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House Plants as Air Purifiers: Plants absorb formaldehyde, benzene and other toxic chemicals

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If you suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), sick building syndrome, allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems you may own or be thinking of buying an air purifier to purify the air in your home and relieve your symptoms.

Modern air purifiers are certainly extremely efficient at removing troublesome chemicals from the air with their HEPA, carbon and zeolite filters. They do have their drawbacks however. They can be expensive to buy, the filters need replacing periodically, they can be noisy, and they add to your electricity bills.

There is an alternative however that many of you may not have considered......house plants! That's right, research has demonstrated that certain plants are highly effective natural air purifiers. Not only that but they are cheaper to buy than their manmade counterparts, don't require filter changes, are silent, use no electricity, are much more attractive, and may even contribute to our happiness!

One major study in this area was conducted by NASA (the US space agency) and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) and went by the name 'Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement'. Indoor air pollution is now recognised as a major threat to human health and well-being and this study concentrated on methods for reducing this pollution in the home, focusing on formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. A Tracy personal injury lawyer notes that "While the IARC has no has no regulatory power, its data was damning enough to lead the state of California to officially list Roundup’s active ingredient as a carcinogen in 2017. For an individual who wants to file a Roundup cancer lawsuit, the Golden State arguably provides one of the friendliest venues. “ Clearly this is a problem that is not going to go away any time soon until more of these hazardous chemicals are removed from common items.

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A ubiquitous chemical in the modern home. It is used in the construction of buildings in the form of urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) and is also present in considerable quantities in particle board and pressed wood used so often in fitted furniture (e.g. kitchen cupboards and counters, bedroom wardrobes/closets) as well as the ever-popular flat pack furniture from modern home furnishing superstores. Other sources of formaldehyde include household cleaning products, fire retardants in soft furnishings, carpet backings and many consumer paper products treated with urea-formaldehyde resins, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels.

Formaldehyde irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system and is known to exacerbate asthma and trigger attacks. It can also cause headaches and trigger symptoms in those with MCS.

Best formaldehyde-removing plants*: bamboo palm, dracaena 'Janet Craig', mother-in-law's tongue, dracaena marginata, peace lily, green spider plant, and golden pathos.


Found in considerable amounts in tobacco smoke, commonly used as a solvent, and found in many common items such as paints, inks, oils, plastics, rubber, household cleaning products and petrol/gasoline.

Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels of benzene is associated with headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances and diseases of the blood system, including anemia and bone marrow diseases.

Best benzene-removing plants*: gerbera daisy, pot mum, peace lily, bamboo palm, dracaena warneckei, english ivy and mother-in-law's tongue.


A widely used industrial solvent that is often found in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives.

Trichloroethylene is a central nervous system depressant and acts like alcohol on acute exposure causing  headache, dizziness, and confusion and progressing with increasing exposure to unconsciousness. It is also known to cause liver and kidney problems with prolonged expsoure and is now knwon to be cancer causing.

Best trichloroethylene-removing plants*:  gerbera daisy, dracaena marginata, peace lily (spathiphyllum), dracaena 'Janet Craig' and bamboo palm

*In order of effectiveness according to the NASA/ALCA research


Another toxic chemical found in indoor air and absorbed by certain plants is:

Carbon Monoxide 
Mainly produced from sources of combustion such as open fires, gas stoves, central heating boilers etc. All gas appliances in the home should be routinely checked for carbon monoxide output. Carbon monoxide (CO) is also present in high concentrations in cigarette smoke.

Low level exposure causes dizziness and headaches while more acute exposure can lead to death since CO prevents the delivery of oxygen to the body's cells.

Best carbon monoxide-removing plants: bamboo palm, spider plant, golden pathos, dracaena janet craig, dracaena marginata, snake plant, peace lily, chrysanthemum, English ivy and heartleaf philodendron.


How many plants are needed?

NASA and the ALCA estimated that one 6 inch plant was needed per 100 square feet of interior space to effectively remove the chemicals above and potentially many others. This equates to only 1 or 2 plants for most rooms in an average home. It was also found, not surprisingly that the plants are most effective at removing chemicals from the air when they are in optimal conditions for their health and growth.

...so, keep your plants healthy andthey will help to keep you healthy!


Reference: Wolverton BC Douglas WL and Bounds K (1989) A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement Science Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2060/19930072988


Learn more from Dr. B.C. Wolverton:


How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home Or Office: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home Or Office: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office

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House Plants as Air Purifiers: Plants absorb formaldehyde, benzene and other toxic chemicalsDynamic Neural Retraining Program (DNRS)


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  • Administrator
    Administrator Thursday, 06 November 2008

    Be careful with houseplants! They can harbor mold in the soil. I used to grow plants in my bedroom but my husband kept coughing so I moved them into another room.


  • Matthew Hogg
    Matthew Hogg Thursday, 06 November 2008

    Hi Linda,

    Many thanks for making this point, it's something I really should have mentioned in the original blog post! Many people with environmental illness are sensitive to molds so if this is a problem for you, air purifying plants may not be the best option. On the other hand some people with chemical sensitivities are unable to find an electronic air purifier which is effective and which doesn't itself cause symptoms. It's a matter of trial and error as most things are for those of us with environmental illness. Plants are just another option.

  • Administrator
    Administrator Sunday, 29 March 2009

    great post about using plants as air purifiers if you want to read air purifier reviews then click on the text links

  • Administrator
    Administrator Monday, 28 September 2009

    I'd look closely again at your article if I were you. Plants should not replace CO alarms, detectors, monitors and gas appliance maintenance, repair and/or inspection. Maybe they could Augment, but they probably won't save your life if your gas fireplace or furnace is malfunctioning. Also, low levels do not just cause dizziness and headache. Long-term low-levels exposures, often referred to as chronic exposure can lead to neurological, MCS, pulmonary and cardiac problems, some of which could result in death as an after-effect even 6-7 years after the removal of the CO source. Some people are more susceptible than others (e.g. people with asthma or respiratory problems) so it should not be treated lightly. Also I would caution everyone about the breadth of claims made about what bamboo can remedy these days. It seems to me it shouldn't be considered the answer to everything from flooring to clothes to air. The premise that it is a "wonder material" need to be re-examined. All-in-all, I would put in a disclaimer for legal reasons or something if I were you. People don't need false senses of security.

  • Matthew Hogg
    Matthew Hogg Monday, 28 September 2009

    Thanks Susan, all very valid points indeed. The article was simply meant to alert people to the fact that studies have shown plants can be helpful in removing some harmful cheicals from the air and thus may be useful for some EI sufferers. Making sure carbon monoxide leaks do not occur by following the recommendations you mention are another matter entirely, and a very important one. Thanks for your input. FYI none of the information on this site should be considered medical advice - as stated in the disclaimer at the bottom of each page.

  • Administrator
    Administrator Friday, 02 July 2010

    It is good to grow indoor and outdoor plants near and in the house.It soaks up a lot of toxic in the air and the fresh air that it gives out is good to breathe and healthy too.
    North Jersey Air Systems

  • Administrator
    Administrator Sunday, 08 August 2010

    This is one good article, very educational, it's been house problem cause I have a nasal allergy, I get irritated when i smell smoke from cigarette and even when we have new appliances specially [url]modern furniture[/url]

  • Administrator
    Administrator Saturday, 14 August 2010

    This is a very informative article. I am glad to have discovered your blog. I will definitely promote this blog among my circle of friends.
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  • Administrator
    Administrator Thursday, 11 November 2010

    Thanks everyone for your comments – much appreciated!

  • Administrator
    Administrator Sunday, 15 May 2011

    I would take this article with a grain of salt. It is actually the microorganisms in the soil that are degrade air pollutants. Although they can remove them with high efficiency, there is an issue with the rate of airflow contacting the soil microbial community. Houseplants can degrade pollutants, however, they are generally not capable of treating a large enough volume of air to significantly change the concentration of pollutants in the air. The statement " one 6 inch plant was needed per 100 square feet of interior space to effectively remove the chemicals above and potentially many others" seems suspect as it would be almost impossible for a single houseplant to contact a large enough volume of air to change the contaminant load.

    There is a very large volume of air in even a small room. There is no way that passive removal (i.e. the air is not being actively drawn in by a fan) can change the concentration of air contaminants.

    Many houseplants can release allergens such as pollen or if not cared for properly could increase the fungal spore load in the building. The advice given in this article could actually make things worse for sensitive people.

    There has been research to overcome this challenge. I recommend that you review the work of Darlington and Dixon. Also, the book biofiltration for air pollution control may be helpful in understanding the basic engineering of biological air filtration.

  • Administrator
    Administrator Tuesday, 04 October 2011

    "I would take this article with a grain of salt. It is actually the microorganisms in the soil that are degrade air pollutants."

    Check the study that is referenced, it has control groups that show that it is NOT the microorganisms in the soil that remove the toxins, but the plant and roots.

    House plants, if taken care of properly, can help clean the air and add to the decor. I am extremely sensitive to molds and pollen's and have never had a problem with the fifteen different species of house plants I have in my small apartment. Don't let people with hidden agenda's...i.e. buy my expensive biofiliters!...convince you that a NASA sponsored study is incorrect.

    For those who stop reading the article midway through and may have missed the reference at the end:
    Reference: Wolverton BC Douglas WL and Bounds K (1989) A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement Science Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2060/19930072988

  • Administrator
    Administrator Saturday, 19 November 2011

    good article, maybe not all is true but anyone that says plants are bad needs to re-examine themselves. our ancestors died out because of fungle spores in plants did they? living in a sterile house casuses all sorts of problems. i wonder whether the immune system is stronger after being challenged and how that affects developement of itself? if naturally kept plants are a danger to you thats just evolution telling you something. stop being miserable and enjoy plants in your own home and if you later die i'm sorry.
    if they don't do anything for you and make me cough every now and then atleast they'll make you happy looking at them. :-*

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