be challenging, especially for those new to plant care. Researching and understanding the requirements of each plant in your home is vital to maintaining their health and the benefits they offer.

Despite these potential issues, with proper care and management, indoor plants can substantially benefit your indoor living spaces, making them a worthy addition to your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all indoor plants purify the air? Not all indoor plants have the same capacity for air purification. Some, like the Snake Plant and Spider Plant, are especially good at removing certain pollutants from the air.

How many plants do I need to purify the air in my house? The number of plants you would need for air purification largely depends on the size of your space. However, as a general rule, you should aim for at least one medium-sized plant per 100 square feet of space.

Do air-purifying plants also increase humidity? Yes, plants can increase the humidity in a room through transpiration. This could be beneficial in dry environments but might require balancing with a dehumidifier in overly humid conditions.

Can I have too many air-purifying plants? While plants are beneficial, having too many in a confined space might raise humidity levels excessively, leading to potential mold growth or other issues.

Are air-purifying plants safe for pets? Some air-purifying plants are safe for pets, but others, like the Peace Lily, can be toxic if ingested. Always check a plant's toxicity before bringing it into a home with pets.

How do I care for air-purifying plants? The care for each plant varies. Most require indirect light, well-draining soil, and watering when the top inch of the soil becomes dry. However, always check the specific needs of each plant species.

Can air-purifying plants replace air purifiers? While these plants can improve indoor air quality, they shouldn't be considered a replacement for air purifiers, especially in homes with allergy sufferers or individuals with respiratory issues. They should instead be seen as a supplement to other air-purifying efforts.


In conclusion, indoor plants provide a natural and aesthetically pleasing method to purify your home's air. Each plant species, from the robust Snake Plant to the elegant Peace Lily, offers unique air-cleaning properties, making them a valuable addition to your living spaces. However, it's crucial to remember that the plants' effectiveness hinges on proper care, suitable placement, and an understanding of their needs. While indoor plants are not a complete substitute for mechanical air purifiers or good ventilation practices, they can complement these systems and contribute to a healthier indoor environment. You can enjoy these green companions' many benefits by considering the potential challenges and taking appropriate measures.