Clean the Air with Houseplants

March 25, 2011 | By | Comments (14)


You’re concerned about air pollution, right? Did you know that the air inside your house is usually more toxic than the air outdoors? And I’m not just talking about the 10 minutes after your husband walks out of the bathroom.

Lots of volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) float through the air of an average home. Stuff like formaldehyde (mmmm, remember that smell from when you dissected a fetal pig in high school biology?), benzene, toluene, acetone, ammonia, and xylene.  Where do VOC’s come from? Paint, caulk, carpeting, ceiling tiles, adhesives, varnish, fabrics, upholstery, dry cleaning, etc. All those wonderful synthetic products that make life livable. Unfortunately, they also make it die-able, as long-term exposure can cause a raft of health problems, including cancer. Grumpy is not in favor of cancer. Let me state that right now.

Houseplants to the Rescue

So how do you rid your air of VOC’s, other than by leaving your windows open year-round (possible only in San Diego, I think)? Houseplants! Houseplants are nature’s air purifiers. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, houseplants do a marvelous job of absorbing VOC’s and rendering them harmless.

You don’t need to turn your home into a tropical rainforest either. One or two nice houseplants in a typical 15′ x 15′ room will do the job. To learn more about this, Grumpy recently visited the folks at Costa Farms  near Miami, Florida. Costa is one of the biggest producers of foliage plants in the country. They supply the big box stores, so chances are if you buy a Boston fern or a peace lily, you’re buying one they grew.

Costa 018

The fellow above is Mike Rimland, one of Costa’s expert growers. The table with plants is part of a presentation Mike gave to me and other garden bloggers about which houseplants are really good at removing certain chemicals. For example, peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) is great for removing formaldehyde and benzene. Snake plant (mother-in-law’s tongue) removes acetone. Anthurium absorbs ammonia. Boston fern removes formaldehyde and toluene. Mike calls them “living clean air machines.”

O2 For You

Costa 019 A few years back, Costa Farms unveiled its O2 For You campaign. Its purpose is to educate people about how bad the air is inside the average house, office, and classroom and what a good job just a few houseplants can do to improve it. In addition to purifying air, houseplants also humidify a room to comfortable levels for people. And rooms with houseplants show a considerable reduction in the number of airborne mold spores and bacteria.

Peace lily (the big plant show up top) is one of the best at removing a wide range of pollutants and its tolerance of lower light levels make it great for indoors. Nearly every room in my house sports a peace lily, thanks to one of my wife’s old loser boyfriends, who insisted on sending her a new one every year, even after we were married. A lesser man would have chucked those peace lilies, but Grumpy granted them amnesty.


Shout Out to Dr. Wolverton



If you’d like more information about naturally purifying indoor air, Grumpy highly recommends How To Grow Fresh Air (Penguin Books). It’s written by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, whose research for NASA on ways to purify air for future moon bases revealed what great additions to the home houseplants are. Besides telling which plants remove which pollutants, it also supplies a wealth of easy information on how to grow many of the most popular houseplants. If I hadn’t already received a free copy for being such a huge celebrity, I would buy one right now.

Coming Up Next

The ever-generous Grump will accurately answer a raft of pressing gardening questions that deal with the spring growing season. Miss it and all your plants may die!


  1. Ken Gehring

    I was disappointed ready the info. Fresh filtered air is a must for a healthy home. You need fresh air change in 4-5 hours to purge indoor pollutants and renew oxygen. This supported by the American Medical Assn and ASHRAE.

    August 31, 2015 at 12:13 pm
  2. 5 Dorm Plants Your Kid Can’t Kill | Southern Living Blog

    […] “Clean the Air With Houseplants” […]

    August 16, 2015 at 10:00 am
  3. raymonddobson7952

    People clean their homes by themselves or hiringreliable cleaners but not always we ventilate the rooms. That causes the air pollution, especially if we are using chemical cleaning solutions. Buying such a plant can purify the air by itself. It’s a must for every house.

    August 11, 2015 at 10:24 am
  4. Expert Cleaners

    We clean our homes, but not always we ventilate the rooms. That causes the air pollution, especially if we are using chemical cleaning solutions. Buying such a plant can purify the air by itself. It’s a must for every house.

    August 11, 2015 at 10:19 am
  5. The Peace Lilly for Clean Air | ProScape

    […] to be particularly good at removing formaldehyde and benzene from the environment according to The Daily South.  Ventilation and air circulation are often sacrificed in buildings for energy efficiency. […]

    November 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm
  6. credible upholstery

    I agree with this natural solution. I don’t use air freshener sprays as those chemicals maybe absorbed by my upholstery.

    November 16, 2011 at 11:55 pm
  7. Dirk Coffman

    This is a great post. A cleaner and greener environment would be a start for a cleaner air too. These natural ways are wonderful.
    This site is also informative: Thank you for sharing this post. Keep it up.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:42 am
  8. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    The quickest and easiest way to kill a calathea is to overwater it. You need to plant it in fast-draining potting soil in a pot with a drain hole. Water thoroughly once a week. After excess water drains into the saucer, pour it out.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm
  9. nana

    Could you please tell me what it means when a plant I bought to help clean VOC’s in the house, called Calathea, completely died? I tried watering different ways and still it totally died out. PLEASE DON”T POST THIS on your website–thanks.

    May 21, 2011 at 10:09 am
  10. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Your mother is a wise woman. Spider plant does clean the air.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:21 am
  11. Lesley

    My mother always told me that spider plants were good for cleaning the air. She always made me keep one in my dorm room.

    April 13, 2011 at 3:17 am
  12. Mission Builders ~ Developers

    Watering properly is always the biggest challenge for my indoor plants. The dogs also like to pull leafs off and forget to clean up.

    March 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I suspect you are talking about fungus gnats. These tiny insects reproduce in the organic matter of potting soil that is kept too wet. While you can kill them by drenching the soil with insecticide, a better solution is to prevent them in the first place by letting the soil dry somewhat between watering and making sure plant have good air circulation.

    March 28, 2011 at 11:12 am
  14. JDC

    I love having plants indoors, but always end up with a gnat infestation. What to do about that, Grumpy?

    March 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

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