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Best Plants to Naturally Purify Indoor Air

08.03.11 Best Plants to Naturally Purify Indoor Air


I'm not a serious green thumb yet I've always had plants in my house for their aesthetic value and the bonus of added oxygen. But I've learned that even more importantly, house plants have the special skill of absorbing unwanted chemicals that are off-gassed from the various stuff in our homes. Air-conditioned rooms, synthetic building materials and inadequate ventilation cause numerous respiratory and nervous disorders and plants can come to our rescue!

In the late 80's, NASA did a study looking at plants to find which ones were most effective at improving indoor air quality. In the study, popular plants were tested for their ability to create oxygen and filter common toxins like  formaldehyde (present in carpets, particle board furniture, pressed wood products, foam insulation, paper products, cleaning agents, adhesives, permanent-press clothes and fire retardants), trichloroethylene (found in varnishes, paints, and adhesives), and benzene (found in plastics, synthetic fibers, and detergents) to purify the air astronauts breathe. 

At the helm of this research at NASA was Dr. B.C. Wolverton, who later went on to publish a book, “How to Grow Fresh Air”. He explains, "plants emit water vapor that creates a pumping action to pull contaminated air down around a plant’s roots, where it is then converted into food for the plant." He also divulges which plants and varieties remove the most toxins.

According to Dr. Wolverton's study, these are the top 15 plants for purifying indoor air:

  1. Areca Palm Tree: Very best air purifying plant according to the ratings from NASA’s research and has the 8th highest removal rate for formaldehyde according to Dr. Wolverton’s data. As effective as an electric humidifier!
  2. Lady Palm Tree: Same rating as Areca Palm but not as effective at removing formaldehyde. Fiercely resistant to most types of plant insects.
  3. Bamboo Palm: Ranked third all-around for keeping room air clean, including removing formaldehyde. Needs a lot of room to grow.
  4. Boston Fern: Most effective plant at removing formaldehyde and removed significantly more per hour than the rest of plants examined. This fern will also eliminate heavy metals, such as mercury and arsenic from the soil.
  5. Rubber Plant: Provides moisture, eliminates bio effluents, removes volatile organic compounds as well as suppresses air based microorganisms as soon as it’s put into a room! As time passes, the rubber plant becomes even more efficient at eliminating toxic compounds present in the air.
  6. Dracaena- Janet Craig: These are especially effective in newly carpeted or newly furnished rooms where formaldehyde levels are at the highest. Also removes xylene.
  7. English Ivy: A terrific aid for people with allergies, asthma, or even the desire to inhale cleaner, more fresh air. Removes air-based mold in as little as a few hours of placing in a room!
  8. Date Palm Tree: Very effective at getting rid of formaldehyde and works great in combination with other purifier plants (has the second highest removal rate after the fern plant).
  9. Ficus Alii: Excellent addition to any kind of office or home wherever clear air is missing and not difficult to maintain.
  10. Peace Lily: Ideal for the person who is not a green thumb. Easy to maintain.
  11. Aloe Vera: More effective at the elimination of formaldehyde at lesser concentrations.
  12. Spider Plant: Excellent removal of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
  13. Chrysanthemum: Shown to be effective at removing the VOC compound benzene, which has been known to cause cancer.
  14. Heart Leaf Philodendron: One of the best house plant for elimination of formaldehyde from the surrounding air, especially when working with higher concentrations.
  15. Snake: Excellent at eliminating the majority of toxins plus they are quite happy to grow in areas where other plants may decline.

Since it's advised that there should be a 6"plant for every 100 sq feet of interior living space, I'm certainly due for some new plants! And because formaldehyde has become a ubiquitous chemical found in virtually all indoor environments, it makes sense to combat it with some fresh greenery.

What plants do you live with?

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