Natural Health: How to Green the Air with Plants

It was fun digging into the science of how—and if—houseplants really do clean the air. Conclusion? Get that green-leafy—but don’t unplug the air-purifier just yet.

Which plants are best? Read on.

Natural Health: How to Green the Air with Plants

Banish pollutants from your home with some simple potted plants.

March 1, 2008

COMMON HOUSEPLANTS like ferns, palms, and lilies can do wondrous things: They remind us of nature, they add color and texture, they help us feel more relaxed and grounded—and best of all, they pull pollutants out of the air.

The humble fern’s ability to combat indoor air pollution was first discovered by NASA in the 1980s. Researchers determined that 50 types of ordinary houseplants can absorb volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—gaseous chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene (both classified by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] as “known human carcinogens”) found in a number of household items including pressed-wood furniture, plastic bags, computer ink, carpeting, and conventional household cleansers and cosmetics. VOCs are one of a variety of pollutants currently so pervasive that indoor air is now two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the EPA.

Experts like Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home (Tarcher, 2005), and MJ Gilhooley, a consultant for Green Plants for Green Buildings, an educational organization, suggest placing one houseplant per 100 square feet.” Put a plant next to your computer printer or on top of particleboard stereo speakers to help freshen the space,” says Dadd, adding that houseplants alone won’t detox your home. You also need to curb your use of pesticides and chemical cleaners.

According to the book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin, 1997) by former NASA scientist Bill Wolverton, these five plants in particular can help purify your home:

Peace Lily: A lustrous plant with white blooms that absorbs alcohols, trichloroethylene (a dry-cleaning chemical), formaldehyde, and benzene.

Care: Place in a semi-sunny location; keep the soil evenly moist and clean leaves regularly.

Areca Palm: A grassy, fast-growing palm said to be one of the best overall at cleaning air; tackles VOCs like xylene and toluene (both found in paint).

Care: Place in a semi-sunny location; keep the soft moist and the leaves misted.

Dracaena (aka Janet Craig): A dark-green treelike plant that absorbs trichloroethylene.

Care: Place in a semi-shady location; keep the soil moist but not sopping wet.

Weeping Fig: A type of ficus that helps remove formaldehyde.

Care: Place in a fully sunny to semi-sunny location; keep the soft moist.

Boston Fern: A plant that adds humidity and ranks best at absorbing formaldehyde.

Care: Place in a semi-sunny location and mist daily. In winter months, apply fertilizer monthly.


These accessories will keep your houseplants healthy.

  1. FABRICPOT ($40; hova Made of recycled polyester, this plant container is washable and mold-resistant and has a handy zipper that allows it to expand as the plant grows.
  2. ORGANIC MECHANICS POTTING SOIL ($10 for 18 lbs.; This peat-free blend (peat in most potting soil comes from nonrenewable sources like old-growth forests) nourishes indoor plants without hurting their outdoor kin.
  3. EVA SOLO FLOWERPOT ($44.50; This pot’s clear base whether or not your plant needs watering.
  4. CLASSIC PLANTEA ($10 for 12; Make fertilizing fun (and less messy) with these organic tea bags for plants. Just steep and pour.—V.R.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Weider Publications


Valerie ReissNatural Health: How to Green the Air with Plants

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