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A recent NASA study has determined the top 10 plants for reducing indoor air pollution.

By Greg Seaman Posted May 13, 2009

The Top Ten Plants for Removing Indoor ToxinsCommon indoor plants may provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor air pollution. NASA scientists are finding them to be surprisingly useful in absorbing potentially harmful gases and cleaning the air inside homes, indoor public spaces and office buildings.

The indoor pollutants that affect health are formaldehyde, Volatile Organic Compounds (benzene and trichloroethylene or TCE), airborne biological pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, pesticides and disinfectants (phenols), and radon. These pollutants contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’, which causes symptoms ranging from allergies, headaches and fatigue through to nervous-system disorders, cancer and death.

Through studies conducted by NASA, scientists have identified 50 houseplants that remove many of the pollutants and gases mentioned above. Dr. B. C. Wolverton rated these plants for removing chemical vapors, ease of growth, resistance to insect problems, and transpiration (the amount of water they expire into the air). NASA, with assistance from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, conducted a two-year study directed by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, an environmental engineer from Picayune, Mr. Wolverton has worked as a research scientist for NASA for some 20 years. His study, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, of the interaction of plants and air found that houseplants, when placed in sealed chambers in the presence of specific chemicals, removed those chemicals from the chambers.

More information on this study as well as references and details on specific chemicals can be found on Dr. Wolverton’s website.

Dr. B.C. Wolverton, researcher and author of “How to Grow Fresh Air – 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office”, conducted plant studies for NASA that determined that plants can clean pollutants in homes, offices, factories and retail outlets. Later, Wolverton expanded the study and assigned plants a rating from one to 10, based on a plant’s ability to remove chemical vapors or indoor air toxins, ease of growth and maintenance, resistance to insect infestation and the rate at which water evaporates from the leaves.

Top ten plants for removing formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide from the air:

1. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Also called the “Butterfly Palm”. An upright houseplant that is somewhat vase shaped. Specimen plants can reach 10 to 12 foot in height. Prefers a humid area to avoid tip damage. Requires pruning. When selecting an Areca palm look for plants with larger caliber trunks at the base of the plant. Plants that have pencil thin stems tend to topple over and are quite difficult to maintain.

 

2. Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

Also called the “Lady Palm”, this durable palm species adapts well to most interiors. The Rhapis are some of the easiest palms to grow, but each species has its own particular environment and culture requirements. The “Lady Palm” grows slowly, but can grow to more than 14′ in height with broad clumps often having a diameter as wide as their height.

 

3. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Also called the “reed palm”, this palm prefers bright indirect light. New plants will lose of some interior foliage as they acclimate to indoor settings. This plant likes to stay uniformly moist, but does not like to be over-watered or to sit in standing water. Indoor palms may attract spider mites which can be controlled by spraying with a soapy solution.

 

4. Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta)

Grows very well indoors, preferring semi-sun lighting. Avoid direct sunlight, especially in summer. Young plants may need to be supported by a stake. The Ficus grows to 8’ with a spread of 5’. Wear gloves when pruning, as the milky sap may irritate the skin. Water thoroughly when in active growth, then allow the soil to become fairly dry before watering again. In winter keep slightly moist.

 

5. Dracaena “Janet Craig” (Dracaena deremensis)

The Dracaena grows to 10’ with a spread of 3’. Easy to grow, these plants do best in bright indirect sunlight coming from the east/west. They can adapt to lower light levels if the watering is reduced. Keep the soil evenly moist and mist frequently with warm water. Remove any dead leaves. Leaf tips will go brown if the plant is under watered but this browning may be trimmed.

 

6. Philodendron (Philodendron sp.)

One of the most durable of all house plants. Philodendrons prefer medium intensity light but will tolerate low light. Direct sun will burn the leaves and stunt plant growth. This plant is available in climbing and non-climbing varieties. When grown indoors, they need to be misted regularly and the leaves kept free of dust. Soil should be evenly moist, but allowed to dry between watering.

 

7. Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

A hardy, drought-tolerant and long-lived plant, the Dwarf Date Palm needs a bright spot which is free of drafts. It grows slowly, reaching heights of 8-10’. The Dwarf Date Palm should not be placed near children’s play areas because it has sharp needle-like spines arranged near the base of the leaf stem. These can easily penetrate skin and even protective clothing.

 

8. Ficus Alii (Ficus macleilandii “Alii”)

The Ficus Alii grows easily indoors, and resists insects. It prefers a humid environment and low to medium light when grown indoors. The Ficus Aliii should not be placed near heating or air conditioning vents, or near drafts because this could cause leaf loss. Soil should be kept moist but allowed to dry between watering.

 

9. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”)

The Boston fern grows to 4’ in height with a spread up to 5’. It has feathery ferns which are best displayed as a hanging plant. It prefers bright indirect sunlight. Keep the soil barely moist and mist frequently with warm water. This plant is prone to spider mites and whitefly which can be controlled using a soapy water spray. Inspect new plants for bugs before bringing them home.

 

10. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”)

The Peace Lily is a compact plant which grows to a height of 3’ with a 2’ spread. This hardy plant tolerates neglect. It prefers indirect sunlight and high humidity, but needs to be placed out of drafts. For best results, the Peace Lily should be thoroughly watered, then allowed to go moderately dry between waterings. The leaves should be misted frequently with warm water.

 

References:
How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin; First Edition edition April 1, 1997).
Wolverton Environmental Services (http://www.wolvertonenvironmental.com/air.htm), Last updated May 2009.

Dr. B.C.Wolverton’s book is available online: “How to Grow Fresh Air – 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office”.

His Latest book, Plants: Why We Can’t Live Without Them is also now available online.

For more information on non-toxic home cleaning read our guide here.
For information on non-toxic pest control read our guide here.
Browse hundreds of environmentally friendly products in our store here.

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  • Guest

    Which of these are dangerous for animals? We have two cats and I'd rather not introduce any plants that will make them sick if they nibble on them.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      The following three plants from the above list should be avoided if there are cats in the home:
      Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta), Dracaena “Janet Craig”, Philodendron.

      • Guest

        Thank you!

  • Pingback: Eartheasy Blog » Formaldehyde link to leukemia confirmed: how to limit exposure in the home

  • MMiley

    Very interesting and helpful post! And a reminder that plants are an important part of nature's design to renew our environment. You may also want to point our that the plants on this list are low-maintenance and easy to grow.

  • Cheryl

    I've known for yearsd about the Peace Lily and it works beautifully. We had a new kitchen put in and all of the particle board is filled with Formaldehyde which made my mother's very sensitive eyes burn constantly. We placed two or three Peace Lilies in the kitchen area and after as little as a week the effects were noticeable. I always get them if I lay new carpet as well. I had no idea about the other plants. Fabulous article! Our cats have never tried to chew on them either. I don't have the NASA link but is this scientific link enough for you Colin? http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/200415/0000

  • http://vevepurele.mybrute.com sarah

    the only problem is that it takes a couple of days for a plant to purify the air in a room, but only a few seconds to ruin it all when you open the window :(

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      The air inside the home is more toxic than outdoors. When you open the window you are helping clean you indoor air. "Ventilate" is one of the prescriptions for improving indoor air quality.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Aran_Eartheasy Aran Seaman

    The NASA study is not available online, but all of the information can be found in Dr. B.C.Wolverton’s book, “How to Grow Fresh Air”.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Aran_Eartheasy Aran Seaman

    Just for reference (there are some critics out there saying this is an "advertorial", because it's not linked to the study)

    The study and reports were published on NASA's website, but the links no longer work. You can see where they were linked from on this page: http://www.ssc.nasa.gov/environmental/docforms/wa… (search for "foliage" to find the reports).

    All of the information regarding this study can be found in Dr BC Wolverton's book, which you can purchase here if you like: http://www.amazon.com/How-Grow-Fresh-Air-Plants/d

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Aran_Eartheasy Aran Seaman

    Here is a good TED talk on the subject as well: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/kamal_meattle_

  • Tim

    How many plants to put in a room seems to be a problem for me. Given the volume of air in a room, how many plants does it take to neutralize that volume? Also I realize it depends on the building materials in a room, for instance, a FEMA trailer would need to be all plants, while a stone house may need few?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Plants should be considered only a part of the regimen for ensuring healthy air inside the home. Ventilation and source identification are the prime treatments. Ventilation is obvious – exchange your indoor air with fresh air. Source identification can be more difficult – e.g. mold buildup in the laundry room can be a cause that can be alleviated by cleaning the mold and better venting.
      Too many plants can also be a problem in itself by raising humidity levels to a degree that encourages mold.

  • Guest

    Hey! on a vaguely related note: I know fungi aren't plants, technically, and these won't clean indoor air pollution, but interestingly enough the oyster mushroom when cultivated on top of a crude oil spill will absorb the oil just like it would absorb other organic matter and break down the oil into harmless compost. It's an effective way to clean up a spill and the mushrooms are even safe to eat afterward.

    http://www.uas.coop/node/1011

  • M Wilson

    How much air does a small plant actually process? I would like to see the numbers of how long it would take for an average size house plant to process the amount of air in a single human breath.

  • Val

    Dr. Wolverton also wrote a more academic work on plant water purification that laid out the principles of what is today known as Living Machine water recovery systems. http://www.ssc.nasa.gov/environmental/docforms/water_research/water_research.html

  • John

    Good post….we can't survive without clean air….

  • Houston Apts

    Hhmmm…interesting. I'll refer my "go green" Houston apartment renters to eartheasy for now on. Houston Apartment Specials http://www.apartmentninjas.com

  • Rob

    I have often hear that the air inside our homes are more polluted than the air outside. I even know someone who is extremely allergic to formaldehyde that after several attempts to decrease the amount of it in is home had to actually sell the house and moved further south in an old farm house. This is a excellent post glad I found you on Stumble Upon

  • hopelikeit

    in the 70's and 80's it was the trend to have lots of house plants…along with the jute hangers you could knot up in a flash. I don't know when plants went out of "style" but recently i've started to buy house plants again. It's comforting to take care of them….although not too sure they are thriving.

    • SWalker

      Yeah, I remember the big fad when we all were making macrame plant holders. My apartment was full of them!

  • Lisa

    Wonderful article. I have A LOT of plants that I usually keep outside during the warmer months and bring them in during the winter. One of my dogs loves to feel like she is in the "jungle" among all the plants.

  • GGilette

    Very good article! Indoor plants are also good for people living in apartments in cities because they remind them of the beauty and importance of protecting the natural environment.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/salisburydowns salisburydowns

    Great article, but don't forget the gorgeous and quirky Wollemi Pine. Also known as the Dinosaur Pine. I'll tweet you a link on them. xx

  • http://www.softwebdir.info Josh Johnson

    Don’t all plants filter air? I mean they take it in during respiration so the impurities must stay inside the plant mustn’t they?

  • Share Filtration

    Wonderful Article. I am just thinking of buying some plants at home to keep good air but no idea, there i found it. thanks.

  • Samiono

    I l like this article. The plants can make us feeling fresh and artistic indoor. But it should be placed outdoor at night because it will consume oxygen (O2) same with us. So that our room can be lacked of oxygen.

    • dodinger

      plants consume Co2 and produce O2 so it dosnt matter

      • Dinga Dingo

        So you should never get a pet too….

      • michelle

        at night, when plants arent photosynthesizing ( CO2 consumption)
        they consume O2 to conserve energy

        • ford

          But the net production of O2 will outweigh the consumption.

  • Organic mom

    Great tips. Using organic soil for any type of plant is important too.

  • http://www.neptune-edu.com Sachin Bhow

    Eucalyptus is also a plant that can help in removing indoor toxins.and it is quite effective.

  • forgetmenot

    Plants also filter the mind, giving us a reminder of the natural life we are all a part of.

  • Amanda Sanders

    Great tips

  • Anne Goddard

    Great Post! It’s also interesting reading through the various comments on this page. You learn a lot.

    Thank you.

  • Tom Ranieri

    Excellent post and all not too difficult to get plants, thanks

  • lindap

    Great article. I've got some of these plants so looks like I'm on the way to be toxin free.

  • IBaby

    Nice post!

  • Dave

    This sounds a little bit like rubbish to me. The amount of air the plant will 'filter' is probably very little when compared with the amount of air coming in an out of your home, and so there are going to be far more dramatic and cheaper factors you can exploit to make yourself feel better.

    I also am skeptical of this piece, as rather than linking to primary sources, they repeatedly refer to a book that has just gone on sale. Furthermore, the "study, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, of the interaction of plants and air found that houseplants, when placed in sealed chambers in the presence of specific chemicals, removed those chemicals from the chambers.". Which chemicals were they? Are they relevant chemicals in high concentrations in most homes? What damage do they cause? How long was the plant isolated? How much did it filter out? All extremely relevant, yet unanswered questions.

    Having said all this, houseplants (whether they filter your air in any useful fashion or not) are certainly good for your mental well being, if only by brightening a room and giving you a little connection with nature. There's a reason why we can see more shades of green than any other colour.

    Oh, and remember, those pesticides on your houseplants can also cause 'sick building syndrome'…

    • http://www.eartheasy.com/blog/ Aran Seaman

      Hi Dave,
      Great questions and valid concerns. I have updated the article to properly reference Dr. Wolverton's book, as opposed to just linking to it as we were. We did not want this article to go too in depth into all of the details of the study, as these are contained within Dr. Wolverton's book.

      Regarding the book – it has been in print since 1997, so this is not a hype piece for a book launch or anything :) We offered a link to his latest book as we thought people may be interested in it.

      Dr. Wolverton's book is the primary source, and the reports are not easy to link to as they are within a Nasa database, and are very large PDFs. If you go to Dr. Wolverton's website you can find more information on this study, along with some pictures and contact information if you would like to ask him any specific questions as to the validity of the study: http://www.wolvertonenvironmental.com/air.htm

      Thanks for keeping us on our toes! We will try to better reference our articles in the future.

      Cheers,
      -Aran

  • Lydia

    I was fortunate enough to be one of the board member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America that voted to fund Dr. Wolverton's Study and met this amazing man several times. As I recall, the recommendation is for 1 plant per 100 square feet. The study determined that the volatile toxins off-gassing from furnishings (carpet, paint, etc) would be filtered out in a 24 hour period.

    • Greg Seaman

      Cool. That's good information about the recommended spacing of the plants.
      Thanks for writing!

  • Esther

    The only concern addressed by a friend and myself it that if any of these plants are poisonous to pets and animals. It didn't mention anything and is there another place to look. Thank you for you help and information.

    • Gatorgyrl420

      I know the “lillies family” are toxic to pets. I  believe Dracaenas are also, as cats like to chew on them.

  • Joe Mc Gahan

    Hi, My first time on a forum like this, but am I missing something out here ? . the height and width of these plants seem to be given in Imperial feet, so it beggars belief if that is true for a 5 ft high and 3 ft wide plant in youy dining room ????? I apologise if I'm wrong

    • Greg Seaman

      The plants can be trimmed to the size you like.

  • http://www.caspiangifts.com/personalized-gifts.html Energy conservation

    Breathe easier by having plants in the house.

  • Fullerton Boot Camp

    Ample leaf is the sign of the relief and most of the time has been used in the hotels and executive institute to show their standard and professionalism.

  • Laughaha

    I had always read that spiderplants were the best….. I’m wondering where they rank on this list.  They’ve gotta be tops for care/reproduction.  

  • http://www.rentdeals.com/ Jay

    Interestingly enough, I’m a big fan of  Bamboo palm  various types of ferns and really think they are helping with removing toxins.

  • Safety first…GREENES

    I have heard the powder of the lily of peace flower were not safe for our children, I am not so sure. Since i heard that I stopped having it in my home for safety reason.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stuart.strand.7 Stuart Strand

    Natural plants can degrade formaldehyde to a modest extent, but genetic modification could greatly increase that ability. Because homes are contaminated with chloroform and benzene we want to genetic modification to make house plants that can really degrade these pollutants in our homes.

    http://www.indiegogo.com/SuperPothos/x/1889244?c=home

    • Tracie Lavering Black

      Genetic modification? Seriously?? We should NEVER genetically modify any living thing. Monsanto and other chemical companies are going to destroy the Earth with all the modifying they do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aileen.payne.16 Aileen Payne

    I have a peace lilly and it either attracted a ton of fruit flies or had them in it. How do I get rid of them without hurting the plant?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      You can spray a mist which has a bit of soap in it to deter the fruit flies. Also look for the reason they are there – likely there is a feeding opportunity they have located which you can remove.

    • Ee

      Fruit flies are easy to eradicate if you make a fruit fly trap. Simply put some vinegar (I use apple cider) with a few drops of liquid dish soap into a glass or plastic cup. I cover it with foil and then poke some decent holes in it but I’m told that cover isn’t necessary. You’ll be surprised how fast you’ll find them floating in there!

  • ICanHasVeggieBurger

    Hi,
    Thanks for this article. Can you recommend a place to buy house plants? I think Home Depot uses chemicals that kill bees or something…

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      You would have to search locally. We do not keep this kind of information, sorry.

  • dmayhue

    I thought Sansevieria was in the top 10…

  • Jerico Ry

    this make my school project more easy

  • J P Sundharam

    What happened to bamboo? It used to be suggested that almost all varieties of bamboo make extremely good toxin removers?

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/Aran_Eartheasy Aran Seaman

    Thanks Justin,

    We just updated the article to clarify this: NASA does not have the report on their website, but the source information can be found in Dr. B.C.Wolverton’s book, “How to Grow Fresh Air”, available in book stores, directly from Penguin books, New York (1-800-526-0275) or online at websites such as <a href=”http://www.amazon.com” target=”_blank”>www.amazon.com and <a href=”http://www.bn.com.” target=”_blank”>www.bn.com.

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