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NASA’s Clean Air Study: Houseplants that Filter Your Air

By Teo Spengler ; Updated March 14, 2019
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NASA’s Clean Air Study: Houseplants that Filter Your Air
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Houseplants add casual elegance to a room and bring a touch of nature into our homes. But that's not all. Indoor houseplants can take toxins out of the air, according to a study by NASA. The intent of this NASA plant study was to determine whether plants might help to detoxify the air of space station environments, and to identify those that were most effective. If you'd like to clean the air in your own home, install plants on NASA's list of best indoor houseplants.

Understanding the Indoor Pollution Problem

Many people don't realize that the air in their homes contains toxins, but the facts show that there is an indoor pollution problem. Toxins come from many materials including chemicals in furniture, paints and carpets. According to the EPA, indoor air quality can contain many more pollutants than outdoor air, and people tend to spend far more time indoors than out.

Best Indoor Houseplants to Detoxify Air

While almost any houseplant can add to the beauty of your home, not all will help get rid of toxins. Happily, those that do often thrive in low-light situations and require minimal care. Here are seven of the best indoor houseplants to detoxify air, all plants with big leaves that thrive with very little maintenance.

1) Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider plants have long, graceful, grass-like foliage that looks lovely in hanging baskets. They propagate themselves by growing baby spiders that can be clipped and replanted. These extremely low-care plants battle benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries.

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2) Golden pothos ( Epipremnum aureum)

Golden pothos also takes on formaldehyde in the air, but the plant doubles as an ornamental. The glossy, heart-shaped leaves of this fast-growing vine cascade over the edge of a container. Pothos will do fine in low light and even in dark shade. As for maintenance, there's only the very occasional watering.

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3) Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)

Arrowhead vine is both a beautiful houseplant and also an air purifier. It's a fast-growing tropical plant with large, variegated green leaves the shape of arrowheads. Arrowhead removes benzene, a major indoor air pollutant coming from auto exhaust and cooking systems. It also removes significant amounts of formaldehyde.

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4) Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis')

Ferns are great for removing toxins from the air, and the popular Boston fern made NASA's list for its efficiency at this task. With its lush, dense fronds and its attractive shade of blue-green, this indoor houseplant can grow into an impressive globe of foliage, some 3 feet tall and wide.

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5) Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Soft and delicately textured, the fronds of the beautiful Areca palm are fluffy and full. Arecas are clustering palms, which means that not one but multiple trunks grow from the base, creating a lush, full look. According to NASA experts, arecas take out xylene and toluene as well as formaldehyde from household air. Although they lend a tropical air to any room, they are extremely easy care,

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6) Mother-in-law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

A snarky common name shouldn't diminish the attraction of this desert plant, also known as snake plant. Its foliage is stiff and upright, each leaf shaped like a sharp, pointed tongue. The mother-in-law's tongue will filter just about anything from the air, including benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene, while asking little in return. It tolerates low light areas and humidity as well as neglect.

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7) Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckii')

Dracaena plants, native to Africa, win points as houseplants with their striped foliage and super-tolerant ways. Warneck dracaena's sword-shaped leaves are dark green with yellow or white striping, and the plant can grow to 6 feet or more. It is a striking indoor plant, perfect for medium or low-light areas, and assists in eliminating pollutants from varnishes and oils.

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8) Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema 'Crispum')

Anyone who is a fan of patterned foliage will fall for Chinese evergreen, perhaps the easiest indoor houseplant of them all. This plant's leaves grow lush and lovely, with amazing color variation, from forest green to silver and even some touches of red. NASA put this undemanding plant on its list of clean air plants because of its natural ability to remove benzene and formaldehyde.

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9) Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)

This climbing vine plant stands out because of the valentine-shape of its shiny, green leaves. As a houseplant, it can grow up a trellis or drape gracefully over the pot's edge. Stems might get to 4 feet long. This heart leaf philodendron does well with indirect light and little maintenance.

 

About the Author

 

Teo Spengler is a docent with the San Francisco Botanical Garden and a staff writer with Gardening Know How. She has written hundreds of gardening and plant articles for sites like eHow Gardening, Gardening Know How and Hunker. She holds a JD in law from U.C. Berkeley, an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.