Improving Indoor Air Quality with Houseplants

Due to improved construction methods, buildings are better sealed to maximize energy efficiency. Yet, these "sealed" buildings often trap gases from synthetic materials that can pollute the indoor air. These air pollutants can cause problems for inhabitants especially during the winter when people are forced to spend a great deal of time indoors.

Houseplants are currently receiving a lot of attention on improving indoor air quality. Ten years ago scientists from NASA discovered that plants could remove volatile organic chemicals (VOC) from the air inside sealed test chambers. While most of our homes are not sealed like the "biohome" that NASA created, everyone can benefit from removal of VOCs by plants. Dr. Wolverton, author of How to Grow Fresh Air, states, " Houseplants are no longer luxuries, but essential to health."

The gases most often studied include formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, toluene, ammonia, acetone, methyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, and trichlorethylene. The amount of purification depends on the plant being tested. Different houseplants purify different toxic chemicals to differing degrees.

Below is a list of plants proven to improve indoor air quality by removing harmful chemicals (order of listing is random).

  • Palms (Chrysalidocarpus, Rhapis, Chamaedorea, and Phoenix)
  • Fern (Nephrolepis)
  • Corn Plant and Dragon Tree (Dracaena)
  • Rubber Plant and Weeping Fig (Ficus)
  • English Ivy (Hedera)
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
  • Florist Mum (Dendranthemum)
  • Gerber Daisy (Gerbera)
  • Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)
  • Schefflera (Brassaia)
  • Orchids (Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis)
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)
  • Philodendron (Philodendron)
  • Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium)
  • Pothos (Epipremnum)
  • Dwarf Banana (Musa)
  • Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)

Not only are these houseplants a beautiful addition to the interior landscape, they can be beneficial as well.

This article originally appeared in the April 13, 2001 issue, p. 36.

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