8 best plants and flowers against indoor air pollution

in Biophilic Design

Indoor air quality is much poorer than we may think.

The causes are various, from simple dust to the sadly famous VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
VOCs are chemical compounds that are not necessarily harmful, but some of them are. In interiors, harmful VOCs are released by cleaning products, paints, insulating materials, plywood, combustion…

Harmful VOCs make indoor air less healthy to breathe, contributing to real indoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution can cause headache, irritation of mucous membranes (eyes, nose, throat) and dizziness. But long-term exposure can even result in respiratory or heart diseases! And things get even more serious if we consider that we spend an average of 90% of our time indoors!
What to do then?

Besides committing to spending some more time outdoors, there are things we can do to improve air quality. Today, we’re focusing on greenery.

Let’s discover 8 of the best air-purifying plants, i.e. plants that are particularly good at absorbing harmful VOCs and releasing oxygen *.

Leaves with drops falling from them.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Kyle Szegedi (via Unsplash) (opened in a new window/tab)


Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Known for the numerous applications of the gel extracted from its leaves, aloe vera is greatly beneficial for indoor air as well. It can absorb harmful VOCs like benzene and formaldehyde. And it acts as a real air quality indicator; if dark spots appear on its leaves, it’s a signal of high indoor air pollution.

Aloe vera leaves have the tendency to grow in all directions. A decorative feature that makes this plant a beautiful living sculpture. But if you prefer a more contained look, you can loosely tie a string around the leaves or choose a tall vase to contain the whole plant.

Aloe vera plant on a tall planter.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Tom Raffield (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

Snake plants take care of indoor air quality by absorbing harmful VOCs such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. They also release oxygen at night, which makes them ideal for bedrooms.

Since they tend to grow in height, snake plants are a great option to balance asymmetric arrangements. For example, a tall lamp on one side of the bed could be balanced with a lower lamp and a snake plant on the other side.

Snake plant on a tall planter.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Patch (opened in a new window/tab)

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

For their ability to clean the air from allergens, spider plants are among the best indoor plants for people that suffer from allergies.

With its drooping leaves, a spider plant is perfect to fill a vertical space. Some ideas would be hanging one from the ceiling, displaying it in a big tall vase or placing it on a shelf and letting the leaves fall down freely.

Spider plant, one of the best plants for people who suffer from allergies.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bakker (opened in a new window/tab)

Boston sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

Boston sword ferns purify the air by absorbing VOCs like formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. Ferns need rather high humidity to grow and release just as much, preserving the appropriate moisture level in the air (another key element for indoor air quality).

Loving humidity, ferns are perfect for bathrooms. Potted in a tall sculptural vase, hung from the ceiling or even placed on one side of the bathtub!

Boston sword fern, excellent plant to fight indoor air pollution.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Gardening Express (opened in a new window/tab)


Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis)

The most common orchid we can find in the stores and yet so powerful against indoor air pollution! Indeed, phalaenopsis orchids are able to absorb VOCs like xylene and toluene.

Given its simple elegance, an orchid looks great by itself. Orchid roots need light (which is the reason why they tend to grow out of the vase). It is therefore a good idea to choose a see-through vase!

An orchid potted in a see-through vase.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Birch Lane (opened in a new window/tab)

Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

Gerberas are known more for their shiny colours than for their ability to contribute to indoor air quality. But they are great at cleansing the air from VOCs like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

Barberton daisies come in many different colours. A simple vase with clean lines is ideal to highlight their bright colours!

Barberton daisy, a joyful flower that can also contribute to fight indoor air pollution.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Hilverda Florist (opened in a new window/tab)

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)

One of the best indoor plants for clean air, peace lily is able to absorb mould spores, that it uses as nutrition. This makes peace lilies a particularly good option for bathrooms and other humid areas.

Perfect to fill in a bathroom shelf or an empty corner around the house, a peace lily can also be hung. Even upside down!

Peace lily hung upside down.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Boskke (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

Azalea (Rhododendron tsutsusi)

Despite being most popular as an outdoor plant, an azalea can also live indoors. Here, it will contribute to air quality by absorbing formaldehyde, one of the most well-known harmful VOCs.

Very durable, an azalea can last for a century. That’s why it is sometimes grown like a bonsai tree…isn’t it lovely?

Azalea bonsai tree.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Valavanis Bonsai Blog (opened in a new window/tab)

It goes without saying that plants alone cannot solve all indoor air pollution problems.
But adding plants to interiors has numerous benefits and air-cleaning plants have the extra advantage of contributing to healthier interior spaces!

* Source for air purifying properties: NASA Clean Air Study (opened in a new window/tab)
The study was conducted with the aim of finding ways to clean the air in space stations.

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