Air Quality and House Plants

Toxicity is a big problem in the modern world. We have toxic compounds added to our food, water supply, and cosmetic products, our teeth are filled with toxic mercury, and we are vaccinated with heavy metal based solutions. I even recently met a girl who almost died after copper poisoning from her IUD. Toxins are in toys our children play with, in the scented candles we light to add a sense of relaxation to our homes, and in the water bottles we use to keep ourselves hydrated. We use anti-bacterial hand gels that not only kill all bacteria including those that are actually beneficial to our health but also contain all kinds of chemicals our skin absorbs in less than 30 seconds. The air we breathe is only 20% oxygen, the rest is mostly nitrogen (around 78%) and 2% of other gasses, like carbon dioxide (CO2), argon, ammonia, and even heavy metals. We cant avoid these gasses the air is everywhere.

Humans can survive days without food and water, but our brain cells start to die quickly after just a few minutes without oxygen. Our brain consumes around 20% of all the oxygen we breathe in, and a lack of O2 for a very short time can lead to permanent brain damage. Using simple math, with more and more environmental toxins in our atmosphere, the ratio of oxygen present in the air is continually decreasing. According to the WHO, around 7 million people worldwide died prematurely from health issues caused by air pollution in 2012. We are aware of what toxins and heavy metals do to our bodies, and we know that avoiding them is just as important as removing them from our bodies through an effective detoxification process. Lowering the burden is not enough, we have to also prevent the toxic load from coming back in.

We might think that we are safer in our homes than outdoors, as we can control the situation in our living space more effectively than in the outside world, but it was shown that our homes are just as polluted as the environment around them. We use cleaning products with toxic ingredients, we use perfumes, burn scented candles that contain chemicals and heavy metals, and of course there is no way we can filter the air as it comes in from outside when we open our windows to let some fresh air in (quite ironic, isn’t it?). There are plenty of options to minimize the pollution in your house by using water filters, air filtration units and ionizers, switching to natural cosmetics and cleaning products, swapping plastic containers for mason jars, throwing away scented candles made with paraffin and buying a bundle of beeswax candles, but today we are going to focus on the most natural air filtration units available plants.

Every Breath You Take

When we inhale, air flows through our respiratory system starting with mouth or nose down into our lungs; from there oxygen is further transported into the bloodstream and delivered throughout the body. During exhalation, CO2 is released back into the air as a byproduct of all kinds of metabolic processes in our bodies. CO2 is released into the air also during fermentation, combustion of wood, fossil fuels, and other processes of decaying. This gas is water soluble and is also present in groundwater, seawater, and glaciers. CO2 in our atmosphere is the primary source of carbon on Earth. Carbon dioxide is an important gas because its presence in the body signals to our blood-cells that they need to release oxygen into the tissues. According to this article, CO2 is also important for proper mucus production in the lungs and the dilation of vessels and muscles.

Even though it is basically a waste gas, it is important for certain processes; but in high concentrations, it is toxic to humans and animals. Our body produces approximately 2.3 pounds of CO2 every day, containing 0.63 pounds of carbon. In 2016, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earths atmosphere was 402 parts per million by volume, and as you can read in this article, CO2 levels are increasing very quickly. This is not caused only by us breathing, of course; most of it is caused by our various industries and increased emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in factories and constant deforestation. You have probably heard forests referred to as the lungs of the planet, but you might never have thought about why trees are compared to one of our bodily organs.

Every living thing on earth needs to breathe, but not all of them necessarily require oxygen for respiration. For example, E.coli bacteria and yeast can survive without oxygen. And then we have plants. Plant and algae cells contain special organelles called chloroplasts. Thanks to a process called photosynthesis, chloroplasts convert light energy into chemical energy, turning carbon dioxide and water into oxygen molecules and carbohydrates. In this case, oxygen is released as a waste product of photosynthesis, and this oxygen enriches the air for us to breathe in. See the pattern? Humans breathe in oxygen and release CO2 during breathing, plants consume this CO2 and give us back oxygen. Once again, hats off to Mother Nature. When we take down trees, palms, and whole forests, only to build more industrial buildings, factories, and shopping centers, we are basically removing our oxygen suppliers and adding more CO2 producers, slowly but steadily making our atmosphere less and less breathable. It does sound scary, though this progress is very slow.


You have probably been in a forest or a green garden before, maybe even a botanical garden or a greenhouse. Did you notice the air there as being different? Did breathing feel much easier to you? Did the air taste cleaner, purer? It was because it actually is easier to breathe in nature and around green plants, grass, and trees (provided there is no conflict with seasonal allergies). No wonder people from urban cities travel to the country to relax and refresh their minds. Our brains work much better and sharper with a higher concentration of oxygen; it might even seem like a blanket was lifted off your tired and foggy mind. Some plants create oxygen more effectively than the others, and some are even able to remove more toxins from the air in addition to CO2.

In the 80s, NASA studied plants as air purifiers for space facilities. They found out that some of these plants filtered out common VOCs. What this study proved can be perfectly applied to your own home and the fact that this lifestyle hack is NASA approved adds a nice ring to it! This video talks about three of these plants, but we are going to mention a few more. You might even already have some of these in your house! This following list is nowhere near comprehensive, and even if it doesn’t include plants you already own, don’t feel like you need to replace them. Adding more air purifying plants into your home or office space is inexpensive and extremely effective. As few as 15 of these plants are able to purify the air in an 1800 square foot area, and this is one of the few cases where more is better! Just note that some green plants are poisonous to humans and animals, so if you have a curious toddler or a pet, you might want to check out this list for safe options.


Also known as Chinese Evergreen, this plant is native to tropical regions of Asia and New Guinea. In ancient Asia, Aglaonema was grown as a luck-bringing plant. It does not like too much light, so it is ideal for darker rooms and offices and it is able to tolerate colder temperatures around 59F (15C). Its leaves are poisonous and cause gut irritation, skin irritation, and painful rash.


Commonly named Spider plant, a genus of almost 200 species of the chlorphytum family, is native to South Africa and is usually planted in hanging pots, as its long, narrow leaves tend to bend down over of the pot. It likes bright, but indirect sunlight and is very easy to grow, so they are ideal for newbie gardeners (or people like me, who often forget to water their plants). They also enjoy cooler temperatures.


This palm is also known as Corn plant or Cornstalk dracaena. In nature, this plant can grow up to 15 meters tall with a narrow crown and stems up to 30cm in diameter. Indoors, it grows up to 4 feet in height and is very easy to look after. One plant can have multiple stems and branches. Leaves can be green on the outer edge with yellow strips in the center. Outdoors, the Corn plant can grow fragrant flowers; it almost never blooms indoors, but you might be lucky! This plant is one of the ones NASA found very effective for removing toxins from the air. It tolerates low light and even lack of water, making it ideal for big busy offices.


Also known as Dragon Tree, is one of the easiest plants to grow. It can grow up to 6 feet indoors. This plant can survive a complete lack of your interest for even months. It has thin, dark green leaves that might be red or yellow on the edges, and they are sensitive to direct sunlight. This plant is toxic to cats and dogs. According to the NASA study, this plant is able to reduce the amount of benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene within the air. Every house should have one of these, especially in urban areas!


Another NASA approved plant is the Money Plant. Native to French Polynesia, known under many names including golden pothos, ivy arum, silver vine, or devils ivy (because it is almost impossible to kill, good news for gardening newbies). Very easy to grow, tolerates lack of light, water, and low temperatures. It is a very common plant that is able to remove formaldehyde from the air. All parts of this plant are poisonous to cats and dogs.


Weeping fig, benjamin fig, or just ficus. This is the official tree of Bangkok. It grows up to 98 feet tall in natural conditions, and it can easily grow to reach the ceiling of your room or office. It is not hard to take care of this tree, a moderate amount of water is enough and it appreciates it if you spray the leaves with warm water from time to time. It is very effective for removing formaldehyde.


English Ivy likes both light and shade, but not very high temperatures. It is able to spread over any surface, including walls. Very attractive to the eye, very effective for removing VOCs from the air. Soil should always stay moist, but not soggy. Vines can grow over 50 feet long.


All Philodendrons are very effective for air purifying and they require very little attention. These plants are also very stress resilient you can move them around as often as you need to. They tolerate location change, even moving them from indoors to outdoors without any problem. Bright light, enough water, and a monthly dose of the right fertilizer, and your philodendrons will be happy. Oxycardium, or Heart Leaf Philodendron, is the most effective air purifying type.


Known also as Dwarf Date Palm, it is a smaller member of the plant family, bringing a tropical vibe into your home. It is perfect for removing xylene and other toxins from the air. It thrives in full sunlight and doesn’t need much water. This plant (and similar types) has leaves with sharp edges with needle-like spikes near the base of the leaf that can easily penetrate the skin, so keep this plant away from children and pets.


Also called mother-in-laws tongue or snake plant. This gorgeous plant native to tropical Africa has stiff leaves that grow vertically upward and are dark green with light green edges, growing up to 35 inches tall. This plant is very common and also one of the NASA favorites. This is one of the few plants that converts CO2 into oxygen at night, which makes it ideal for bedrooms or very dark office spaces with no natural sunlight. It is again, very easy to grow and take care of, and is considered one of the best natural air filters.

Check out this post for even more tips on air purifying flowers and visit your local flower shop or garden center to observe and pick your favorites! Plants don’t just make any space look more beautiful, they actually keep us alive. Kamal Meattle, CEO of Paharpur Business Center in New Delhi, India, installed over 400 plants in his office building after he researched all the benefits, providing fresh air for all his employees. He claims that if you were living in a plastic bottle, without access to the outside world, and you only had a few of these plants there with you, you would not die from the lack of oxygen. If you imagine our atmosphere being like a closed plastic bottle with all of us living inside of it, it is a terrible mistake for us to remove all the greenery from the surface of the Earth, like we have been doing through massive deforestations for the sake of new industrial buildings, highways, and parking lots. We as individuals cant change the big picture, but we can definitely add some natural air filters to our homes, two or three in each room will do so much for the air we breathe! We know how to eat clean, and now it is time to breathe clean.

Author: Nina Vachkova