15 Plants That Improve Indoor Air Quality

This post is brought to you by Controlled Comfort.
My guest today is sustainability professional, Andrea Vollf. No matter how green your purchases,  most of us are still exposed to VOCs in our home and at work. This is where indoor plants come in as a great way to improve the health of the air you breathe. Certain kinds of plants are good at filtering particular kinds of polutants. Read on to learn more!
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Have you ever been in a situation where as soon as you step outside you stop sneezing or your headache goes away? Well, if have answered yes to that, you might have to re-evaluate what you have been bringing home, as having a poor indoor air quality is mostly related to a combination of the chemicals and toxins we bring home on a regular basis.  

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the indoor air quality levels of a typical American home can be over 100 times more polluted than the outdoor levels. While many of us might think this number is pretty high, it makes perfect sense to me. After all, it feels great when you walk into a place and it smells clean, doesn’t it? But do you really know what chemicals are behind the cleaning product? Are you aware that in one study, a plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including seven regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws? Of course all those chemicals were not included on the label since only the word "fragrance" is required by law to be listed. In case you don’t know, the majority of fragrances come from petroleum products, and many of them haven’t been actually tested to see if there are any adverse health effects in humans when inhaled. 

While you can eliminate a massive amount of chemicals from your home simply by adopting a green cleaning product policy in your home, there are still items in your home such as carpet or insulation that will continue off-gassing toxins even years after its installation. Fortunately for us, in the late 80’s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) discovered that certain species of plants can actually convert common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into oxygen. Since then, many individuals have been incorporating such species into their décor in order to improve the indoor air quality of their homes. Besides bringing the outdoor in, softening empty corners in your house, and adding some color to your décor, those plants will also help you to breathe a cleaner air by removing some of the toxins from your home. 

  • Aloe (Aloe vera) – Easy-to-grow, this sun-loving succulent helps to filter both formaldehyde and benzene, ingredients typically found on cleaners, paints, and certain adhesives. Aloe is the perfect choice for a sunny kitchen window. Besides its air-clearing abilities, the gel inside an aloe plant can help to heal cuts and minor burns.
  • Azalea (Rhododendron simsii) – One of my favorite flowering shrubs for cold climate homes and basements as this plant performs great around 60-65 degrees. Bring it indoors to filter formaldehyde from sources like plywood or foam insulation.
  • Bamboo or Reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii) – Among over 2,000 species of bamboo, this particular specie is the best for filtering out benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. This small palm blooms in shaded indoor spaces, often producing red-orange flowers and small berries.
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum 'Deborah') – One of the easiest plants to maintain, this evergreen will filter out a variety of air pollutants and it will begin to remove more toxins as time and exposure continues. Even when placed in areas with low light, this evergreen will produce beautiful blooms and red berries.
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium) –  Besides bring a beautiful gamma of colors during Fall, this mum does much more than enhancing an ordinary room as its flowers filter out benzene, a substance normally found in glue, paint, plastics and detergent.  Keep in mind chrysanthemum loves bright light, and in order for the buds to open, this plant needs to be placed near an open window with direct sunlight.
  • English ivy (Hedera helix) – Besides filtering out formaldehyde, this plant is also great to reduce airborne fecal-matter particles.
  • Gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) – This bright, colorful, flowering plant is very effective at removing trichloroethylene, a chemical typically found on dry cleaning. The gerbera also filters benzene.
  • Golden pothos (Scindapsus aures) – Also known as devil’s ivy, this powerful plant is great for filtering formaldehyde. The perfect solution for your garage, as the car exhaust is filled with formaldehyde, and this particular kind of plant stays green even when kept in the dark.
  • Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium) – This lovely climbing vine largely found in the tropics has an exceptional ability to filter all kinds of VOCs, especially formaldehyde, a very common substance used to keep particleboard together. Despite its beauty, please keep in mind this plant is considered toxic if eaten by pets or small children.  
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) – Shade and weekly watering are all the peace lily needs to survive and produce blooms. One of NASA’s favorite for filtering out all three of most common VOCs — formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. It can also be used to remove toluene and xylene.
  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata) – This specie does a great job when it comes to filtering out xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde, typically found in lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.
  • Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii') – Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, the snake plant is one of the best options for filtering out formaldehyde especially in bathrooms as they perform at their best under low light and steamy humid conditions.
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) – This rich foliage with tiny white flowers, filters benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries.
  • Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckii') – Very easy to find, this particular specie grows inside, even without direct sunlight and it is a great option to filter out chemicals related to varnishes and oils.
  • Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) – If you are looking for a plant that will help to remove the pollutants typically found in carpeting and furniture such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene, the weeping fig is the one. 

Next time you go for a home décor shopping spree, let your local nursery be your first and last stop for a home with a better and cleaner indoor air quality.

About the Author: 
VK Sustainable Concepts’ Principal Andrea Vollf, LEED AP ID+C, is a registered interior designer and sustainability professional with over fifteen years of experience in the interior design and marketing industries. Andrea is an active member of the U.S. Green Building Council - Illinois Chapter, with in‐depth knowledge of all aspects of Sustainability – Social, Environmental and Economic. Connect with Andrea on Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

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