10 Hard-to-Kill Houseplants that Clean the Air
There are lots of problems with the fact that Americans spend as much as 90% of their time indoors, but one of them might surprise you: the disturbingly poor quality of most indoor air.
According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) most recent estimates, air pollution kills 7 million people per year, and more than 4 million of those deaths are due to indoor air.1
“Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,” says Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.2
It's linked to a slew of serious health problems, from childhood asthma, autism, and severe allergies to strokes, ischemic heart disease, and cancer among adults... and bad air, or air that's polluted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), is more common than you think.
One study found a total of 586 chemicals inside ordinary Arizona homes.3 Another study, conducted by the EPA, focused on 20 specific pollutants known to cause cancer and birth defects.
This sweeping, nation-wide study found that concentrations of these toxic compounds were almost always higher indoors — often as much as 10 times or more, but sometimes drastically higher.4 “Peak concentrations in some homes were 200 to 500 times higher than outdoors” the EPA says.5
The good news is, science suggests that houseplants can be a useful and affordable addition to your indoor air pollution-fighting arsenal.
Not only do plants help filter air by their very nature — as they photosynthesize, they remove carbon dioxide from the air and add oxygen — many are able to remove nasty VOCs like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene from the air, effectively neutralizing them as threats to human health.6
Some of the first studies on various plants' abilities to improve air quality were conducted by NASA, since dangerous VOCs can build up in a tightly-sealed space capsule.
Scientist Bill Wolverton led this early NASA research team, and went on to dedicate his life to discovering which houseplants do the best job moonlighting as air purifiers.
Here's his top-10 list of NASA-approved, low-maintenance houseplants that help clear the air:7
1. Areca Palm
2. Lady Palm
3. Bamboo Palm
4. Rubber Plant
6. English Ivy
7. Dwarf date palm
9. Boston Fern
10. Peace Lily
Aim for one plant per every 100 square feet of living space, Wolverton says, and you can eliminate indoor pollutants as you beautify your home.