Our 5 favourite air-purifying houseplants

Our 5 favourite air-purifying houseplants

Indoor plants as decor is a trend that has never really gone away, but has recently skyrocketed in popularity. The massive resurgence was likely brought on by the popularity of Boho and Scandi decor and has gained momentum through the pandemic while people have been forced to spend most of their time at home. That can only be described as a good thing, seeing plants have been shown to improve the mental health and wellbeing of patients in hospital and to reduce the mental fatigue and stress levels of office workers. It’s also widely claimed (backed by NASA studies) that plants can help to rid the air of toxins.

Harmful gases or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by home furnishings, upholstery, cleaning products and building materials may have detrimental effects on our health, the effects of which can be exacerbated by living in modern homes and offices with little natural airflow.

VOCs have been blamed for causing problems including asthma and ‘sick building syndrome’ with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, allergies, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, coughing and an inability to concentrate. These symptoms usually only improve after vacating the building for an indefinite period of time.

Clean air studies by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in 1989 suggested that some popular indoor plants could be used as a way to purify the air in space stations. The study found a number of indoor plants filtered out and absorbed common VOCs that frequently affect health, such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.

Research by B.C. Wolverton in the early 1990s focused on the removal of xylene, toluene and ammonia by indoor plants. Indoor plants also remove and use carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis to produce oxygen. 

Although the number of plants required to fully cleanse the air in your home or office environment would create more of a jungle than a workspace, why not jump on the houseplant trend and at least give them a try? Here are five of our favourite houseplants that not only work to purify the air we breathe, they’re also super-easy to grow.

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Purifying indoor plants reduce levels of CO2 and increase relative humidity in the air. In other words, they help get rid of stale air and act as a natural humidifier, which can prevent or ease irritation to your eyes, nose, throat, and even lungs.

Top air-purifying indoor plants

To make a difference in your home or office, use one or two plants in 200mm pots per 9.3 square metres.  Results will take effect in less than a week and the more plants that you have, the better and more immediate the results will be.

1. Snake Plant or Mother-in-law's Tongue (Dracaena trifasciata)

Place a Snake plant in your bedroom to help in getting a great night's sleep. Also known as Mother-in-Law's Tongue, this yellow-tipped succulent releases oxygen at night, helping you to breathe better while sleeping. It’s a hardy, low maintenance plant that almost thrives on neglect and can grow up to two metres in height.

Toxins removed: formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene.

Care advice: Be mindful not to overwater, as the roots are prone to rot in moist soil.

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Above, left: Snake plants thrive on neglect; right: pothos is very easy to propagate.

2. Devil’s Ivy or Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) 

Otherwise known as pothos or golden pothos, devil's ivy is an unfussy indoor houseplant that will help to fight off common household toxins. It adds instant colour to any room with its lush tendrils and is easy to propagate, growing well in water, pots and hanging baskets. In fact, the heartleaf philodendron is almost impossible to kill! 

Toxins removed: xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

Care advice: While Devil's Ivy will thrive anywhere, they prefer brighter spots in the home. They also love moisture, so make brilliant bathroom plants. Water weekly or whenever the soil feels dry.

3. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

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Spider plants are the perfect choice for newbies and those with a bad track record when it comes to plants. They thrive in indirect sunlight and survive in just about any condition while quietly battling toxins including carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the printing and rubber industries. If you have pets, this is one of the few houseplants that is non-toxic to animals.

Toxins removed: carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and xylene.

Care advice: Hardy and fun to propagate. You can re-pot the tiny 'spiderettes' to grow a whole family of plants that will pretty much take care of themselves.

4. Aloe Vera (family: Asphodelaceae)

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A healing aloe plant is a lovely addition to your kitchen windowsill, as it thrives in warm, well-lit rooms.  The plant’s leaves contain a clear liquid full of vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and other compounds that have wound-healing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. While being on hand to soothe any kitchen burns, this succulent will help to purify the air of chemicals found in varnishes, floor finishes, and detergents. Aloe Vera will grow brown spots on their leaves when the amount of harmful chemicals is extreme.

Toxins removed: formaldehyde and benzene

Care advice: Thrives in a sunny location.

5. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

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An easy and undemanding plant to look after, Peace Lilies will reward you with lush and glossy dark green leaves and lovely white flowers. They are the perfect houseplant to place in a room with low light such as a bathroom. Keep them happy with weekly watering and fertilise with a slow-release fertiliser in spring to promote growth and those glorious white flowers.

Toxins removed: benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene

Care advice: Just be aware that peace lilies do contribute some pollen and floral scents to the air. Peace lilies can be toxic if eaten by children or pets.

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