Air-Cleaning Plants

boston fern air cleaning

As a horticulturist, I have an innate love for spring. I can’t help but get excited when I see my little seed starters waking up, or when I notice the leaves on every tree and shrub peeking out from their buds. Just as I’m all jazzed up for the new season, I step inside our house. Oh dear. Suddenly, springtime turns into sponge-time. Dust and dirt somehow manage to thwart my every effort to keep them outside. Several dusters later, a stomach-turning thought crosses my mind. If there’s this much crap sitting around on my shelves, what kinds of nasties must be floating in the air?

I took a look into it and—woah, Dinah!—a little dust is the least of our concern when it comes to air quality. Our homes are actually full of noxious chemicals that seep out from the household stuff we normally ignore; the paint on our walls, the chemicals in our TV screen, and fumes from that brand new sofa. I was ready to strap into a hazmat suit for good before I discovered that we have a secret weapon for counteracting these baddies: houseplants!

Do Houseplants Purify the Air?

If you won’t take it from me, take it from NASA. NASA has been in the business of trying to figure out what to do with yucky airborne chemicals for over 33 years. Their breakthrough discovery happened while testing a small scale “Biohome”, which is a replica of the environment an astronaut might live in outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

Initially, the synthetic environment was jam-packed with fumes from the construction process. Since the point of the project was to survive without air flow, testers wouldn’t last long inside before complaining of stinging eyes and trouble breathing.

NASA scientists decided to see what would happen if they added some indoor plants to the environment, and perform their tests again. After only a few days, the air-cleaning houseplants consumed enough of the pollutants that the testers no longer reacted negatively to the air quality.

What are the Best Indoor Air-Cleaning Plants?

Luckily for us, the air-cleaning plants NASA used weren’t sourced from Mars. These plants were just common houseplants, all of which you can find at Royal City Nursery! While all plants clean the air to some extent, I’ve put together a list of the ones that are most effective for helping you breathe easy.

Spider Plant: If you have a bad track record for keeping plants alive, you and the spider plant may be a match made in heaven. They require very little light and water, but they’ll happily prevent blackened lungs for all you blackened thumbs. As you go about your day ignoring them, they gobble up the airborne formaldehyde and benzene released by the synthetic materials in your home. They’re also highly efficient at trapping carbon monoxide, so they do great near fireplaces, kitchens, or anywhere else close to a source of natural gas.

Peace Lily: Like spider plants, peace lilies are very effective at eating up benzene, which tends to accumulate in the air during home renovations. They’re also excellent at filtering out acetone, which is not only present in nail polish remover but is also emitted by your electronics. Keeping a few in your rec room or near a freshly painted area of the house is never a bad idea!

Boston Fern: One of the original NASA-tested plants, these ferns have a long-standing reputation for their air-purifying qualities. They help you out by sucking up formaldehyde and raising the relative humidity in the room, which is great news for your indoor tropicals. Boston ferns are considered one of the world’s oldest houseplants, bred to thrive in low-light areas like the candlelit rooms of the Victorian era. Try keeping them in basements or windowless bathrooms to help boost the air quality.

English Ivy: These vines are exceptionally easy to grow, but their biggest benefit is how effective they are at removing airborne mould spores. A single English ivy plant is capable of removing up to 60% of the spores from a room within a matter of hours. This is great news for allergy sufferers, but even better news for your bathroom. Not only do they slow down mould growth in humid spaces, but they also help clean up the particles that enter the airway after you flush the toilet. (Especially the ones that aren’t especially dainty.) English ivy is toxic if consumed, though, so keep them on high shelves if you live with pets or small kids.

Bamboo Palm: No plant cleans up benzene and trichloroethylene better than the bamboo palm. Any furniture with that new ‘factory’ smell is almost always a top offender for depositing these gasses into the air. Complete your new decor scheme by placing one of these palms nearby to help keep the air as comfy as your new loveseat.

NOTE: We don’t have Bamboo Palm, but do have Dracena, Croton and Snake Plant

How Many Houseplants Do I Need to Clean the Air?

Clearly, there are quite a few options available for cleaning up the air quality in your home. So, how many should you pick up the next time you visit us?

NASA’s recommendation is to keep two house plants for each 100 sq. ft. of living space in your home. If you’re in the middle of renovations, you can add another to that tally. To keep it simple, you could aim for one houseplant in every small room, and at least two in every medium-to-large room. Of course, you can always add more if you have the time and space!

It’s also important to note that the springtime air pollutants I mentioned earlier, like pollen and dust, may collect on your plant’s leaves but they won’t go any further than that. For sparkling-clean air, combine air-cleaning houseplants with a HEPA air filtration system.


While you’re getting your spring cleaning done, don’t forget to give the air you breathe a good scrub, too! Pick up a few air-cleaning buddies at Royal City Nursery that can reach the spots you can’t see. Add a few to your spring interior decor, and breathe a little easier!

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