Clean Air Plants – Remove Volatile Organic Compounds from Your Home

Clean air plants are houseplants that are good at removing dangerous volatile organic compounds (known as VOCs) from the air in your home, improving your family’s health and overall wellness.

Volatile organic compounds are dangerous chemicals released by many modern products such as paints, laquers and varnishes that are common in our homes. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer causing).

Here are the main VOCs of concern:

Volatile organic compound Used in Why you don’t want it
Benzene Gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics and rubber, detergents, pharmaceuticals and dyes Skin and eye irritation, carcinogenic, linked to leukemia and more
Trichloroethylene (TCE) Dry cleaning, metal degreasing, printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, adhesives Liver carcinogen
Formaldehyde UFFI Foam insulation, particle board, pressed wood products, consumer paper products, grocery bags, waxed paper, facial tissues, paper towels, household cleaning agents, floor covering, carpet backing, permanent-press clothing, cigarette smoke, cooking fuels Irritates mucous membranes of eyes, nose and throat, allergic contact dermatitis, headaches, asthma, throat cancer

I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty scary table! It seems almost every modern product contains VOCs. And I haven’t even listed all the VOCs! So much so that it would be difficult to rid ourselves of them.

These days, we’re all trying to save energy on heating, whether for money or environmental reasons. A big part of being energy efficient is having a well insulated, ideally airtight, house. Although this insulation keeps out the cold, it also keeps in the harmful VOCs. This build-up of VOCs in a building can lead to us experiencning “sick building syndrome”.

NASA did a study in the late 80s to analyse how houseplants could be used to remove common VOCs and improve indoor air quality. They found that in addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, certain house plants were great at filtering VOCs.

In the table below, I show some common houseplants you can use to rid your home of the main VOCs. They’re not necessarily the best plants, but I’ve tried to show common plants that you can get almost everywhere. I’ve also shown, where the study provided them, the % of the VOC removed from the test chamber in 24hrs.

VOC Plant Scientific Name Removed in 24hrs
TCE (Trichloroethylene) Peace Lily Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa” 23%
Warneckei Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei” 20.2%
Janet Craig Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig” 17.5%
Mother-in-Law’s Tongue Sansevieria laurentii 13.4%
Benzene English Ivy Hedera helix 89.8%
Peace Lily Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa” 79.5%
Janet Craig Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig” 77.6%
Golden Pothos Scindapsus aureus 73.2%
Formaldehyde Boston Fern Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”
Janet Craig Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”
English Ivy Hedera helix
Peace Lily Spathiphyllum “Clevelandii”

How Many Plants do You Need?

There’s generally more formaldehyde in buildings than benzene or trichloroethylene, so you’ll probably want to focus on getting rid of that. One of the best common houseplants for this is the Janet Craig. You’ll see the Janet Craig and Peace Lily are effective at removing all three VOCs I’ve been talking about, so they’re great ones to use to clean the air in your home.

Knowing how many clean air plants to use per cubic metre of air volume is not an exact science. It depends on air flow as well as how much off-gassing (releasing of VOCs) is taking place. The general recommendation is that you should have around 1 plant for every 10 square metres (107 square feet).

Other Plants that Clean the Air

You probably don’t want to limit yourself to the above air cleaning plants. Here are some more good clean air plants for you to use:

  • Arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum)
  • Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)
  • Philodendrons
  • Pot Mum (Chrysanthemum)
  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)

Most clean air plants darker-leaved, shade or partial sun-loving plants.