Can Plants Clean the Air and why do we need them

Updated: 20 Jun, 2023


Did you know that the air inside your home may be up to five times more polluted than the air outdoors? Living in a bustling city like New York often means spending the majority of our time indoors, whether it’s working at our computers, entertaining guests, or simply unwinding. Unfortunately, our indoor spaces are filled with toxic airborne chemicals from various sources such as furnishings, paint, printers, cleaning supplies, and even dry cleaning. Thankfully, there is a simple and cost-effective solution: indoor potted plants.

Indoor plants not only add beauty to our living spaces but also have the incredible ability to purify the air by removing a wide range of toxic emissions. In a well-known study conducted by NASA, researchers discovered that certain houseplants not only absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen but can also eliminate up to 87 percent of air pollutants within just 24 hours.

More recent research carried out at the State University of New York in Oswego identified five common indoor plants—the Jade Plant, Spider Plant, Bromeliad, Dracaena, and Caribbean tree cactus—as effective in removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde, acetone, and benzene. These VOCs are emitted as gases and can lead to various short and long-term health problems when inhaled, including dizziness, asthma, and allergies.

By ridding the air of harmful VOCs, indoor plants provide numerous benefits for our health and well-being. A study conducted by the Agricultural University of Norway in 1998 found that the introduction of plants into office spaces resulted in employees experiencing fewer headaches, sore throats, coughing bouts, and fatigue. This demonstrates how indoor plants can significantly improve our indoor air quality and mitigate the adverse effects of harmful chemicals.

Read also: How to Grow and Care for Air Plants (No Soil Required)

Can plants clean the air?

Plants play a vital role in converting the carbon dioxide we exhale into oxygen, and they also possess the remarkable ability to aid in the removal of toxins from the air we breathe. Back in 1989, NASA conducted a renowned series of studies highlighting the capacity of certain common houseplants to eliminate organic chemicals like benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde from indoor air.

However, recent research suggests that the initial optimism surrounding the NASA study may have been slightly exaggerated. To truly have a substantial impact on air purification, a large number of indoor plants would be required. Nevertheless, indoor plants still offer significant health benefits, even when just a few are present.

Bill Wolverton, a former NASA research scientist who conducted the plant study in 1989, emphasizes that larger and leafier plants have a higher likelihood of effectively purifying the air. Wolverton recommends having at least two substantial plants for every 100 square feet of indoor space. Furthermore, he specifically suggests two particular plant species:

  1. Snake Plant (Sansevieria): This plant is known for its impressive ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen at night, making it an excellent addition to bedrooms. It is also adept at removing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, and xylene from the air.

  2. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum): With its elegant white blooms, the peace lily adds beauty to any indoor setting. It is highly effective at eliminating formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and ammonia. Additionally, it helps combat mold spores.

While these two plant recommendations stand out, it is worth noting that various other plants have air-purifying properties as well. Incorporating indoor plants into your living or working spaces can contribute to cleaner air and improved well-being.

Although the NASA study may have painted an overly optimistic picture, indoor plants still offer valuable benefits for air purification. So, don’t hesitate to introduce a couple of leafy companions into your indoor environment to enhance air quality and create a more refreshing atmosphere.

Yes, plants have the ability to clean the air by removing pollutants and improving indoor air quality. They play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy living environment. Here are the reasons why we need plants to clean the air:

  1. Air Purification: Plants are natural air purifiers. Through the process of photosynthesis, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, helping to replenish the air with fresh oxygen. Additionally, plants can filter out harmful airborne toxins and pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, which are commonly found in indoor spaces due to various household products and materials.

  2. Improved Indoor Air Quality: Indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air due to factors like inadequate ventilation and the release of chemicals from furnishings, cleaning products, and electronics. By introducing plants into indoor spaces, we can effectively reduce the concentration of these pollutants, creating a healthier and more breathable atmosphere.

  3. Health Benefits: Clean air is essential for our well-being. Poor indoor air quality can lead to respiratory problems, allergies, headaches, fatigue, and other health issues. Plants help to remove harmful substances from the air, reducing the risk of such health problems and creating a more comfortable and conducive living or working environment.

  4. Psychological Well-being: Plants have a positive impact on our mental health and overall well-being. They add beauty, color, and a sense of tranquility to indoor spaces, creating a more pleasant and calming ambiance. Being surrounded by nature, even indoors, can reduce stress, boost mood, and enhance productivity and focus.

  5. Environmental Sustainability: Incorporating plants into our living spaces promotes environmental sustainability. Plants contribute to carbon sequestration by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. By caring for indoor plants, we actively participate in creating a more sustainable future.

7 indoor plants that help clean the air

Known for its healing properties in treating kitchen burns, aloe vera also serves as an excellent air purifier, particularly for formaldehyde and benzene found in varnishes, floor finishes, and detergents. Placing this amazing succulent on a sunny windowsill in your kitchen adds both beauty and practicality.

Bamboo Palm:
Thriving in low-light conditions, the bamboo palm makes a striking centerpiece for any room. With its graceful, arching leaves, this plant excels at removing formaldehyde from the air, enhancing the air quality in your living space.

Adorned with pretty blooms, chrysanthemums love sunny spots in your home. Apart from their aesthetic appeal, these plants possess the ability to filter out various toxins, including ammonia and benzene often found in plastics, detergents, and glue. Adding them to your kitchen or family room can greatly contribute to a cleaner indoor environment.

English Ivy:
While it may not be a pleasant topic, airborne fecal matter exists, and English Ivy can be a valuable addition to your bathroom. This resilient perennial is highly effective at reducing such particles and combating mold. Its ability to purify the air makes it an ideal choice for enhancing the air quality in your bathroom.

Snake Plant:
Looking to improve your sleep quality? The yellow-tipped succulent, known as the snake plant, can help. It releases oxygen at night, allowing for better breathing during sleep. Additionally, it excels at filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene from the air. The snake plant is also low-maintenance, as long as you avoid overwatering it.

Spider Plant:
If you lack a green thumb, the ultra-resilient spider plant is the perfect choice for you. It requires minimal care and even produces “spiderettes” that can be repotted to grow more easy-to-care-for plants. Despite its delicate appearance, this plant effectively combats carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent commonly found in the printing and rubber industries. As a bonus, the spider plant is non-toxic to pets.

Rubber Plant:
The rubber plant is a hardy, attractive, and low-maintenance option that has received NASA’s recognition as one of the best air-cleansing plants. It serves as a delightful addition to brighten up bare spots on your counter or windowsill. However, please note that the rubber plant is toxic to dogs and cats, so ensure it is kept out of reach of pets.

How can plants help clean the air?

Plants possess a natural ability to purify the air by emitting oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. NASA research reveals that certain apartment plants, comprising approximately 15-18 percent of the best options, have the capacity to cleanse indoor air and eliminate toxins like formaldehyde (commonly found in building materials), benzene (a prevalent industrial solvent found in gasoline), and trichloroethylene (often present in paints and adhesives). The best apartment plants for clean air are those that not only filter toxins but also contribute oxygen to their surroundings.

Moreover, plants emit phytoncides, which aid in the breakdown of harmful chemicals within our homes. These chemicals include benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene (found in plastics and coil cleaners), styrene (found in rubber and plastics), and toluene (a chemical present in paints, adhesives, varnishes, and lacquers).

In addition to selecting the best apartment plants for clean air, which release oxygen and filter toxins, there are also various indoor houseplants that naturally emit specific chemicals to cleanse the air in your living or working space.

How can I make it work at home?

If you’ve read the previous sections, you’re likely aware that a single houseplant alone won’t have a significant impact on purifying your home’s air. It’s clear that the more plants you add, the greater their collective ability to cleanse the air.

But how many plants are actually enough? Is it one plant per square foot or perhaps more? Well, a quick glance at the photo below should give you a rough idea.

Yes, that many plants! While this may be a dream come true for some, turning their space into a lush jungle, it’s not a practical solution for most of us. After all, we still need room to move around and live comfortably.

However, it’s not all discouraging news. Houseplants offer numerous other benefits beyond air purification. They can serve as decorative pieces, improve humidity levels, and reduce dust accumulation. If their air-cleaning abilities can be enhanced in the process, then it’s even more advantageous.

Researchers are currently exploring the possibilities of genetically modified houseplants that can absorb significantly more pollution from the air. There is clear interest and value in making this a reality. It’s an exciting area of study with the potential to revolutionize the way houseplants contribute to indoor air quality.

While it may not be feasible to create a dense forest of plants in our living spaces, every additional plant can still make a difference. Even if it means having a few strategically placed houseplants, we can enjoy their aesthetic appeal while reaping the benefits of improved air quality. The future holds promise with ongoing research and advancements in plant science, offering the potential for even more efficient and effective air-purifying houseplants.

Best Big Apartment Plants For Clean Air

Let’s delve into the realm of large indoor houseplants that excel at purifying the air. These impressive specimens not only enhance your living environment but also contribute significantly to your overall well-being. While they may occupy more space than smaller plants, they are relatively easy to care for, particularly if you prefer plants that thrive in low light or indirect sunlight. Here are a few notable examples of larger plants that effectively remove air pollutants:

  1. Areca Palm: With its graceful fronds and tropical charm, the Areca palm stands out as a top contender. It not only adds an aesthetic touch to your space but also filters out various airborne toxins.

  2. Snake Plant: Renowned for its resilience and air-purifying properties, the snake plant is an ideal choice for those seeking a low-maintenance, large houseplant. It excels at filtering harmful pollutants, making it an excellent addition to any room.

  3. Cactus: As desert dwellers, cacti are accustomed to thriving in arid conditions with minimal care. These unique plants not only add a touch of beauty with their intriguing shapes and textures but also help cleanse the air by removing pollutants.

  4. Red-Edged Dracaena: Sporting vibrant red edges on its leaves, the Red-Edged Dracaena serves as a striking focal point in any room. Beyond its visual appeal, this large houseplant is effective at eliminating various airborne contaminants.

By incorporating these larger indoor plants into your living space, you can enjoy cleaner and fresher air while adding a touch of natural beauty to your surroundings. Their ability to remove air pollutants makes them valuable additions to any indoor environment, contributing to a healthier and more enjoyable atmosphere.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can plants clean the air?

Yes, plants have the natural ability to clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Additionally, certain plants can effectively filter and remove various air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxins, through their leaves and root systems.

How do plants clean the air?

Plants clean the air through a process called phytoremediation. They absorb airborne pollutants, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene, through tiny openings in their leaves called stomata. These pollutants are then transported to the plant’s roots, where beneficial microbes break them down or convert them into less harmful substances.

What pollutants can plants remove?

Plants can remove a range of pollutants from the air, including formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, trichloroethylene, ammonia, and various VOCs. These pollutants are commonly found in building materials, cleaning products, furniture, paint, and other household items.

Why do we need plants to clean the air?

Indoor air pollution is a significant concern as we spend a considerable amount of time indoors. The air inside our homes and offices can contain higher levels of pollutants than outdoor air. This can lead to various health issues, including respiratory problems, allergies, headaches, and fatigue. By having plants that clean the air, we can improve indoor air quality, create a healthier living environment, and reduce the risk of exposure to harmful pollutants.

How many plants do I need to clean the air effectively?

The number of plants needed to clean the air effectively depends on factors such as room size, pollutant levels, and plant species. As a general guideline, having at least one plant per 100 square feet of space can provide some air purification benefits. However, the more plants you have, the better the air quality improvement will be.

What are some effective air-purifying plants?

Several plants are known for their air-purifying capabilities. Some popular examples include the Snake Plant, Spider Plant, Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Aloe Vera, Bamboo Palm, and English Ivy. These plants have been extensively studied for their ability to remove specific pollutants and improve indoor air quality.


plants have the remarkable ability to contribute to cleaner air in our indoor environments. While a single plant may not have a significant impact, a collection of plants can work together to remove toxins and pollutants from the air we breathe. They do this by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen during photosynthesis, as well as through their natural filtration mechanisms.

The need for plants to clean the air arises from the fact that indoor air quality can often be worse than outdoor air. Our modern lifestyles expose us to a wide range of pollutants emitted by everyday household items such as furniture, cleaning products, and building materials. These pollutants, including formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, can have both short-term and long-term health effects when inhaled.

By introducing indoor plants into our living spaces, we can significantly improve the air quality and create a healthier environment. Plants not only filter and remove toxins, but they also increase humidity levels, reduce dust, and provide aesthetic beauty. Research has even shown that the presence of plants in indoor spaces can enhance well-being, reduce stress, and improve productivity.

Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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