Breathe a little easier- common house plants that purify the air


Not only are house plants beautiful to look at but they can improve your air indoor air quality, health and allergies. NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) conducted a study in the 1980?s to purify the air in the space stations and discovered several common nursery plants can purify the air in your own home too. NASA focused primarily on three toxins commonly found in homes and offices: formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene (TCE). Some plants are better than others for removing formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and dioxide, benzene, TCE and other air pollutants.

A list of these plants is provided below courtesy of

Plant Effective for
bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE
common ivy, English ivy (Hedera helix) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE, toluene, octane, terpene
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE
mass cane (Dracaena massangeana) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE
peace lily (Spathiphyllum) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE
pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE
purple heart, wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida) benzene, TCE, toluene, terpene
red ivy (Hemigraphis alternata) benzene, TCE, toluene, octane, terpene
spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum, Chlorophytum elatum) formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide
Sprenger?s asparagus (Asparagus densiflorus) benzene, TCE, toluene, octane, terpene
weeping fig, ficus tree (Ficus benjamina) benzene, formaldehyde, TCE, octane, terpene
wax plant (Hoya carnosa) benzene, TCE, toluene, octane, terpene

* Plants in Green are also pet friendly

NASA studied 19 plants and these should be added to the list above:

  • golden pothos (Epipiremnum aureum)
  • snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • Philodendron selloum
  • heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’)
  • elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
  • gerbera daisies


Clean Air Gardening states “NASA found that the bamboo palm, Mother-in-law’s tongue, dracaena warneckei, peace lily, dracaena marginata, golden pathos, and green spider plant worked well for filtering Formaldehyde.” My Golden Pathos plants have survived for years and I am not the best about watering plants so that is a safe bet if you do not have house plants. Gerber daisies add color during the winter and help remove benzene and TCE.


Formaldehyde is the most commonly found toxin among the three. It a carcinogen that can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, aggravate your asthma and allergies, cause nose bleeds, and even lead to cancer. It is used in the production of many products and surprising found in the following items:

  • Furniture- Toxins are found in the glue and particle board. Buy antiques or solid wood pieces with a water based finish.
  • Paint- Fumes are released for months after application and the odor is gone. Use low or no VOC paints.
  • Dry-cleaners- Ask the cleaners to launder the clothes instead and if they cannot, air out the clothes before they go into the closet which I know is hard to do.
  • Nail polish- Purchase polish labeled water based, organic, vegan or cruelty-free.
  • Hair products- Shop for products without the ingredients quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidnyl urea, formalin, and methylene oxide.
  • Bedding- Avoid wrinkle free or permanently pressed sheets and bedding. Look for cotton or flannel sheets. The organic flannel sheets from Purist are amazing and worth the investment.
  • Kid?s and Adult Plastic Dishware- These also may contain bisphenol A (BPA) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC)- Buy banboo, stainless steel or non-toxic plastic. Look at this site for more information.
  • Air Fresheners- Use baking soda, soy candles, and essential oils.
  • Household cleaners (including carpet cleaners)- Use baking soda, lemons, vinegar, olive oil for wood polish, hydrogen peroxide
  • Vaccines

Benzene is a colorless liquid and is believed to be a carcinogen. The earth council states the “Side effects include skin and eye irritation. Chronic exposure at low levels causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances, and diseases of the blood system, including anemia and bone marrow disease. Benzene has been shown to cause mutations in cells, adversely affect growth and development of embryos, and a carcinogen in some tests. Benzene may also be a contributing factor in disrupting chromosomal content in cells causing genetic conditions, and may be linked to leukemia in humans. Repeated skin contact causes drying, inflammation, blistering, and dermatitis. Inhalation of high levels has been reported to cause dizziness, weakness, euphoria, headache, nausea, burred vision, respiratory diseases, tremors, irregular heartbeat, liver and kidney damage, paralysis, and unconsciousness. In animal tests inhalation led to cataract formation, and diseases of the blood and lymphatic systems.” Benzene is found and used in the manufacture of the following items:

  • Paint
  • Inks
  • Dyes
  • Plastics
  • Rubber
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • detergents
  • crude oil and gasoline
Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Trichloroethylene (TCE) may be a cause for Parkinson?s Disease. The National Cancer Institute considers TCE to be a potent liver carcinogen. It is primarily used in metal degreasing and dry-cleaning industries.  PERC may have similar effects and it is still used at some dry cleaners. TCE is found in:

  • dry-cleaning solutions 
  • adhesives
  • paints
  • carpet cleaners

Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid found in petroleum. I wonder if traces of Toluene are found in cosmetics containing Petroleum? Toluene affects the nervous system and brain. Exposure for ?short period may cause drowsiness, headache, nausea, visual changes, muscle spasm, dizziness, and loss of coordination.? Exposure for longer periods ?can result in nervous system effects such as reductions in thinking, memory, and muscular abilities, as well as some losses in hearing and color vision?. [and] permanent toxicity to the brain.? Toluene is found in these items:

  • petroleum
  • dyes
  • nail polish
  • paints and polyurethane
  • inks
  • adhesives
  • explosives
  • nylon


Making a conscious effort to limit the use of these chemicals and decorating your home and office with these plants will help you breathe a little easier. To increase the plants ability to purify the air, maximize the exposure to the plant root-soil zone by cutting off the lower leaves on the plant. Pot one plant for every 15 to 20 square feet in your room. If you have pets like we do, this pet friendly list will help you decide which plants to buy that are safe for them in case they get hungry.

The Earth Council recommends buying a “EcoPlanter” which has a carbon filter and fan. “These filters have the VOC (volatile organic compounds) removal capacity of approximately 200 regularly grown plants.” I have not purchased these Ecoplanters but will look into it. For now, I have houseplants in every bedroom, office and living space in our home. I love looking at the arrangements and do feel better knowing they are there.


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