Clean the Air in Your Home with House Plants


imagecredit: adapted with text from Bill McChesney (CC BY 2.0)


So my project this Spring is to clean the house quite a bit on the inside- I know lots of you like to work outside in the garden once the weather finally turns…but that is just not my bag.  Frankly, I kill things. Seriously.  I love the idea of growing with my own hands, beautiful things that sustain us, and are pretty, but I really am not good at it.  Every year I go buy vegetable seedlings, and spend lots of money on flowers…and then I proceed to kill them, wasting my time, money, and spirit.

I am convinced, that one day, I will be able to grow things.  For now I just grow my kids.  I am good at that part! As far as the veggies, I can buy those at the farmers market to get my good-from-the-earth feeling, and I can rake or weed to feel productive outside, and quite possibly I can grow herbs…Yes, I know I can grow at least some herbs. But with Spring, I have learned to try to stick to the inside cleaning first, and then leave the outside stuff to the kids and my husband!

yard clean up

So with the regular inside Spring-clean, we are trying a little to spruce up with paint, and blinds, and carpets. Unfortunately, with new stuff, sometimes it brings IN the exact opposite of what we are trying to get RID of- a kind of a hidden indoor pollution…

Common sense tells us that things like second-hand smoke, wood burning stoves, and dust are allergens that can irritate your eyes, lungs, skin or affect you in other ways, but hidden allergens, especially in products in the house as we start to make home improvements: carpet, blinds, curtains, floors, adhesives can add to the indoor irritants that cause poor air quality. Chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene – or you have probably heard about VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are in the solvents of the paints that we use on our walls- they give off these VOCs which are just one of the kind of things I am looking to clean-up and out of my house.  Although I probably will look for low or no VOC paint, as there are a lot more on the market now than the last time I painted.

Thankfully, as we get into Spring and some great weather, we can open the windows and get some fresh air, but if you have central air-conditioning, or are allergic to pollen you are probably not opening them too wide, and so need to purify the air inside our house a bit.

NASA (the space people) with a lot of funding in the 80’s studied purification of closed spaces and found that indoor air purification occurs with the use of potted plants. The EPA recommends that you want at least 2 plants per 100 square feet (9 sq. meters) of space, preferably in rooms where you spend the most time.  So if you are doing a lot of renovation…probably up it a few plants!

For me this means I need to go get about 6 plants to start with, and maybe I can keep them alive long enough for this cleaning of the air to happen!  Lot of indoor plants are toxic to babies and animals, so you may need to check to see which of these plants you can use without a problem.  I have found lots of lists online for great indoor houseplants here or here, but I can list a few of them below, noting if they are bloomers- which means pollen allergens- so don’t pick those if you have bad pollen allergies.  Here is the list I am choosing from:

  1. Spider Plant (safe for animals according to ASPCA).  I grew up with these hanging from the kitchen in macremay hangers…I think I can do without those this round!
  2. Dracaena.  Grows easily, but can get pretty big.
  3. Ficus.  Not that easy, I have found, to keep alive.  They can be finicky with the light and watering you do.  Plus, remember not to overwater any plant, as that leads to mold growth, and then you are un-doing any cleaning of the air at all!
  4. Boston Fern.  This is rated as the best for easiest care and most toxins removed- especially good for apartment dwellers.
  5. Snake Plant.  Very hard to kill, from what I understand. Could be a good option!
  6. Bamboo Palm.  Can grow to be 12 feet but very pet friendly!
  7. Aloe Vera. Has other awesome qualities- great houseplant.
  8. Gerber Daisy. Safe for animals according to ASPCA. (blooms)
  9. Christmas Cactus Not a HUGE cleaner, but safe for animals according to ASPCA. (blooms)
  10. Golden Pothos. This may be the only plant I have ever kept alive for more than a few months!
  11. Chrysanthemum.  Even though it blooms, it has really good filtering qualities for chemicals
  12. English Ivy.
  13. Peace Lily. (bloom)

I am leaning toward: Aloe Vera, Spider, Christmas Cactus, Boston Fern, and Pothos.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn, but look at the lists that I mentioned, and I hope you can find yourself a houseplant- or office plant to “clean” where you work!  *Again, if you have small children, or animals double check with the florist/grower where you purchase the plants to eliminate plants that are toxic if ingested.

Sites I consulted and for you to see for more information on this:

CDC Website, from National Center for Environmental Health (April 2014)
Danielle Blundelle for This Old House Magazine,,,20452423,00.html
Consumer Reports (April 28, 2008) VOCs in Paint…
Non-Toxic Plants, ASPCA,