Better Breathing: 6 of the Best Plants for Indoor Air Quality

Mother-in-Law's Tongue (S. trifasciata laurentii)

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The average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors. Unfortunately, indoor air quality ranks as one of the top threats to human health, according to the EPA. Indoor air is commonly 2 to 5 times more polluted (and sometimes worse), and is linked to a variety of ailments, including asthma, chemical hypersensitivity and headaches to name a few.  Cleaning chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from furniture and building finishes, and particulates from cooking all contribute to the problem. *This post contains affiliate links. We will receive a commission if you make a purchase on their site.

Thankfully, there are many strategies for healthier indoor air quality. Proper ventilation, low VOC finishes, natural furniture, and even indoor plants can all contribute to cleaner indoor air. During the 1980s, NASA began studying the use of indoor plants to clean the air in space stations, and the information is available to the public.

In their research, they discovered that all plants help clean the air, but some are more effective in reducing specific contaminants, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.

The six best plants for indoor air quality  

Aloe Vera

One of the best plants for indoor air quality: Potted aloe vera plant

Aloe vera. Image courtesy of David H. King.

This succulent plant is known to remove benzene and formaldehyde, both human carcinogens. It is well suited for the bedroom, because unlike most plants, it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen during the night. This medicinal plant is used to treat burns topically or numerous ailments internally. This plant thrives in a sunny household, but beware of overwatering it.

Gerbera Daisy

This colorful flower adds a splash of color to any home, while removing benzene and formaldehyde. It can be grown outdoors in the summer, then brought indoors for the cooler months, where it can bloom throughout the winter. It is relatively difficult to grow indoors, and likes a lot of light.

Peace Lily

This lush plant removes numerous chemical vapors, including acetone, ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene, and scores at the top of the list for removing some toxins. It also raises indoor humidity levels, a beneficial quality for dry climates. This easy houseplant is ideal for beginners or homes with little sunlight. 

Rubber Plant

This attractive plant ranks near the top of the list for removing formaldehyde from the air. It can reach heights of eight feet in ideal conditions. Rubber plants like bright indirect light, require regular watering, and a mist of water on its leaves during dry weather.

Snake Plant (mother-in-law’s tongue)

Mother-in-Law's Tongue (S. trifasciata laurentii) is one of the best plants for indoor air quality

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (S. trifasciata laurentii). Image courtesy of Steven Severinghaus.

This pointy plant is adept at cleaning formaldehyde, smog, and trichloroethylene from the air. Like aloe, it adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the air at night, making it ideal too (like aloe vera) for bedrooms. This low-light plant is good for beginners and can survive some neglect.

Weeping Fig

This tropical tree clears formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene from the air. The standard variety include a bush, tree, and tree with braided trunks. They prefer semi to full sun and regular watering.

Feature image courtesy of Steven Severinghaus

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Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is a renewable energy and sustainability journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Earth911, Home Power, Triple Pundit, CleanTechnica, The Ecologist, GreenBiz, Renewable Energy World and Windpower Engineering. Lozanova also works with several corporate clients as a public relations writer to gain visibility for renewable energy and sustainability achievements.
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