When summer rolls around and the newscasters start reporting that the Air Quality Index is too high to go outside, it’s easy to become concerned. If you or a family member suffers from asthma or other respiratory ailment, the air quality in your home can be a real issue for your health and wellbeing. Should you go all-in for a whole-house HEPA filtration system? What about humidifiers and portable ionizers? Should you invest in sanitizing air sprays to keep germs and odors at bay?
While you certainly could do all those things, there’s a much more natural, low-key solution waiting for you at your local nursery. House plants are a tried-and-true method of clearing the air in your home, and they add beauty to your rooms to boot. They also come in so many shapes and sizes that you’re sure to find the right one for your space, whether you live in a house with a full sunroom or a small apartment with just one sunny windowsill.
How House Plants Create Clean Air
If you’ve forgotten most of what you learned in ninth grade biology class, here’s a quick refresher. During the day, sunlight allows plants to create nutrients through the process of photosynthesis. As they do so, plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen — the exact opposite of what humans do when breathing. When you have a house full of plants, they are quite literally creating fresh, breathable air for you all day long.
Leafy plants are also masters of a process called phytoremediation; that is, they absorb chemicals from the air as they take in carbon dioxide. This can help eliminate ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off by common household chemicals like paint and some cleaning solutions. Your house plants breathe these in so you don’t have to.
Though any house plant will help improve your home’s air quality, some offer additional benefits. Choose one of the great eight for maximum results.
Boston Fern: The finely-laced leaves of this classic plant offer a lot of surface area, which means the greatest possible air-cleaning service for your home. A NASA study found that Boston ferns were great at removing formaldehyde from the air, so it’s a good choice to add to your decor when you bring home new furniture made with synthetic fabrics or particle board. Boston ferns can grow well in low light.
English Ivy: Another plant that doesn’t need much sunlight, you can create interesting topiaries or train this durable vine to grow around your window frame to create a living work of art. Ivy removes a whole host of VOCs, including benzene and formaldehyde, and it’s a good choice to keep in your kitchen to combat ozone from smoky cooking sessions.
Chrysanthemum: Though leafy greens tend to be the hardest working house plants, chrysanthemums are the clear winner among air-cleaning flowers, removing all six of the harmful compounds NASA tested for: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia. These are easiest to find in late summer and fall, and will brighten your home for months with their spicy scent and warm colors.
Hyacinth: For a natural air freshener, fragrant hyacinths can’t be beat. Just one of these flowers emits a distinctively sweet aroma that can fill a room, so it’s a great choice to place anywhere you want to mask odors. Hyacinths are bulbs that require a cooling period, so you can store them in the back of your fridge until you’re ready to plant them in a pot. If you’re careful with the timing, you can have and endless string of “forced” hyacinth bulbs for a sweet-smelling home and year round.
Peace Lily: Besides chrysanthemums, peace lilies are the only other plant that NASA found capable of removing all six common home pollutants. Peace lilies are also a great choice for reducing mold and mildew, as they release phytochemicals that keep these spores from spreading. For this reason, peace lilies are a traditional choice for laundry rooms and bathrooms, where they thrive in the high humidity and can help keep mildew and even bacteria at bay.
Snake Plant: This architecturally interesting plant can make a big impact on your decor, thanks to its uniquely upright, twisting leaves. It grows well in low light and does the opposite of what most plants do: Instead of releasing oxygen during the bright, daylight hours, it takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen at night. Place a snake plant in a corner of your bedroom to make the most of this quirk, or combine it with other plants for all-day air cleaning in your home.
Aloe: Aloe grows best in bright but indirect sunlight, and it only needs to be watered about once a month, so it’s the perfect plant for inexperienced growers. In addition to absorbing harmful chemicals from the air, the gel in the leaves is a natural healing ointment: Just snap off the tip of a leaf and apply it to a kitchen cut or burn for instant relief. It also works well to soothe a sunburn.
Culinary Herbs: If you like plants that do double-duty, try a collection of leafy herbs in a sunny window. Cilantro, mint, chives and parsley are all easy to grow indoors, and they make a great addition to your cooking while providing a fresh scent. Lemon balm is a less-common herb that can be used to freshen the air as well as a glass of iced tea — as its name suggests, it provides a delicious, lemony scent to any room.
Given the right conditions, any — or all! — of these plants will thrive in your home and improve your quality of life along with the quality of the air you breathe. People and plants have always enjoyed a friendly, symbiotic relationship when it comes to the air we share, so invite a few into your home today — you’ll both benefit from the friendship.