There are benefits to having plants indoors that you already know about. Not only can they complement or complete a space, they also soften and enliven them, and lend a little relief to our ever-busy and overstimulated eyes and brains. Those are some reasons many people like to bring plants into their homes and offices.

Another reason relates to a question we get asked a lot: which plants improve air quality?

The short answer is: all of them!

Peace Lily

The basics are: plants have chlorophyll which absorb light energy, which is used to produce chemical energy (the plant’s own food) from water and carbon dioxide molecules, which produces oxygen as a “waste” product that is released into the air. Since all plants take carbon dioxide from the air and use it in photosynthesis and release oxygen, all plants have the potential to help with indoor air quality.

Pollutants and other gases released from all sorts of things in indoor spaces, such as paint, plastics, fabrics, and even natural compounds, can contribute to us feeling unwell (i.e., sick building syndrome), and living with plants could be one way to help combat this. Various types of plants’ effectiveness in improving air quality may differ in terms of the amount of oxygen they release, and their ability to filter out specific toxins such as formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, ammonia, xylene, and toluene. In the oft-cited NASA Clean Air studies about indoor plants and air pollutants, scientists found that some common indoor plants and their soil-root systems (the plants’ relationship with the beneficial bacteria and properties of the soil they’re in) were able to reduce the amount of those specific toxins from the area around the plants.

Now, seeing as these plants were placed into sealed air chambers under controlled conditions, the results don’t translate exactly to the messier world outside of a laboratory. While no research has been done yet on the effect of plants on air quality and pollutants inside actual lived-in spaces, that doesn’t mean what those studies found is all for naught. These are some of the top-performers for removing toxins in the NASA studies that you will find here at Plant:

  • Peace Lily
  • Snake Plant
  • Pothos
  • English Ivy
  • Spider Plant

It is so important to have plants in conditions that will allow them to thrive if you want them to be able to do their best in taking up carbon dioxide and/or filtering out toxins. What is special about these plants is that they are all quite hardy, and all can tolerate the lower-light and fluorescent lighting common in indoor spaces, which means they tend to do better indoors. Also, all of these plants have lots of leaves and some grow relatively quickly.

This is a good rule of (green) thumb(s): sufficient quantities of light and water means a healthy plant, which means more and faster growth, which means more photosynthesis, which means more carbon dioxide use and more oxygen release, which means a happy plant and a happy you.

Snake Plant

Written By Alicia Ta

NASA final report: