Purifying Inside Air With Plants

We’re constantly being told that the quality of our air is deteriorating. Car exhaust, industrial fumes and burning fires constitute a daily burden to our lungs. And that’s just the outside air. Inside the home and office we are assaulted with hundreds of chemicals used in the building process, from furniture, office equipment and even perfumes and aftershave. Then, along comes spring pollen and things get even worse. In the fall, we have ragweed to look forward to. The cold and damp encourages mold spores to populate the environment.

Since we can’t all live on a desert island, which is the best way to get truly pure air, let’s find ways to deal with what we’ve got. You may think that I have pure air living in Maui. I don’t like to complain but we have to deal with regular sugar cane burning. Open fields of sugar cane line the whole isthmus between Mount Haleakela and Mount Halemahena. There are crops growing all year round. When a field is ready to harvest, the age-old method is to burn down the plants! Twenty miles away, I sometimes wake up to the smell of burning cane and people in a 10 mile radius get snowed upon with ash. But what can you do if you’re living in a crowded urban environment with lots of auto and industrial air pollution? Moreover, what can you do if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an air cleaning machine. I’m doing my best to provide you with commonsense, affordable advice for your future health. 

Bring the Forest Inside

I’ll start with the most natural air purifying solution possible. And it also turns out to be the least expensive solution with all kinds of added benefits. Maybe you’re familiar with the fresh, pure smell of a pine forest. Just the thought of it makes you want to take a deep breath. Forests produce negative ions (they’re the good ones) that make our lungs feel squeaky clean and alive. The air-freshener companies have tried to market this very image with synthetic perfumes saturated on a piece of cardboard in the shape of a pine tree. I’m afraid this “solution” only creates more air pollution! Instead, I’d like to talk about the types of plants that happily and invisibly clean the air around you. They also bring all the benefits of nature inside your home or office.

Make Your Own Oxygen

Plants use air, sunlight and water to make their food. This process is called photosynthesis. During this process, they give off oxygen. We inhale air, mostly for the oxygen, and exhale carbon dioxide. So, plants make oxygen for our existence! When I was growing up everyone had plants in their homes. And they also had flower beds and vegetable beds. Maybe these days we just think of plants as something else that we have to take care of. But those plants are paying us back by taking care of us in many ways.

NASA Loves Plants

Don’t just take my word for it. NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) conducted the Clean Air Study, showing that common indoor plants are sophisticated pollution-absorbing devices. About a dozen different plant types were studied. They were placed in sealed, Plexiglas chambers in which various chemicals were injected.  In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis, some indoor plants demonstrated a natural way of removing volatile organic pollutants. Nature does provide. We just have to listen. 

The Best Air Cleaning Plants

You’ve got a lot of plants to choose from to help create your own air purifying device. The following plant species were tested against formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide and TCE (trichloroethylene).

Best Formaldehyde Removal


Spider plant

Golden pothos

Best Benzene Removal

Gerbera daisy


General Chemical Removal

Bamboo Palm

Chinese Evergreen

English Ivy

Dracaena “Janet Craig”

Dracaena marginata

Dracaena massangeana

Dracaena Warneckii

Mother-in-Law’s tongue

Pot Mum

Peace Lily

Leaves, Roots and Soil

NASA further determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important for removing trace levels of toxic vapors. Soil is made from rocks that are turned to dust and living material called humus. Humus is known as the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant materials by soil microorganisms. Humus can come from peat moss, ground bark, rotted leaves, manures, green plant material and herbs. Try to add soil to your plants that contain rock dust and humus to ensure you are getting viable soil bacteria. You can find out all about the concept of remineralizing the earth at this wonderful site www.remineralize.org. It’s the next step beyond organic.

Make It Happen

1. Buy some houseplants. Take your list along and even some pictures of the plants you like and go from there.

2. What plant you choose depends on where you are going to put your plants. But don’t let lack of space stop you because you can also hang plants on hooks or lines.

3. Plants have feelings too! The book, The Secret Life of Plants (1989) explores plants’ response to human care and nurturing, their ability to communicate with man, and more. So, be nice to your plants and they will perform beyond your expectations.

If you already have a plant family, remember to hug them. Or at least give them a loving pat every once and a while. Breathe the oxygen that they produce for your benefit. And thank them for tirelessly transmuting chemicals in your environment. They have so much to give and they only expect some water and good soil in return.

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