growing fresh air with household plants


I’m always up for learning new things especially regarding my health. I stumbled upon a TED talk by Kamal Matteal (at the bottom of the page) who had been told by his doctors that he was allergic to the air in his city, Delhi in India. Breathing in the toxic fumes over his lifetime, he was told his lung capacity had decreased to 70%. The toxicity of his natural environment was slowly killing him. From here he has embarked on a journey of healing and learning how to grow fresh air in the home.

Unfortunately grasping how to clean up Delhi’s polluted atmosphere is a little beyond my brains scope, I can, however wrap my head around making my own home environment safer and healthier now after reading so much about how the plants listed below can help to reduce toxins within my own environment.

In the late ’80s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America announced the findings from a 2-year study that suggest a sophisticated pollution-absorbing device: the common indoor plant may provide a natural way of helping combat “SICK BUILDING SYNDROME”. They found several plants that filter out common volatile organic compounds (VOCs – unstable substances that give off toxic gas once broken down over time) like paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

Dr. Bill Wolverton, formerly a senior research scientist at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi, says the study has shown that common indoor landscaping plants can remove certain pollutants from the indoor environment. “We feel that future results will provide an even stronger argument that common indoor landscaping plants can be a very effective part of a system used to provide pollution free homes and work places. ”

The factors causing or contributing to Sick Building Syndrome have been relatively hard for researchers to pinpoint since stumbling on the phenomena in the 70’s. Experts now believe it to be a combination of risk factors acknowledged by the UK National Health Service for SBS may include:

  • poor ventilation
  • low humidity
  • high temperature or changes in temperature throughout the day
  • airborne particles, such as dust, carpet fibres or fungal spores
  • airborne chemical pollutants, such as those from cleaning materials or furniture, or ozone produced by photocopiers and printers
  • physical factors, such as electrostatic charges
  • poor standards of cleanliness in the working environment
  • poor lighting that causes glare or flicker on visual display units
  • improper use of display screen equipment
  • psychological factors, such as stress or low staff morale

I had spoken in an earlier post about personally contracting infections and viruses through SBS, in particular the poorly fitted and badly maintained air conditioning ducts:

on moving to The Middle East, the constant inside air conditioning in the summer months and sand being blown into the a/c ducts has created an epidemic of chronic sinus infections the majority of ex pats. It is also well known in the bigger cities of the developed part of The Middle East, that there is a high rate of Legionnaires Disease, due not only to the desert environment but the uncleaned air conditioning ducts. Cheap and lazy landlords and company bosses refuse to pay money into huge apartment buildings to have them cleaned on a regular basis.

The 15 houseplants listed below have been proven highly efficient in absorbing potentially harmful gases (formaldehyde, TCE and benzene) while cleaning the air inside buildings. Harmful gases such as Formaldehyde – sources of formaldehyde in the home include “building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters. Formaldehyde, by itself or in combination with other chemicals, serves a number of purposes in manufactured products. For example, it is used to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies, as a component of glues and adhesives, and as a preservative in some paints and coating products”. U.S Environmental Protection Agency

Benzene is a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. “It is a colourless, flammable liquid with a sweet odour. It evaporates quickly when exposed to air. Benzene is formed from natural processes but most exposure to benzene results from human activities. It is used mainly as a solvent (a substance that can dissolve or extract other substances) and as a starting material in making other chemicals. Benzene is known to cause cancer, based on evidence from studies in both people and laboratory animals. The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and cancers of other blood cells”. American Cancer Society

Trichloroethylene TCE is used as a solvent and degreaser and is a common ingredient in many household products like paints, adhesives and spot removers. “TCE is a volatile organic compound, meaning it evaporates quickly and easily into the air. Breathing small amounts of TCE can irritate the eyes and throat, cause headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Over the long-term, it can cause nervous system, kidney and liver damage. Trichloroethylene is used in industrial solvents and degreasers as well as household products such as correction fluids, paints, paint removers, adhesives, rug cleaners, metal cleaners and spot removers. People can be exposed to TCE by breathing contaminated air at home or in the workplace; by drinking, swimming or showering in contaminated water; or through contact with contaminated soil”. National Resource Defence Council.


1.   Heartleaf Philodendron – toxic when eaten, but it’s a workhorse for removing all kinds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

2.   Elephant Ear Philodendron

3.   Cornstalk Dracaena

4.   English Ivy – extremely effective in reducing airborne fecal matter particles.

5.   Spider Plant –

6.   Janet Craig Dracaena

7.   Warneck Dracaena

8.   Weeping Fig

9.   Money Plant

10. Peace Lily – topped NASA’s list for removing all three of most common VOCs — formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. It can also combat toluene and xylene.

11. Lacy Tree Philodendron

12. Chinese Evergreen

13. Bamboo or Reed Palm

14. Mothers Tongue

15. Red-Edged Dracaena




4 Comments Add yours

  1. Prayers and Apples says:

    So much helpful information – I have asthma, so this hits home all the more.. I’m supposed to be cramming for a final exam right now (opps!) so I don’t have time to watch the video right now, but I’ll def come back to check it out later xo ♥


  2. Oh! I keep as many plants in my house as my wife will tolerate – I LOVE the cleaner air! I grew up in Vermont, and no air here in NYC can compare; but plants sure do help!


    1. palomino says:

      I can empathise, i find it really hard living overseas being away from nature but like you, keeping plants helps a little 😉 Im sure NYC has some great bonuses 🙂


  3. prisicohen says:

    Great Post! I will now definitely make sure I keep plants in the house.


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