Indoor plants that clean the air

I’ve always wanted to bring plants into my home, not only for the touch of elegance they add to the décor, but for their air purification properties as well. Yes, that’s right, plants can clean the air you breathe and look pretty at the same time – talk about your multi-taskers! If you’re like me and unsure of where to begin your clean air plant project, this list of eight indoor plants is a great start. Let’s get potting people!

In the late 80’s, NASA scientists undertook a study that researched methods to clean the air in space stations. They found that common indoor plants provided a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene (TCE) from the air. These volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are found in everyday household products such as glue, paint, plastic, synthetic fibre, rubber, carpets and adhesives. They’re also linked to health hazards like allergies, asthma and some forms of cancer. NASA’s study suggests that you need at least one of these plants per 10 square meters in your home to make a significant difference to the air you breathe. With that in mind, it’s off to the nursery we go…


  1. Azalea (Rhododendron Simsii)- Pretty and proficient, azalea’s fight formaldehyde which is often found in pressed-wood products like particle board, plywood and fibreboard, glues and adhesives, paper product coatings and certain insulation materials, not to mention toiletries like sun block, toothpaste and bubble bath. Azaleas thrive in cooler temperatures so keep it out of direct sunlight.
  2. Aloe Vera – This succulent is easy to grow, has a gel that provides a great remedy for small cuts and burns and is great for clearing formaldehyde and benzene (found in gas, inks, oils, paints, plastics and rubber). What makes it even more unique is its built-in early-warning system; when there’s too many toxins in the air, the leaves develop brown spots. Put it in a pot and place it on a sunny kitchen windowsill.
  3. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) – The beautiful white flower that this plant produces is enough of a reason to get it in your home quick-smart. When it comes to cleaning the air, the Peace Lily ticks all the boxes, clearing benzene, formaldehyde, TCE, xylene, toluene (found in nail polish and lacquers) as well as ammonia. Low-maintenance and needing almost no water, we keep ours in our bathroom.
  4. Snake Plant (Sansevieria Trifasciata) – If your green thumb is less green and more like the kiss of death to plants, this is the plant for you! Snake plant, also called mother-in-law’s-tongue, is one of the best plants to absorb formaldehyde and nitrogen oxides. Considered a houseplant that’s nearly impossible to kill (editor’s note – hah! We’ll soon see about that!), snake plants need free draining soil (they rot easily without it), indirect sunlight and a small amount of water.
  5. Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum Morifolium) – like the Peace Lily, Chrysanthemum guzzles benzene, formaldehyde, TCE, xylene, toluene and ammonia. Get the flowers to bloom and light up the house with plenty of direct sunlight and regular water.
  6. Weeping fig (Ficus Benjamina) – Such a beautiful name! Although finicky to get going, weeping fig is great to keep inside because it’s tolerant of the indoor environment. It’s also perfect for filtering out toxins typically found in mass-produced carpeting and furniture. Place it in bright, indirect or filtered light, fertilise once a month and mist regularly.
  7. Flamingo Lily (Anthurium Andraeanum) – great for taking on formaldehyde and TCE (commonly found in household products like spot removers), this beautiful flowering plant can survive for many years in the right conditions. It needs good aeration, bright indirect sunlight and regular misting. Note, the flamingo lily is poisonous when ingested so not a good choice if you have the patter of tiny feet or pets, nor should you keep it in the kitchen.
  8. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Seifrizii) – apart from removing carbon dioxide from the air and converting it into oxygen, bamboo palm also clears the air of xylene and toluene. Lovely for adding warmth to a home and easy to care for. Bamboo thrives in low light conditions when it’s indoors.

For more info on the NASA Clean Air Study:

Mignon van Zyl
About me

Journalist, hiker and design enthusiast with a mild form of OCD and a love for storytelling. After completing my degree at Rhodes University, I moved to White River to work for a lifestyle magazine called Lowveld Living. Thanks to my job, I’ve visited some of the most glamorous game lodges and homes, met wonderfully weird but inspiring artists, fed and kissed a tame hippo, hiked the ‘sentinel of the Lowveld’ and realised my devotion to nature. Most happy when I’m writing, walking or road tripping.


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