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10 plants that help improve indoor air quality and how to care for them

People are increasingly concerned with the quality of air in the indoor spaces in which they spend significant amounts of time. Whether it be at school, work, or at home, we are becoming more cognizant of the various forms of air pollution and steps we can take to minimize it and remediate any existing issues. There are many aspects that contribute to indoor air pollution including outdoor air quality, climate, geology, and chemicals present in our indoor spaces. Toxins can come from everything from construction materials to cleaning products we use to the materials used to manufacture our furnishings. This pollution can contribute to problems like asthma and other breathing issues and may even contribute to long-term health problems.

Since climate and geology play such an important role in indoor pollution, it is addressed by the ten different regional offices of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Indoor pollution, however, is a significant worldwide problem. People can help “clear the air” at home by becoming more aware of the issues and the toxins that contribute to the issue, and through use of houseplants and foliage to help clean the air. While people should be aware that houseplants alone will not resolve the issue entirely, they can help in creating cleaner, fresher indoor air.

This guide is designed to help households become more aware of indoor toxins and in reviewing some specific plants that can help remove them from the air. We also include some tips to keep those plants vibrant and healthy while performing their air cleaning tasks.

1 Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis)

Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis)

Aloe Vera has multiple topical and internal benefits. Its gel has long been used as a natural healing agent for cuts and burns and is also used in soothing sunburns. It more recently has become popular as an ingredient in beverages to promote health and well-being. It is less known, perhaps, as an air toxin remover that can also serve as a monitor of indoor air quality. For example, when excessive amounts of harmful chemicals like benzene are present, the plants’ leaves develop brown spots. Aloe Vera is hearty, easy to care for and attractive. Care should be taken in the home, however, as the Aloe Vera plant can be toxic to pets and children.

Aloe Vera grows best in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees, which makes it a perfect indoor plant. It will grow well in indirect sunlight or artificial light. Positioning it near a window that faces to the south or west is optimal. Aloe Vera plants need infrequent waterings, once every two to three weeks is usually fine, but when watering, water the plant deeply. Don’t water again until the surface soil is dry an inch or two deep. Fertilization should only be done in the spring and summer and not more than once every four to six weeks. Like most plants, they should be replanted when becoming root bound in the container.

2 Areca Palm / Yellow Palm / Butterfly Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Areca Palm / Yellow Palm / Butterfly Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Areca Palms serve as attractive, hard-working indoor air purifiers that also perform as natural humidifiers. They grow about a half-foot per year and can reach heights of up to about seven feet. Their long fronds have about 100 thin, feathery leaflets each. While many start as small table-top plants, they often become large corner or hallway plants that can become a major feature of an indoor space. When properly taken care of, an Areca Palm can live up to 10 years.

An Areca Palm is not difficult to care for but will not last if neglected. They will grow best in indirect sunlight near a window or glass door that faces the south or west. In the spring and summer, the soil for the Areca Palm should be kept slightly damp. It should be allowed to dry between waterings in the fall and winter. While the Areca Palm will benefit from a palm-friendly fertilizer in the spring and perhaps a safe, spray-on fertilizer for the fronds in the summer, it should not be fertilized in the fall or winter. The Areca Palm thrives best when roots are tight, so only repot every two to three years, and in a wider, not necessarily deeper pot. Do not attempt to separate roots as they can be brittle and subject to damage. As the Areca Palm grows, it becomes an increasingly effective indoor air purifier. It is also nice to know this palm is safe for kids and pets.

3 Barberton Daisy / Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)

Barberton Daisy / Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)

The Barberton Daisy is an attractive indoor plant that serves to help improve indoor air. Its cheery flowers are nice to look at as well. This plant is particularly effective at removing trichloroethylene and benzene from the air. It is a perfect plant for tables, counters and window sills and is safe for pets and children. This plant grows readily outdoors, and with proper care, it can last for two to three years indoors.

Caring for the Barberton Daisy can be a bit touch and go because while it needs bright light, it also thrives in cooler temperatures. If you are not cautious, for example, placing it in a window in direct light in the summer could be harmful. In fact, anytime temperatures near the plant exceed 70 degrees it could be at risk. In the darkness of winter, light may need to be supplemented artificially. The plant should be watered deeply each time the soil gets dry down to about an inch. Any excess water in the tray should be disposed of to prevent root rot. It only needs fertilization during the spring and summer. Blooms should be pinched upon wilting and dead foliage should be removed as necessary.

4 Boston Fern / Sword Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston Fern / Sword Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston Ferns are particularly beautiful when planted in hanging planters and allowed to overflow. They are lush, green and work tirelessly to clean indoor air. They are efficient at removing formaldehyde and xylene from the air. Like most of our indoor natural air purifiers, these toxins are changed into a usable form in the plants’ root system. It is safe to grow around pets and children.

A healthy Boston Fern takes a combination of indirect lighting and high humidity. This means hanging it in front of a window is not a good idea, while it may thrive in a nearby corner. The soil of a Boston Fern should be kept damp and in the winter, in particular, it may need an assist in increasing humidity. This can be done by misting the plants foliage once or twice a week. This also can serve to keep the soil properly hydrated. An indication of lack of humidity is when the foliage begins turning yellow. In the proper light, humidity and with moist soil, the Boston Fern needs little fertilizer, perhaps only a few times annually. A properly cared-for Boston Fern can provide years of beauty and air purification qualities.

5 Chinese Evergreen / Aglaonema (Aglaonema)

Chinese Evergreen / Aglaonema (Aglaonema)

The Chinese Evergreen is a terrific choice as an indoor air cleaning plant even for those who have struggled with plants in the past. It is durable, tolerant and easy to care for. It will maintain its beautiful, tropical appearance even in low light and dry air and is forgiving if you miss a watering. Of course, the better care it receives the more vibrant it will be. The Chinese Evergreen comes in multiple varieties. It is similar to a Snake Plant and Devil’s Ivy. If you are in search of an easy to care for indoor air toxin remover the Chinese Evergreen is an excellent choice.

Chinese Evergreens grow best in a slightly sandy soil that drains well. It will do equally well in low light or indirect sunlight. They will grow best in temps ranging from 60 to 70 degrees. Cool drafts will tend to turn the leaves brown. These plants will tolerate under-watering better than over-watering which can rot the roots. Soil should be slightly dry before watering. Leaves can be trimmed without harming the plant and cuttings will root in water to start new plants. Older Chinese Evergreens may produce blooms in the spring or summer which will produce seeds. The wide leaves of the Chinese Evergreen can become dusty over time which can be resolved by gently wiping them with a soft damp cloth. It also can be rinsed in a shower and allowed to air dry. Caution should be taken with Chinese Evergreen plants as they can be toxic if eaten by animals or children.

6 Dendrobium Orchids (Dendrobium)

Dendrobium Orchids (Dendrobium)

Like other orchids, Dendrobium Orchids can be a bit fussy to maintain, but owners are rewarded with beautiful tall blooms and a plant that works to provide cleaner indoor air. Dendrobium Orchids are believed to have medicinal qualities and are frequently used in Eastern medicine. There are easier to care for plants to clean air but few have the beauty of Dendrobium Orchids.

Dendrobium Orchids will grow best in pots that are small, especially when compared to their height. Watering should only be done about twice weekly and the soil should nearly be dry when watering. Water that has been softened using salt or distilled water should not be used. Plants should be watered over a sink, using water that is room temperature. Allow the water to drain through the plant for about 30 seconds or so and let drain thoroughly. Dendrobium Orchids enjoy bright light but not direct sunlight. They can thrive in heat as long as the room is well ventilated and humidity is provided. They will do well in temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees. This plant should be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer that is at quarter strength. It can be fertilized once weekly with this diluted fertilizer. Dendrobium Orchids need room to breathe and should not be placed in a confined area. They also will do better in high humidity. These plants are safe to have around pets and children.

7 Dwarf Date Palm / Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

Dwarf Date Palm / Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

The Dwarf, or Pygmy Date Palm, know for its medicinal and religious significance, is also an excellent remover of toxins in indoor air. When nurtured properly, the Date Palm can grow leaves up to a foot long and to heights ranging from six to twelve feet. They can produce red berries that will turn black when ripe. When mature, this magnificent palm can be a big addition to the décor of any room.

Pygmy Date Palms like somewhat sandy soil that drains well. While they appreciate moist soil they do not thrive in soaking wet conditions. It is best to plant a Dwarf Date Palm in a pot with drain holes and empty any residual water from the dish under the pot after watering. Once a week watering is usually sufficient. Pygmy Date Palms only need to be fertilized two to three times annually using a fertilizer designed specifically for palm trees. This palm will grow in a variety of lighting conditions ranging from darker to bright. It is a good idea to clean leaves occasionally by putting it in a shower, leaving it outside in a rain shower or by misting spray hose. This tree is safe around children and pets.

8 Elephant Ear (Colocasia)

Elephant Ear (Colocasia)

Elephant Ear Plants get their name from their large, heart-shaped leaves that have an elephant ear-like appearance. The foliage on these plants can range in color from a purple-black color to green and white variegated shades. These plants can grow to be rather large, up to three feet or more and are usually grown as outdoor plants, but with proper care can serve as excellent indoor air toxin removers.

Because of their potential growth, Elephant Ear Plants should be planted in a large pot. Use a well-draining soil that includes some peat and sand. Elephant Ear Plants are pretty hardy and although they can grow in direct sunlight, they will do best in indirect sunlight. They need high humidity so a humidifier in the room where they are placed can help. Room temperatures should be kept between 65 and 75 degrees. Also, putting the pot on stones raising it above the water in a drain dish will add more humidity. Be careful so roots aren’t soaking in water to prevent root rot. Plants should be fertilized about twice a month using a 20-10-10 fertilizer that is diluted by 50%. While the plant may flower outdoors it rarely does so when grown indoors. This plant’s leaves can be toxic and should be kept away from kids and pets.

9 English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

When NASA lists it as the number one indoor air purifying plant one should take notice. Not only does English Ivy remove formaldehyde from indoor air, but it has been shown to be 94% effective in reducing airborne mold. English Ivy just also happens to be used as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. This gem of a plant has also been known to reduce fatigue and allergies. It looks nice flowing from a shelf or climbing an indoor topiary. In can be toxic when ingested by pets or children.

The first thing to know about English Ivy is that it needs plenty of bright light to grow at its best. Direct sunlight in the summer, however, can burn its leaves indoors and jeopardize its well-being. It will thrive in humid rooms and enjoys cooler temperatures in the 60’s. It will grow in just about any potting soil and needs only to be watered once its soil gets dry. It needs fertilizer only about once a month and only through the spring, summer and fall. English Ivy has tiny roots that that will attach themselves to walls and shelving, potentially causing damage so growth should be closely monitored. The ivy can be trimmed easily and cuttings will sprout roots in water easily. English Ivy is fast growing and a superb choice for removing formaldehyde and other toxins from a home.

10 Flamingo Lily / Laceleaf / Tail Flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

Flamingo Lily / Laceleaf / Tail Flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

If you are looking for a hardworking indoor air cleaning that has the added benefit of being beautiful, consider the Flamingo Lily. To be upfront, it can be a challenge to grow indoors and novices may want to start elsewhere. For those with a bit of a green thumb, the Flamingo Lily is a top clean-air performer. Tests have shown it to be effective at removing a series of airborne contaminants including ammonia, formaldehyde, and xylene. Caution should be taken to keep the Flamingo Lily away from children and pets as it is toxic and can cause almost immediate health issues.

The Flamingo Lily needs plenty of indirect sunlight to thrive. Leaves, however, can burn in direct sunlight. Humidity is critical and an indoor air humidifier may be the only way to ensure it gets enough. Setting the potted plant on stones or pebbles in a water-filled dish can also help increase humidity. It will do best in warm areas that are kept in the 70 to 90-degree range. The soil also needs to stay damp without soaking but should dry slightly between waterings. A humus type soil will often work best as it drains well. If the soil is allowed to dry, it will cause harm to the plant. The Flamingo Lily only needs to be fertilized about once a month and any flowering plant fertilizer will do. This plant can be damaged by salt accumulation in the soil so once a month the soil should be thoroughly rinsed. When carefully nurtured the Flamingo Lily will not just pay off in cleaner air but in attractive blooms.

Keeping a Healthy Home

Whether it’s mold, secondhand smoke, carbon monoxide or the toxic chemicals in household furniture, clothing and cleaners, indoor air can be filled with pollutants. They can create breathing problems like asthma and negatively impact allergies. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to help fight these indoor air toxins. Some of the easiest, most affordable and pleasant ways to get cleaner indoor air is by selecting the right plant or plants to do the job naturally. Indoor spaces with live plants tend to be brighter, fresher and more welcoming. They can add a certain warmth to an area that can be difficult to otherwise accomplish.

The more you know about the air cleaning qualities of plants and how to best take care of them, the more enjoyable your indoor space will be. It will also be healthier for those who spend time there. You may choose an easy to care for plant like the Spider Plant or a more challenging option like the Flamingo Lily. If you’ve just purchased a home in Victoria, some indoor plants might be just what you need to spruce up your new place. Whatever your choice, growing indoor plants can be rewarding in many ways.

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