Looking to add a few plants to help clean the air a bit? Wondering what the best air purifying plants are? In this article we’ll cover some of the top air purifying plants.
This movement started by a NASA research back in the 80s. NASA was looking for ways to purify the air in space cheaply. Their study found that one plant her 100 square feet in a sealed room in space was enough to help clean the air (1).
Over 100 studies have attempted to replicate that in the home and office with mixed results (2). The literature seems to state that it would take up to 10 plants per square foot to clean the air as good as or better than the typical air replacement rate of most HVAC systems.
None of this changes that fact that house plants do improve your health. Though you’re likely to get more health benefits from the improved mood from caring for your plants than the organic chemicals they’re removing from the air.
Without further delay let’s get to the list!
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Here’s our Top 9 List of the Best Air Purifying Plants
Most of the pictures below will take you to an Amazon listing where you can buy the live plant if desired.
We list peace lilies first as the NASA study found them to be one of the top plants for removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from enclosed spaces (1).
The other top performers were english ivy, golden pothos, Dracaena spp. (Dragon Plant and others), and Gerber Daisy. Different plants were better at removing different VOCs. Just about all of the plants from the study are listed below.
Areca Palm or Bamboo Palm
Rubber Plant or Rubber Tree
Can Indoor Plants Really Purify Your Home?
Yes though it takes a lot of them to be effective. The original NASA study was intended for completely sealed rooms in space. In that study they found that 1 plant per 100 square feet was effective (1). Later studies found that to be ineffective or gave conflicting results at best (2).
Some even reported that 10 plants per square foot was required. That’s almost no room for people!
Instead, we recommend you use house plants for enjoyment, mood improvement, and to relax. Any air purification you get on top of that will be like frosting on the cake.
What Types of Air Pollution Can They Remove?
The original NASA study focused on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, trichloroethene, and formaldehyde. These are common VOCs given off by building materials, gasoline, and other common sources.
Yes, plants and soil can absorb and remove VOCs. However, they may do it much less efficiently than a standard office HVAC system offering base ventilation of 1 cubic feet per minute of air per square foot of floor space.
In a small 10 x 10 foot room (100 square feet) you’d want to move 100 cubic feet of air PER MINUTE. That’ll take out far more VOCs than your plants will.
What Are VOCs and Can Plants Remove Them?
See answer to previous question. Yes, plants can remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) but they do it slower than a standard ventilation system.
Can They Remove Mold Spores?
The science is weak on this one. You are at greater risk from the higher humidity caused by your plants increasing mold levels than what they could possibly remove from the air.
Again, use plants for mood improvement, not air quality.
How Do Plants Purify Air and Improve Air Quality?
Plants remove VOCs and impurities through a few methods:
- Adsorption – This is where chemicals are absorbed onto the surface of the plant or the surface of a soil particle. In the original NASA study activated carbon was used in the potting material. This is the same material used in your Brita filter. It’s more than capable of removing VOCs by itself without the plant.
- Photosynthesis – Plants remove carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen during photosynthesis. This part does not require or remove VOCs or impurities other than carbon dioxide.
- Soil Microorganism Breakdown – Organisms living on soil particles in the planter can absorb and consume VOCs giving off less harmful carbon dioxide.
Why Does Indoor Air Quality Matter?
Some VOCs are carcinogenic. You want to do everything possible to get these concentrations as low as possible, ideally to zero.
Mold is also harmful to humans. As discussed above, plants may remove some VOCs but they could also create more mold problems by adding excess humidity to the air.
How Do Air Purifying Plants Compare to Commercial Air Purifiers?
They are not even close. As discussed above you need 10 plants per square foot to adequately clean a room. That’s a jungle not a living space.
A basic ventilation system moving 1 cubic feet of air per minute per square foot of floor space will do more than plants will. This is without any kind of air filter, just using air replacement via ventilation.
How Many Plants Do You Need To Purify A Room?
An adequate number is up to 10 plants per square foot. That is so impractical as to be laughable. Instead, make sure your ventilation system is working correctly and add plants as desired to brighten your mood. You’ll get more happiness from your plants than you will air purification.
Do I Need Direct Sunlight, Filtered Light, or Bright, Indirect Light?
This depends on the type of plant. In general, most of the plants listed above like english ivy or pothos will need either indirect light or filtered light. House plants are typically tropical species that either dwell on the forest floor or need bright everyday sunlight. Forest floor species need far less light than their full light brethren. A few will need good direct sun exposure like the Dragon plants.
What Kind of Humidity Do They Need?
Aim for a relative humidity of 50%. This will be enough for your plants but not so much that you’ll create a mold problem. Use a tool to measure relative humidity. Guessing will either kill your plants or create a mold issue.
I water my pothos about twice a week with the bare minimum of water needed to wet the soil. That’s what I recommend for most house plants but check the species. Orchids need far less water than that.
Ideally you’ll let the soil partially dry between waterings. This will also keep the humidity low and mold spores at bay.
Does Keeping the Soil Moist Matter For Air Purification?
Yes, you want moist soil that’s not too dry or too wet. If it’s too dry the soil bacteria will die or become less efficient at metabolizing VOCs from the air. If it’s too wet that air won’t be able to get to the bacteria or the roots.