12 Hardy Indoor Plants That Clean The Air And Remove Toxins

by maru | Last Updated: October 29, 2020

I always thought that in our homes we’d be safe from pollution. It turns out I was dead wrong and let me tell you, I feel very betrayed.

I never knew that even indoors, there are invisible pollutants that are hazards to our health. In fact, statistics say that indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.

Mother Nature provides the solution. There are indoor plants that clean the air and remove toxins. It’s not just our inner hippies coming out: NASA performed a study that proved that house plants were effective at cleaning indoor air. Just having 2 plants per 100 square feet may make a difference.

Below are easy-to-grow house plants that make for great air purifiers as well as the pollutants commonly found in homes.

Indoor Plants That Clean the Air and Remove Toxins

If you have big windows that open to clean air, then these indoor pollutants shouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, if you live in houses or condominium units with poor ventilation or the weather outside simply doesn’t allow for open windows, then you can benefit from having a couple of these plants in your home.

Being a challenged plant grower myself, I made sure to choose air purifying plants that are easy to take care of.

1. Natural Humidifier: Areca Palm

Removes
Formaldehyde, Toluene, and Xylene

What It Is
The Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) comes from India and Madagascar. You may have heard it be called the Butterfly Palm due to the gracefully arching leaves and multiple stems. Summertime brings a spray of pretty yellow flowers that can bloom for months. It is ideal as a house plant because it usually doesn’t reach more than 12 feet in height.

What It Does
Not only is this plant effective at pulling toxins from the air, but it also works to emit large amounts of water vapor into the surrounding air. It basically doubles as a natural humidifier.

Care Instructions
This is a very hardy plant that likes a variety of indoor environments. However, it does best in a humid area with a loam-based potting soil. This plant likes bright and indirect light. You should water it enough to keep the root ball damp but not soggy.

Pet Info

The areca palm is NON toxic to dogs and cats.

2. Best For Large Rooms: Dracaena “Janet Craig”

Removes
Benzene, Formaldehyde, and Trichloroethylene

What It Is
The Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis) is also one of the easiest to grow. It easily reaches 10 feet high by three feet wide, and it can live for decades with the proper care and maintenance. It has large tapering leaves that have a waxy appearance with a deep green coloring.

What It Does
Its wide spreading leaves make it extremely effective for clearing the contaminants out of larger rooms in your home. Additionally, the deep green coloring adds a bright splash of color to your environment all year round.

Care Instructions
This plant does best when you have it in indirect sunlight that comes from the east and west. They do very well in humid environments. You want to mist them every few days to keep the root ball moist. If it’s possible, avoid fluoridated water (water with fluoride) because it can cause brown leaves.

Pet Info

The dracaena is toxic to dogs and cats.

3. Most Cheerful: Florist’s chrysanthemum

Removes
Formaldehyde, Ammonia, Benzene, Toluene, Trichloroethylene, and Xylene

What It Is
Originating in China, the florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) is one of the best air purifying plants. They can reach one to two feet high, and they have very bright and eye-catching flowers that bloom for six to eight weeks. They’re a very hardy indoor plant, and the flowers are offset by deep green foliage.

What It Does
This smaller plant effectively pulls toxins and pollutants out of your air, carpeting, upholstery, and fabric.

Care Instructions
This plant thrives in cooler conditions between 13-18°C, and you want bright but indirect sunlight because direct sunlight will wilt the flowers. The soil should be moist at all times. This is especially true during the flowering period.

Toxicity
The leaves of this flower are extremely toxic to children and pets. Keep it out of their reach.

Pet Info

Chrysanthemums in general are toxic to dogs and cats.

4. Best For Beginners: English Ivy

English ivy

Removes
Formaldehyde, Benzene, Toluene, Trichloroethylene, and Xylene

What It Is
If you have a black thumb and very few plants survive under your care, English Ivy (Hedera helix) is the vine for you. This climbing plant is extremely easy to care for, and it’s a gorgeous addition to any household.

What It Does
This bright green vine has signature short, wide, and three-pronged leaves. You shouldn’t expect much growth over the first two years, but the third year is when it takes off and climbs everything in sight. It pays to take care of an English ivy indoors because of its air purifying abilities.

Care Instructions
There is very little involved with establishing or maintaining this plant. It does well in all light conditions. All you do is keep the soil moist until it establishes itself. It can then tolerate dry conditions without a problem.

Pet Info

The English Ivy is toxic to dogs and cats.

5. Best For Low Light: Peace lily

Spathiphyllum

Removes
Formaldehyde, Ammonia, Benzene, Toluene, Trichloroethylene, and Xylene

What It Is
This Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’) is native to Asia and the tropic regions of the United States. You get ribbed and very glossy dark green leaves that beautifully offset the pure white flowers. They can grow from two to almost four feet high and span two feet wide.

What It Does
Along with effectively cleaning most major toxins, this plant also releases a huge amount of moisture into the air. This can help soothe respiratory issues for people who live in dry climates.

Care Instructions
The Peace Lilly does very well in cool and dim areas, and this is why you find them in offices, hospitals, and bedrooms. Ideally, this plant wants higher humidity with indirect sunlight. However, it will do just fine semi-shade, and you should water it thoroughly and let it dry out between watering.

Toxicity
This plant’s leaves contain calcium oxalate, and this makes them toxic to cats, dogs, and children when ingested.

Pet Info

The Peace Lily is toxic to dogs and cats.

6. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Chamaedorea seifrizii

Photo Source: balconygardenweb.com

Removes
Formaldehyde, Benzene, Toluene, Trichloroethylene, and Xylene

What It Is
Also called the reed palm, this plant has very thin and long leaves that reach and spray outwards into a thick canopy. The lacy, green fans add a splash of deep green coloring to any room you place it in. They can reach several feet high, and they take three to five years to fully mature.

What It Does
This plant is very effective at clearing out five of the six major indoor air pollutants, especially formaldehyde. It can lend a slightly tropical feel to any room. Additionally, it works to add moisture to your air.

Care Instructions
This plant thrives in very bright but indirect sunlight with temperatures ranging between 60-70 F (16-24 C). You should water it generously during the growing months in the spring and summer. Cut back on your watering in the fall, and always dump the excess water out of the tray to prevent root rot.

These indoor plants that improve air quality can provide a pleasing aesthetic to any room you place them in while effectively cleaning your indoor air. They’re great choices for beginners, and you’ll have a thriving indoor garden in no time when you establish and maintain them.

Pet Info

The Bamboo Palm is NON toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.

7. Best For Exhaust Pollution: Boston Fern

Removes
Formaldehyde, Toluene, and Xylene

What It Is
The Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) is ideal as a houseplant. It has curving and graceful fronds with small green leaves. It’s relatively easy to care for and looks beautiful displayed from hanging baskets or on windowsills in ceramic pots.

What It Does
Boston ferns are particularly good at removing formaldehyde. It’s also a good idea to have some of these plants around if you have an attached garage and the car exhaust sometimes seeps indoors.

Care Instructions
While it is relatively easy to care for, it does have some very specific needs. These plants need a cool place with indirect light and high humidity especially in winter. You will know the humidity is not high enough if the leaves are turning yellow. It hates dry soil so keep the soil damp. If you plant it in peat moss, soak the pot once a month for full hydration.

Pet Info

The Boston Fern is NOT toxic to dogs and cats.

8. The Cat Magnet: Spider plant

Chlorophytum comosum

Removes
Formaldehyde, Toluene, Xylene, and Carbon Monoxide

What It Is
The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is a very good choice for beginner gardeners or for people who are buying indoor plants for the first time. They are very easy to grow and so long as they have water and light, they will survive. In the best conditions though, they are gorgeous. They have variegated pointed leaves that spill out from their center. Mature plants grow rosettes or spiderettes as they are called because they dangle from the mother plant like little spiders.

What It Does
The spider plant can remove toxins in the air like toluene, xylene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and ozone. Indoor ozone may come from the use of copy machines, laser printers, or ultraviolet lighting.

Care Instructions
Overall, the spider plant is undemanding. It loves bright, almost-scorching direct sunlight but can also grow in semi-shady conditions. They can be liberally watered but their potting mix should be well-aerated.

Pet Info

The spider plant is NOT toxic to dogs and cats.

One of the funny things I always read in plant discussion boards is how cats love spider plants. They cannot leave them alone. Owners have taken to putting their spider plants in high places just to keep their feline friends away. It turns out it is mildly hallucinogenic hence the irresistible attraction. While some cats just play with the spiky leaves, some may munch on it too much resulting in an upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting in some cases.

9. Chinese evergreen

Aglaonema modestum

Removes
Benzene and Formaldehyde

What It Is

The Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum) is a low-maintenance plant that is suited for keeping indoors. A slow-growing plant, its green leaves can be variegated, blotchy, or speckled. During summer, mature plants can produce small calla lily-like flowers that turn into berries. The flowers aren’t showy though and it’s the varied foliage of greens or pinks that makes this plant popular.

What It Does

The Chinese evergreen is known to eliminate benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide. Because of their air-filtering properties, this plant species can often be found in homes and office buildings.

Care Instructions

The Chinese evergreen is another indoor plant that is ideal for the beginner gardener. Very little effort is needed to keep this plant alive. For best conditions though, grow in well-draining soil, expose to medium light conditions or indirect sunlight, and keep away from drafts. For those living in condominiums in the shadow of other buildings, the green-leafed variety thrives in low light conditions so this could be an option for you.

Pet Info

The Chinese Evergreen is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.

10. Best For Bedrooms: Snake Plant

Sansevieria trifasciata

Removes
Benzene, Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Xlyne, and Toluene

What It Is

The Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata or mother-in-law’s tongue) is a popular indoor plant you’ll often see in Instagram or Pinterest photos.

Whoever named the Snake plant must have a very well-developed sense of humor. As if naming it after a much-feared reptile wasn’t enough, it’s also named after a mother-in-law’s tongue. That the leaves of the snake plant are thin, long, sharp, and pointy are probably not a coincidence.

If you like plants with leafy fronds that spread out, the snake plant may not be for you. However, once you experience how low-maintenance this plant is, you might fall in love with its clean lines and minimalistic beauty.

What It Does

Similar to all the other plants on this list, the snake plant has the ability to purify air. However, it is one of few plants that changes carbon dioxide to oxygen at night. This has made the snake plant a popular fixture for bedrooms.

Care Instructions

Snake plants are very easy to grow. They love bright indirect sunlight but will also survive in low light conditions. For best results, pot in a well-draining potting mix. The only important rule of thumb is NOT to overwater lest the otherwise strong leaves become like soggy noodles. (It’s happened to me, yes.)

Pet Info

Snake plants are toxic to cats and dogs.

11. Best Multi-Purpose Succulent: Aloe Vera

succulents

Removes
Benzene and Formaldehyde

What It Is

Most people are familiar with the aloe because it is a common ingredient in lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products. The aloe is actually a beautiful succulent with fleshy green leaves fanning out from a central stem. The bright green leaves are pointy and serrated with small teeth. It is a pretty plant that can thrive both outdoors or indoors. Indoors, it is a common sight to see it in windowsills or on top of office tables in pretty ceramic pots.

What It Does

This plant can purify the air of formaldehyde and benzene, two airborne toxins that can be found in our common cleaning products at home. The aloe is also known to help heal burns and a few other skin conditions.

Care Instructions

The aloe vera likes bright indirect sunlight, or even artificial light. If kept in a place with low light, this plant becomes leggy and less pleasing aesthetically. Like any succulent, the enemy is overwatering and root rot. Water your plant deeply but make sure to dry between waterings. Use potting mixes for succulents as these are well-draining.

Pet Info

Aloe vera is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.

12. Most Tree-Like: Rubber Plant

Ficus elastica

Removes
Benzene and Formaldehyde

What It Is

The rubber plant (Ficus elastica) makes for a beautiful indoor plant because of its beautiful waxy leaves and tree-like form. They also come in different varieties so they are a joy to collectors.

What It Does

NASA ranks the rubber plant as a good plant to keep indoors to help keep air clean. It also has a high transpiration rate which increases the humidity of the room where it is placed. This helps refresh dry air trapped inside rooms.

Care Instructions

The rubber plant loves bright indirect light. Direct sunlight that is too hot will burn the leaves. It should be soaked but not kept damp. If your rubber plant is unhappy, it will drop its lower leaves.

Pet Info

A rubber tree is extremely irritating when ingested by pets due to its rubbery sap. (My cats ignore my rubber plants, though.)

BONUS: Best For Hopeless Gardeners: Golden Pothos devil's ivy

Removes
Formaldehyde, Benzene, Toluene, and Xylene

What It Is

The golden pothos (Devil’s Ivy) is a fast-growing vine with variegated heart-shaped leaves. It is the first plant that gave me hope that even if I had a seeming black thumb, I COULD grow plants. It’s called the Devil’s Ivy because it is nearly impossible to kill and has green leaves even in low light conditions.

If you want some laughs and evidence of how hardy it is, read Confession: Pothos Is the Only Houseplant I Can Actually Keep Alive Because It Refuses to Die.

What It Does

This plant is ranked amongst NASA’s list of air-filtering plants. A Japanese study also confirmed that both the golden pothos and the peace lily had high purification capabilities in real life environments.

Care Instructions

The pothos can survive any light conditions and will grow even in the near-absence of light. What may kill it though is overwatering so don’t give it too much love. Overwatered plants will have yellowing, wilting leaves.

If you are prone to overwatering like I am, consider growing cuttings in water. Ironic, I know. If you put in liquid fertilizer from time to time, the vines will continue to grow and thrive. I have given them out in pretty vases filled with water to equally plant-challenged friends and they are now happy beginner gardeners.

Pet Info

The Devil’s Ivy is toxic to cats and dogs.

Six Chemicals That Can Pollute Your Home

Although there are arguably dozens of chemicals and toxins that can pollute homes and buildings, I’ve focused on six of the most prominent chemicals that you can find in your home.

1. Ammonia
Ammonia is a colorless alkaline gas that naturally forms due to decomposition. It can have a pungent odor associated with it. If you have consistent exposure, you can start experiencing health problems such as eye irritation, rashes or skin irritation, sore throats, respiratory issues, and issues with your lungs.

Fertilizers and household cleaners are two of the most common sources of ammonia. If you keep pets indoors and don’t clean up their poop fast enough, their waste will also release ammonia.

2. Benzene
Benzene is a highly flammable and colorless liquid that has a slightly sweet odor associated with it. Benzene is widely used to create other chemicals and products like lubricants, plastics, dyes, rubber, and as a solvent.

The most common way people get exposed to benzene is by breathing in air from an air conditioning unit.

3. Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a gas that has a very strong smell. It’s a colorless gas that is commonly used in dozens of household products.

You can find this gas in pressed wood products like particleboard and plywood. It’s also in glue and solvents, permanent press fabric, and insulation materials.

4. Toluene
Toluene is a water-soluble liquid with a very strong odor. This chemical is what gives paint thinner its characteristic smell. If you get exposed to this chemical, you can experience skin irritation, itchy eyes, respiratory irritation, coughing, trouble breathing, and liver or kidney damage.

Household products that contain toluene include aerosols, paint, paint thinners, varnishes, adhesive products, and even nail polish. If you have a smoker in the house, you are also exposing yourself to toluene.

5. Trichloroethylene
Trichloroethylene is a non-flammable and clear liquid that has a slightly sweet smell associated with it. Exposure can cause rashes, eye irritation, and breathing problems.

It’s an industrial solvent so you can also find it in paint thinner, wood finishes, stain removers, and paint removers.

6. Xylene
Xylene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor. Exposure to this chemical can cause nervous system problems, dizziness, headaches, vomiting, respiratory problems, and nausea.

While xylene is most frequently released from industrial sources such as car fumes, and when it is used as a solvent, it can also make its way into our homes through paints, varnishes, adhesive products, rubber cement, and nail polish.