Best Indoor Plants for Air Quality: A Complete Guide

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Indoor air pollution refers to substances such as dust, dirt, or gases that can become trapped inside buildings. These pollutants can severely affect the quality of the air that you breathe inside your home, which can lead to different health problems. Plants provide a natural, affordable, and appealing way to purify the air around you, but it’s important to research which are the types of plants that help clean the air.

Keep reading to find out what are the best indoor plants for air quality.

Do plants really help clean the air?

Pollution is all around us — even when we’re at home. This is especially true if you live in big cities with a lot of traffic, and pollution can affect you even if you don’t realize it.

As mentioned above, a high level of indoor air pollution can significantly impact your health, leading to the development or worsening of different diseases. Some of the conditions that can be associated with air pollution include:

  • Asthma
  • Acute respiratory infections
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Low levels of HDL cholesterol or “good” cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Developmental delays in children
  • Breast cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Lung damage
  • Dementia

Improving your air quality can help reduce your risk of developing these conditions — although you should also implement other healthy lifestyle changes and manage any underlying conditions according to your doctor’s instructions.

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Air filtering plants can help improve this issue. We already know that plants are good for air quality. They naturally turn carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, but they can also clear other harmful toxins from the air, thus improving air quality.

In the 1980s, NASA conducted a study which found that house plants could help improve indoor air quality. This benefit is even more noticeable in enclosed, small spaces with poor air flow — such as small homes and offices.

Plants can do this through two different mechanisms. First, they can metabolize toxic chemicals and turn them into harmless byproducts, which are then released back to the environment. Secondly, they can absorb and incorporate toxins into their own tissues — including their roots, leaves, and stem system —, which effectively removes them from their surroundings and reduces pollution.

Air filtering plants

Plants can remove potentially harmful substances such as formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene, among others. The soil in which plants are potted can also help purify the air. Additionally, it has been found that certain plants can help reduce levels of mercury vapors in the environment.

Of course, commercial air purifying systems can remove larger amounts of air pollution more effectively, but plants have additional benefits when compared to these devices. Other benefits of having plants at home include:

  • Reducing your stress levels
  • Increasing your concentration
  • Relieving feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Boosting your productivity and creativity

It’s important to keep in mind that other studies have found contradicting results regarding the effect of plants for indoor air quality and more research is still needed on the topic. However, keeping plants in your home or office doesn’t have any negative effects, and it’s an affordable and natural solution to improve your surroundings.

Do succulents purify the air?

Succulents are typically small plants that store large amounts of water inside their leaves, which gives them a thick and fleshy appearance. These plants don’t require a lot of maintenance and don’t have to be watered too often. This has made them very popular amongst amateur plant lovers that want to keep live plants at home without major upkeep.

Just like any other plant, succulents help clean the air by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis. But studies haven’t found evidence to support claims that succulents are the best indoor plants for air quality.

How many plants do you need to purify the air in your apartment?

It’s difficult to quantify just how many plants you need to completely purify the air inside an apartment. However, we do know that larger plants will be able to remove more air pollution.

A good recommendation is to have two or three plants in 8-10 inch planters or pots for every 100 square feet of indoor space.

But if you live in an area with high air pollution, you would probably need to keep many indoor air purifying plants to be able to fully clean the air around you.

There are many possible sources of household toxins and chemicals, including:

  • Carpeting
  • Interior paints
  • Lead paint
  • Asbestos
  • Plywood
  • Cleaning products
  • Varnishes
  • Wood stoves
  • Pesticides
  • Shower curtains
  • Vinyl flooring

As mentioned above, you should remember that more research is needed on this topic. If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution or suffer from a condition that can be worsened by pollution, it’s important to seek medical guidance to improve air quality at home and preserve your health.

In some cases, using a modern air filtering and purifying system may be the better option. These devices are available at a wide range of price points, and your healthcare provider could help you choose the right air purifier.

How to choose an air purifying plant

There are different factors that you should consider before buying a plant. Not all plants are effective against toxins — below, you will find a list of some of the best air purifying plants to choose from. While all plants produce oxygen, these plants will further purify the air by helping remove harmful substances from the environment.

In addition to choosing a good plant for air quality, you should also make sure to choose plants that aren’t toxic. Many plants can be toxic to pets or children — these options may be safe if you live alone, but you should consider other alternatives if you have a toddler crawling around at home.

Plants for indoor air quality

You should also choose plants that match your level of gardening experience. Some plants are incredibly sturdy and don’t require a lot of upkeep, but others have to be cared for everyday. It’s also important to pick plants that will fit inside your home without becoming packed or crammed, since most plants require some space to thrive.

Best plants for air purification

Several studies have been conducted around the world to determine the best air purifying plants. Different plants work best against different toxins, which means that it’s a good idea to mix and match plants inside your home. This will allow you to reap the benefits of each type of plant and remove different pollutants from your home. Some of the best indoor plants for air quality include:

  • Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea erumpens)
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis)
  • English ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
  • Ficus (Ficus maclellandii)
  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii)
  • Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)
  • Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae family)
  • Japanese royal fern (Osmunda japonica)

Indoor plants safety

Air quality plants have many benefits, but it’s important to know the risks associated with each type of plant so you can choose the right variety for your home. Some plants are entirely safe, but others can be toxic when ingested — which can be a concern for households with small children or pets.

Common houseplants that can be toxic include:

  • English ivy
  • Easter lily
  • Peace lily
  • Philodendron
  • Daffodils
  • Sago palm
  • ZZ plant
  • Arrowhead
  • Snake plant

But don’t throw out your plants just yet! Large quantities of these plants need to be ingested in order to cause health problems. If you have one of the plants at home, make sure to keep it away from children or pets in a spot that is difficult to reach.

If you’re unsure about which are the best indoor plants for pets and children, ask your local gardener, botanist, or greenhouse staff for guidance. The plants that are available for purchase will likely vary depending on the area where you live, and gardening experts will probably be more familiar with each species, their benefits, risks, and upkeep requirements.

Keeping plants has many health and wellness benefits, from reducing stress to purifying the air around you.

In addition to being beautiful additions to your home, air filtering plants kept indoors can absorb and remove chemicals that could potentially harm you and your loved ones.

However, you should make sure to get indoor plants that are safe, especially if you live with small children or pets. Additionally, keep in mind that plants alone may not be able to completely remove pollution and toxins from the air around you. Air contamination can lead to long-term health problems, so you may want to consider other air purifying alternatives in addition to plants — especially if you live in an area with high levels of pollution.

Even if you have the best indoor plants for air purification, it’s very important to seek medical assistance if you’re showing signs of diseases caused by air pollution. Many of these conditions, such as asthma, can quickly turn into emergencies, and you shouldn’t delay medical attention.

October 6, 2022