Clear the Air With These 10 No-Fuss Houseplants

Peace lilies can help clear the air of harmful toxins

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans on average spend 90 percent of their time indoors. And stagnant indoor environments can trap harmful chemical toxins as well as bacteria, pollen and mold. It’s enough to make a person sick (literally). But, luckily for mankind, houseplants may offer a solution.

Sick Building Syndrome

People began to realize a few decades ago that as indoor air pollutants build up, they can unleash a variety of health problems. Headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and itchy eyes were the most common complaints; however, some conditions were severe enough to require hospitalization. Poorly ventilated spaces only seemed to make matters worse. To describe the phenomenon, the term ‘sick building syndrome’ was coined.


Super-insulated, modern buildings can reduce the flow of good air

In 1989, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), together with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) set about trying to determine the cause. They conducted a study that produced some surprising results. It indicated that the same innovations that had made office spaces and homes more energy efficient had also sealed people in, creating a form of superinsulation that had significantly reduced the flow of good air.

And, good air flow was only half of the story. The study also found that airtight buildings trapped harmful emissions from synthetic building supplies, furnishings, carpets, cleaning products and ink. Even paper products such as toilet paper and paper towels were giving off pollutants with disastrous effects on human health.

How houseplants can help

This news was troubling to say the least. Through further study, though, NASA came up with a plan. They hypothesized that indoor plants might offer a solution.

To test their theory, NASA ran experiments over a two-year period with plants, exposing their leaves, roots and soil to indoor airborne chemicals. The results were startling. NASA discovered that through photosynthesis many common houseplants were able to remove large quantities of harmful toxins from the air. In fact, houseplants represented a significant tool for solving indoor air pollution problems overall.


Indoor plants can remove harmful toxins from the air

The NASA list of top air filtering plants was first compiled as a means to understanding how to clean the air in space stations. It has now become the standard for those of us on earth that are looking for ways to improve our environments. Although some progress has been made in reducing and/or eliminating some of these harmful chemicals, there is much work still to be done. Meanwhile, houseplants can offer homeowners an important first line of defense.

NASA suggests that the best efficiency is achieved with at least one houseplant per 100 square feet of home or living space. Follow these general watering tips to keep your plants looking their best.

Here are ten top houseplants that made the NASA list:


This easy-to-grow succulent is perhaps best known for its healing properties. Gel from the plant’s thick, pointed leaves is full of vitamins, enzymes and amino acids which can sooth skin burns and cuts. Lesser known is that aloe can also absorb toxins that are byproducts of cleaning products and paints. It produces brown spots on its leaves when chemical exposure becomes excessive.

aloe plant

Plant care tip: Aloe likes lots of sunlight and cool temperatures (hovering around 70 degrees.) Like all succulents, it prefers dry soil, so avoid frequent watering.


The bamboo palm, also known as the areca palm, is a small palm that packs a big punch. In addition to producing flowers and tiny, orange-red fruit, the multi-stemmed plant is great at filtering out benzene and trichloroethylene (which you may unwittingly bring home with your dry cleaning). It is considered superior at clearing out formaldehyde and even xylene, which is present in gasoline, glues and some paints and varnishes.

bamboo palm

Plant care tip: The bamboo palm needs lots of water and thrives in bright light. Cut off brown stems as needed to keep the plant looking neat. Taller plants may need staking.


The long, blade-like leaves of ‘Silver Queen’ are dark green with silver variegation and grow upwards on multiple stems before flopping over. Variegation makes this low-maintenance houseplant a standout in any corner. In addition to its graceful shape, Silver Queen also filters out benzene and formaldehyde emitted from inks, paints and dyes and many household cleaning products.

Chinese evergreen 'Silver Queen'

Plant care tip: Chinese evergreen prefers indirect sun and moderate temperatures. Direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. Trim off any yellow or dead leaves as needed and wipe leaves periodically with a damp rag to remove dust.


A fast growing vine with trailing stems of bright green variegated leaves, golden pothos stays green even when it’s kept in the dark. Perhaps that’s why it’s also known as Devil’s Ivy. Pothos works well in hanging baskets or cascading off the side of a table or bureau. It also absorbs formaldehyde.

Golden pothos

Plant care tip: Cut back long stems as needed to keep the plant looking full and healthy. One of the most resilient houseplants, pothos will survive even in low light conditions. Some sun, however, is necessary to keep its leaves’ variegation. It’s best to allow soil to dry out between waterings.


Cited by NASA as the number one best air-filtering houseplant, English ivy adds a timeless elegance to any room where it brightens up dark corners with its variegated cascading leaves. Easy to grow from cuttings, English ivy absorbs formaldehyde found in some housecleaning products as well as carpeting and furniture.

English ivy

Plant care tip: English ivy is easy to grow in partial sunlight. It prefers moist soils and cooler room temperatures. Don’t let it dry out, though, or it will quickly shrivel up.


A trailing indoor plant with dark green, heart-shaped leaves, the philodendron makes a great accent in any room. It is not a good option if you have kids or pets, however, since its leaves can be toxic if eaten. Like English ivy, the heartleaf philodendron is particularly good at absorbing formaldehyde.

Heartleaf philodendron

Plant care tips: Heartleaf philodendron can live for years with only moderate watering. It prefers indirect light and will thrive in almost any room temperature. Let the soil dry out between waterings.

PEACE LILY (Spathiphyllum)

This beautiful arching plant with tall white blooms topped NASA’s list for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene and even ammonia.

Peace lily

Plant care tip: The peace lily is easy to grow, and will withstand even neglect (one person I know didn’t water his all winter and it survived.) That being said, the peace lily prefers low light and moist soil. Be careful not to overwater, though, or the leaves will lose their color and droop.


Tall growing, with purplish-red leaves and curving stalks, the red-edged dracaena can reach heights of 15 feet or more. The species has 40 other varieties that vary in shape and form, including some with variegated leaves of white and cream. A word of caution to pet owners, however, the dracaena is toxic to cats and dogs. The dracaena is known to remove benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and xylene commonly emitted by lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.

Red-edged dracaena

Plant care tip: The dracaena thrives in filtered light in well-drained soil. It prefers humid, warm temperatures. If the temperature falls below 65 degrees, it will not grow.


This easy to grow houseplant can quickly grow to eight feet or more, making it a major addition to any décor. The dark green shiny leaves of the rubber plant are also effective at filtering out formaldehyde from household cleaning products and synthetic building materials.

Rubber plant

Plant care tip: Rubber plant prefers some sunlight, but will grow even in dimly lit areas. Allow the soil to dry out in between waterings and keep leaves clean by wiping them periodically with a wet paper towel.


Also known as ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’, this houseplant is one of the hardest to kill. With blade-like thick, variegated leaves that grow stiffly upright, it’s a tough species and one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde.

Snake plant

Plant care tip: Snake plant will grow in a wide variety of conditions and doesn’t need much to survive. Unlike most plants that absorb carbon dioxide during the day, the snake plant works on an opposite schedule, releasing oxygen into the air during the night, making it a great plant for the bedroom.

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