How to Filter Indoor Air With Plants

Best ways to improve indoor air naturally sing houseplants that are safe for children and pets

Ive heard it said that a person can go three weeks without food, three days without water (roughly) and three minutes without air (roughly). With those numbers, it seems that air quality should be an important consideration for health, as we proportionately consume more air than any other substance and as chemicals can be easily absorbed through the lungs.

Indoor Air Quality

Turns out, outdoor air pollution isn’t the biggest offender either. Indoor air has been shown to be 2-5 times as contaminated as outdoor air in some places, and indoor air is often much more stagnant.

Substances like chemical-based cleaners, air fresheners, scents and detergents can further pollute indoor air and contribute to poor indoor air quality. An easy way to reduce this type of indoor air pollution is to switch to non-toxic options for cleaning. Here are some of my favorite natural cleaner recipes:

Natural Stain Treatment Reference Sheet
Natural Homemade Laundry Detergent
Natural All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe
Natural Oven Cleaning
Natural Homemade Glass Cleaner Recipe
Easy Homemade Scouring Powder Recipe
Home Organizing & Cleaning Checklist

Plants as Air Filters?

I did a lot of research to find the best type of air filters to use in our home. One of our children has allergies, and I wanted to find ways to reduce his allergy reactions in our house. I was ready to spend hundreds of dollars on a top-notch filter and the research I did showed that a much cheaper option might be the best. (We also currently use a basic filter to filter dust and large particles)

According to this article:

“In the late ’80s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America studied houseplants as a way to purify the air in space facilities. They found several plants that filter out common volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Lucky for us the plants can also help clean indoor air on Earth, which is typically far more polluted than outdoor air. Other studies have since been published in the Journal of American Society of Horticultural Science, further proving the science.”

Since then, research has narrowed down which plants are the best at filtering indoor air and which plants filter which chemicals the best. Plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but certain  plants also eliminate significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and/or trichloroethylene.

According to this article: “The recommendation of NASA is to use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in six- to eight-inch (203 mm) diameter containers in a 1,800-square-foot (170 m2) house.” This page (PDF) has a good list of specifically which plants are best at filtering each chemical and which plants are toxic to indoor pets.

At our house, we don’t have indoor pets, but finding plants that were safe with kids around was a priority. I also needed plants that were relatively easy to take care of and pretty resilient.

Best kid and pet friendly houseplants for filtering indoor air

The Plants We Use

I found a short list of plants that were good at filtering indoor air, were resilient and were considered non-toxic for children, and these are the house plants we currently have :

  • Aloe Vera (also great for burns)
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) – Very resilient and it produces runners (smaller plants) that can be transplanted.
  • Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) Also called “Mother in Law’s Tongue” – “This plant is one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde, which is common in cleaning products, toilet paper, tissues and personal care products. Put one in your bathroom — it’ll thrive with low light and steamy humid conditions while helping filter out air pollutants.” [source]
  • Dracena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’) – Also known as Corn Plant , this plant can reach a potential height of 12 feet. “Best for removing xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde, which can be introduced to indoor air through lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.” [source]
  • Christmas Cactus- Great at cleaning the air, and colorful too.
  • Boston Fern- Easy to grow, good at filtering the air, and resilient.
  • Bromeliads – Tropical looking and colorful – great at filtering the air
  • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii) “Also known as the reed palm, this small palm thrives in shady indoor spaces and often produces flowers and small berries. It tops the list of plants best for filtering out both benzene and trichloroethylene. They’re also a good choice for placing around furniture that could be off-gassing formaldehyde.” [source]
  • Yucca- Good at filtering the air but needs a lot of light.
  • Succulents and Hens & Chickens – Succulents aren’t the best for filtering the air, but they are easy to care for.
  • Herbs –  Also not necessarily known for their air-filtering ability, but I use these and have them in the kitchen anyway.

Summary

To improve the air quality in our home, we try to focus on the following steps:

Do you have any indoor house plants? Why or why not? Share below…

You May Also Enjoy These Posts...

Reader Interactions

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Be Healthy…

Become a Wellness Mama VIP member for free and get access to my handbooks & quick start guides to help you detox your home, become a master of home remedies, make beauty products from scratch, and conquer mealtime madness!

Yes! Let me in!

Wellness Mama widget banner

Reader Comments

  1. How did you find that this air purifier was a good one? I’ve been looking for one and heard some can do more bad the good.

    • After a ton of research, this one seemed like it was in the “does more good than bad” category and it seems to help with the dust…

      • according to aspa sight Snake Plant is toxic to cats

        • Yes, I have read numerous articles while reasearching this topic, that snake plant is toxic to cats, dogs and children..

      • Hi Mama!
        I have 4 (2 XL 2 med. lg) Peace Lilies
        1 Schefflera that started out on my kitchen counter and 6 years later is now a bit over 6 ft,
        And a Fiddle Leaf Fig Ficus that grew a lot this year and is gaining on the Schefflera! They all summer on the shaded back porch with lots of watering and misting and over winter in the house. I’ve had some of them a long time.
        (We don’t have pets and our kids are grown, we do have 2 grandsons) I’m looking into getting a weeping Fig and a few others! I repot as necessary and this fall it’s necessary lol! I also add calcium and plant food as needed.
        Happy planting everyone!

  2. Good idea but the plant you have labeled as ‘bamboo’ in the above picture AND is sold as bamboo or ‘heavenly bamboo’ in stores is not bamboo. It is a dracena which is toxic to pets. I’d guess it is actually toxic to kids also. I’m a vet so I just know about the animal portion. I’ve had to treat a cat after chewing on it. Please keep this plant away from your pets. Maybe you could relabel the picture.
    Thank you

    • I so love my lucky bamboo. It will take the lowest light of any plants that I’ve grown. I’ve got mine in a nice glass container with decorative rocks for it’s roots, filled with water. I don’t even fertilize.

  3. Don’t forget nearby building work (construction). I live in a road with constant builders (extensions, conservatories, maintenance, updating an out of date house, laying bricks/paths etc).

    The amount of dust and toxins is huge and it gets through closed windows. My lemon grass plant is covered in white from the building dust from the top of the road (closed windows).

    From another flat (apartment) in the converted house I live in, half an inch of dust when they had their bathroom re-done and we weren’t even above or below it.

    It’s just as well I don’t use any chemicals in the house!

  4. Loved this! I especially appreciate the list of resilient plants, as I’m so scatterbrained, I’m lucky to keep my kiddos thriving (haha, I joke!). But seriously, I’m a huge fan of houseplants and have three still alive so far, but I would love to have more that are more intended for air improvement. 🙂

  5. Why not open your windows and air the house out on a regular basis? We had all our old windows changed out so that we could get good air circulation — also screened doors. Now we can open up windows and doors and get quite a breeze.

    • Outdoor air is just as toxic if not more so in my opinion.

      • Now fukushimas radiation is all across america too. So opening your windows does do more harm than good. Use house plants…

        • Not just Fukushima, there has been and is currently a global Geoengineering programme involving the spraying of nano particles of aluminium, barium and strontium into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight away from the earth under the guise of reducing warming. Great info at Geoengineeringwatch.org

  6. That’s so funny, I read this post and then spent 15 minutes searching for photos of the plants you mentioned that I didn’t know… just to scroll down afterwards and see that you had pictures of them! Thanks for thinking of everything. 🙂

  7. I’m wondering why the peace lily didn’t make your list. It’s one of the best at filtering multiple toxins, tolerates varying light conditions and lets you know when it’s getting a little dry by getting droopy. In fact, it thrives on getting dry and then watered. That’s my idea of easy care. It is toxic to pets, but I just hang mine up where my cats cant get to it. Great article though! 🙂

  8. Sounds like you’ve just listened to Daniel Vitalis’ latest speech about air on oneradionetwork 😉

  9. Sorry, I mean extremehealthradio

  10. So this is pretty off topic, but you said somewhere in this article that formaldehyde is in tissue & those sort of things… I’m guessing it would be in paper towels too, yes? I am just curious as I know you have an article on making your own baby wipes & you said there that you use brawny paper towels (I think that was the brand anyway lol). I am just wondering if paper towels have all these chemicals in them as well, are they really any better than baby wipes? Do you think a natural brand of P.Towels such as Seventh Generation would work just as well? I was planning on making my own baby wipes & now I am wondering if there is really much of a difference. Thanks for taking the time to read this! =)

    • When I made my own baby wipes I found that it was just as easy to use scrap flannel from the diapers. They held together better and washed well. I also splurged and bought diaper liners. the thin cloth made the change easier, tossed them if ripped to shreds or soiled, but I washed them with the diapers. Usually got 10 to 12 uses out of them.

    • I have made my own baby wipes with and old recieving blankets and witch hazel/purified water combo. I like reusing them because less impact on the world…

  11. Where do you buy your plants? Have you found these ones in stores near you or did you have to order them online?

    • I know Ikea sells a lot of these plants 🙂

  12. How do you keep little hands out of the pots? I have visions of my preschoolers emptying soil onto themselves and the floors :p

    • I could not! LOL, I found that you have to do what works at the moment. House plants might be for later.

  13. An Army HVAC man informed me of the use of Pam cooking spray on a cheap air filter works just as well as the higher priced Filtrete type furnace filters. Just spray on the cooking spray to trap more particles !

    • I sincerely hope you are joking. PAM is not good for you to eat so I’d imagine inhaling it would be just as bad.

  14. Great info! Where do you recommend buying plants from? Like from local greenhouses/nurseries or online somewhere? Thank you!

  15. do you have a link where I can buy healthy toothpaste? at the moment I can’t make my own 🙁

    • Primal Pit Paste just came out with a “tough teeth” line. They have organic all natural “tooth powders” also gum and fresh breath serums which are anti fungal and anti viral. I just bought the gum and breath serum with my order of natural deoderants. I’m patiently waiting for them to arive. 🙂 I am going to get the tooth powder myself next sale. As soon as I paid for it I was like noooo totally wanted the “tooth powder”. It’s the same as tooth paste btw. They swear by it that its healthier then regular tooth paste. And they have some good flavors orange, cinnamon and mint.

      I made my own toothpaste out of coconut oil and baking soda with a drop of essential oil and omg wayyyy too salty. My gums were red and inflammed. felt like they were scraped up extremely sensitive. Made my teeth white but reeked havoc on my gums.
      Hope that helps 🙂

    • doTerra has fantastic toothpaste

  16. You have the snake plant listed under non-toxic for kids and pets, but the .pdf you linked to says that it is indeed poisonous and other sites do say it is toxic. I just wanted to point that out for others looking to protect their animals or children.

  17. I love how the pet TickleMe Plants moves and closes its leaves when you Tickle It.
    It may be the best house plant ever

  18. Are any of the plants mentioned resistant to mold? I’m very sensitive to mold and my doctor told me to not have plants in the home as they are places for mold to fester. I had heard from a friend that there are some plants that are less likely to grow mold and are great air filters. Does anyone know which ones to buy and which ones to stay away from regarding mold? I’ve been researching this on-line for some time and haven’t found anything conclusive.
    Is there also a potting soil that you can recommend that would not attract mold? I’d love to have plants in my home as an air filter and for their beauty.
    Any help would be most appreciated.
    Thanks!

    • I am wondering this too. I’m also allergic to mold. Did you ever find an answer. I would live to keep my aloe inside. It can be used as facial moisturizer also.

    • Bromeliads, though planted in soil, don’t need the soil to be watered – the part of the plant above the soil holds and uses the water you give it. You just replace the water as the plant uses it up. So since the soil can remain dry, perhaps it doesn’t allow promote mold? I’m just guessing.

    • Most house plants can also be grown in water. I grow ivy, peace lily, wandering Jew, a plant with arrow shaped leaves (not sure what it’s called), amongst others directly in water and the never grow mold. I change the water out about once a month but just add more water as it evaporates. It looks beautiful and the plants are all very happy.

  19. If I’m not mistaken, the potting soil is the cause of the mold. Some plants can grow and thrive in water. I’m not sure but I think that would eliminate the mold problem. And I would guess virtually all plants help the air in some way.

  20. I have a giant snake plant that I spread into 2 medium size plants and 1 small (plus ones I gave away.) I have many succulents, my hens and bittys not doing so well ( I water when there dry and then more leaves drop off and die;( I have a moon cactus and a common cactus, I have a spiderplant babies I got from a friend and there’s like 9 – 12 babies in the pot, I have a mother of millions small, 2 aloe a tiny one who always looms Luke going to die(it was huge but got an burnt so I had to peel it off then cut off bottom stem because it had a rot in middle, so know its got 4 tall leaves in a tiny little pot, and one is big and doing great, getting bigger! African violet, Gerber daisies ( 3-4 not doing so well sine I brought back in, american agave, crown of thorns, 5 AIT plants, 2 shamrocks (1 needs moved BC its not getting enough light), citanella plant, plant of steel and clivia….best thing I found was plant succulents and cactus in succulent & cactus soil and in a Terra cotta pot. Some of my plants are not going so well big aloe since I transplanted into bigger plastic pot BC I didn’t have no more Terra cotta pots, so I try to not over water, the clivia has brown spots on outside of tip of leaves, Christmas cactus not blooming since I reported but alive, may be starting too, some succulents and mother of millions hard for me but easy for others, seems to dry out fast. Any ideas what I can do to help the plants that are not doing so well would help. Thanks lenah

    • AIT meant air plants!

  21. Aloe plants are extremely toxic to animals! I found this out the hard way, sadly, and one of my cats died after chewing on the plant (as cats will do).

  22. I have been hesitant to add plants to my home because I have a cost that chews on all leaves! I’ve heard there is an automatic pump you can place in an area you don’t want your cat in and as they pass by the sensor on the pump releases a puff of air. The product is called Scaat, I believe. I wonder if that would be a good way to use a purifying plant with a pet?

    Also, the number of plants needed to get the job done seems like a lot. I don’t think I have room for that many individual plants. Does it have to be such a large quantity? Any benefits to having just one or two?

  23. Great List! You’ve inspired me to get some more plants!

  24. The Aloe and Snake Plant (also called Mother in Laws Tongue) are toxic to cats. I see someone already mentioned this. I am wondering why you still have this post up?

    • From the article, “At our house, we don’t have indoor pets, but finding plants that were safe with kids around was a priority.” And, “I found a short list of plants that were good at filtering indoor air, were resilient and were considered non-toxic for children.” So, this is a list of plants that her research showed to be safe with children, not children and pets.

  25. A “Weeping Fig” is capable of cleaning the air in 5000 sq ft of space. I had my Fig for 27 years. I had to sell my plants for space, and I noticed my air quality change instantly. I had the Fig, Hoya, Prayer Plants, Spider Plant, Purple Passion, & Ivy. I have since been replenishing my home with plants.

  26. In agreement with some of the posts above, maybe the header on the picture should be changed to safe for children as I clicked this pic from Pinterest and if I didn’t already know that snakes tongue and Aloe are toxic to cats I may well have put them on my plants to buy list. My own cat had to be at a vets having her kidneys flushed for several days after she investigated some oriental Lily’s I stupidly left on the side. Wouldn’t want to think of someone looking at this picture, seeing no warnings in the artical and ending up with a sick or even dead moggy. Sorry to be so negative.

  27. Hi Wellness Mama,
    The Hunter Air Purifier that you recommended is currently unavailable at the moment. Is there another air purifier that you would recommend or would any air purifier with a HEPA filter be suitable? Also, do you have one in each room and do you run it all day and night?
    Thanks!!

  28. Hi- which plants do you use in your home with toddlers 2016 and where to buy them please? Is Home Depot ok?