Houseplants that Remove Pollution

You may find this hard to believe, but chances are the air you breathe at your office and home, are worse than the air you breathe outside.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s often 2 to 5 times worse, even up to to 100 times worse.  Air pollution also comes from more hidden, insidious sources indoors too. Often you can’t even smell it, so air toxicity is not always detectable to the human senses. To make matters worse, with increasing WIFI and wireless technologies, Electromagnetic Field Radiation is also on the rise. Although this form of air pollution is invisible to the naked eye, it can have very real impacts on our health.  While we can’t control what’s happening to the quality of our air on a global scale, we can take individual measures to make a difference in our personal environments.  Take a deep breath, because expensive air filtration and ventilation systems aren’t your only options when it comes to mediating the problem. Scientists are finding, and have proven, that  houseplants are an effective and affordable way of removing pollution. For decades, plants air-scrubbing abilities have intrigued researchers. Many scientists have been interested in the best houseplants that remove pollution from indoor air. Even NASA did research on this in the 1980’s. Every year, it seems, more data emerges showing which plants are best suited to protect us from particular toxic compounds lurking in our indoor air.

The Best Houseplants that Remove Pollution

In August 2016, Vadoud Niri, a chemist from the State University of New York of Oswego presented his team’s findings on the best houseplants that remove pollution at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. The findings of the unpublished study, built on previous work looking at the best houseplants that remove pollution. But his research looked at these common houseplants and investigated how each one has a knack for stripping particular volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from the air. By testing in a sealed chamber, he was able to show the efficiency and the rate of simultaneous removal of VOCs by these plants. For each plant type, his team noted which VOCs the plants took up, how quickly they stripped VOCs from the air and how much of the VOCs were ultimately removed by the end of the experiment. The researchers tested common houseplants known as natural air filters and eight common VOCs, and they found that certain plants were better at absorbing specific compounds.


The bromeliad plant scored very well at removing six out of eight VOCs studied. The tropical plant stripped more than 80 percent of each of those compounds out of the air within a 12-hour timeframe. Dr. Niri says this is one of the best houseplants to have in the home or workplace.

Importantly, it helped rid the air of toluene, a toxic solvent that even at low levels can lead to tiredness and weakness. Paraffin candles, the most popular type of candles burned inside homes and offices, have been shown to emit toluene and benzene. Benzene is a carcinogenic solvent found in automobile exhaust. This plant was most effective at removing benzene, with a 92-percent removal rate within 12 hours.

Lucky Bamboo (Bamboo Palm)

With a reputation for clearing away benzene and trichloroethylene – and a namesake of being lucky – this stylish plant is very low maintenance and lovely to behold. Plus, it’s believed to help put moisture back into the atmosphere, which is great for air-conditioned homes.


Acetone, that nasty, stinky VOC found in nail polish remover, can trigger headaches, dizziness, eye irritation and central nervous system damage. While all of the plants tested removed acetone from the air, dracaena removed 94 percent of the chemical from the air. Acetone isn’t limited to justnail salons, it also off gasses from particleboard, household cleaners, rubber cement and paint. Dr. Niri says he’s interested in doing further real-world testing to see if placing plants in nail salons could serve as a cost-effective way to help protect workers and customers from toxic emissions in nail salon settings.

Spider Plant

While the spider plant isn’t very good at sucking up benzene and toluene, it’s better at cleaning the air in other departments. This plants removed more than 80 percent of the ethylbenzene, p-Xylenes, o-Xylene and acetone from the air in chamber testing.

Ethylbenzene is a toxic solvent found in inks, paints, fake rubber and pesticides. It’s also commonly injected into the ground during fracking operations, and increasingly winding up in people’s drinking water near these operations.

Xylenes have the power to trigger dizziness, memory problems, fatigue, tremors, breathing problems and even kidney damage. These VOCs are found in paint thinners, in printing and cleaners.  Dr. Niri’s testing found the spider plant ranked top in removing ethylbenzene (62 percent removal rate), p-Xylenes (92 percent removal rate) and o-Xylene (93 percent removal rate).

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)

Who couldn’t feel happier and healthier with a bright pot of flowers in their home? This plant might be a little higher maintenance (needing lots of sunlight and well-drained earth), however it’s famed for its ability to filter out benzene and trichlorethylene from the air.  Good for removing airborne chemicals that are released from inks and dry cleaning.

Jade Plant

Jade plant, commonly known as “friendship tree,” really could be a great pal when it comes to the gift of clean air.

This plant removed more than 80 percent of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, p-Xylenes and o-Xylene. And in the 70-percent range, it did an OK job of pulling acetone out of the air. Of all the plants tested, this was the best houseplant for removing toluene pollution, 91 percent, from indoor air.

Aloe Vera

This succulent has been used for thousands of years as a laxative and natural antidote to skin burns. In the modern world, in turns out that this lovely succulent also clears a couple of common pollutants from the atmosphere.  Good for clearing benzene and formaldehyde from the air.

Peace Lily

This is another great option for those of us who aren’t mad-keen gardeners! Peace lilies are relatively easy to grow indoors and require very little TLC.  Good for removing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzenes and ammonia from the air.

Phytoremediation: A Plant-Based Solution for Pollution

Since the 1970s, there’s been a huge shift to create more energy efficient homes and offices. That’s a great thing because it conserves energy, but if not done properly, not always a great thing for your health. Well-insulated homes aren’t breathing as much, leaving toxic compounds trapped inside. The air in our homes can be polluted by toxic gases that are released from common, everyday household items such as cleaning agents, cement, paint and particleboard. The widespread use of home insulation also means that once these gases are released, they are more likely to be trapped within your walls. This can cause a whole host of unpleasant side effects, such as:

  • Memory and cognitive issues
  • Tiredness
  • Respiratory problems
  • Skin complaints
  • Irritated eyes
  • Headaches
  • Allergic reactions

As most people spend 90% of thier time indoors, the quality of the air we breathe inside can really affect our health.Enter the idea of finding the best houseplants that remove pollution. The concept of using these plants to mitigate environmental pollution is known as phytoremediation. It’s not only cost effective but super effective, too.

In August 2016, researchers presented findings at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, showing that specific, common houseplants each had a knack for stripping particular volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from the air. This is noteworthy because homes and offices of all ages contain VOCs from a variety of sources, including off-gassing furniture, paint, carpeting and other flooring, building materials, copiers, adhesives, upholstery, printers, pesticides, cleaners, air fresheners and candles, co-workers’ perfume and other personal care products and other scented products and even dry-cleaned clothing. It’s not uncommon for building materials and furniture to off-gas VOCs, including carcinogenic formaldehyde, for weeks, months or even years.  Remember, you don’t have to smell VOCs for them to be doing damage.

VOCs are compounds like acetone, benzene and formaldehyde that are emitted as gases and can cause short- and long-term health effects when inhaled. Some people even develop something known as sick building syndrome when they’re exposed to VOCs or other pollutants in a building where they spend time. Symptoms of sick building syndrome include:

eye, nose and throat irritation

hypersensitivity reactions

  • dizziness
  • asthma
  • allergies
  • headaches
  • itching skin
  • dry cough
  • fatigue
  • personality changes
  • flu-like symptoms
  • difficulty concentrating
  • reduced productivity

Finally, just one quick tip: be sure to avoid plastic pots, since plastic also gives off gases and pollutes your air. Store plants in clay or non-toxic containers. Look for OMRI certified potting soil. OMRI can be found on the label and means the soil is approved for use in organic agriculture. This means there aren’t toxic chemical pesticides or additives in the soil. Though sometimes not easily found, look for organic plants. Also, avoid using artificial sprays and fertilizers

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