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Ah, how nice it is to get home from a long day of work, kick your shoes off, and take a deep breath of clean air… or is it? Your air is likely guilty of having at least a few (if not all) of these volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which, according to the EPA, are up to 10 times higher in concentration indoors than outdoor

Purify Your Home with Plants!

Posted by : Ashley Southard   /  

We consider ourselves, and you, dear reader, to be pretty well-read in the healing powers of plants – wearing them, eating them, drinking them… but do you know how beneficial they are in your home? We have a feeling that by the end of this, you’ll be out the door and on your way to pick up one… or two… or twenty!


We’ve spent the last few weeks addressing how to cleanse your home of toxins and minimize the chemicals within the home, but, let’s be realistic – no matter what you do, it’s nearly impossible  to bring the toxic load in your home to 0; that’s why plants are excellent counteractive measures for the chemicals that you just can’t shake.



What’s in the air in your home?

Ah, how nice it is to get home from a long day of work, kick your shoes off, and take a deep breath of clean air… or is it? Your air is likely guilty of having at least a few (if not all) of these volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which, according to the EPA, are up to 10 times higher in concentration indoors than outdoors:


  • Formaldehyde: found in floor lacquers, plastics on home appliance and home application settings and even seemingly harmless things such as plywood, paper towels and napkins, paper bags, waxed paper, and tissues.
  • Ethanol: detergents (dishwasher and laundry), glass cleaners, surface cleaners
  • Benzene: naturally, it’s produced by forest fires and volcanoes. In the home, you’ll find it in glue, carpeting, paint, paint strippers, rubber lubricants, adhesives, and cigarette smoke
  • Trichlorethylene: in printing inks, varnishes, adhesives, and used as a degreaser that’s used most often in[home appliances and mechanical items; it’s also used to make refrigerant, which found in air conditioners and refrigerators.
  • Toluene: heard of TNT fireworks? Toluene is what’s used to make fireworks so flammable! But, in the household, it’s used as a solvent, pain thinner, correction fluid, and adhesive.
  • Carbon disulfide: tap water treated with chlorine (which is most tap waters) – use a charcoal or carbon filtration system to get rid of this!
  • Butanal: emissions from burning candles (unless they’re cotton-wicked or pure beeswax), stoves, cigarettes, and barbeque grills
  • Dichlorobenzene: deodorizers and mothballs – use cedar chips and lavender instead
  • Xylene: not as much in the home as out on the road – it comes from car exhaust, whether the car is running or in idle but it’s sometimes used as an alternative to toluene in synthetic enamels and anti-rust coatings. It’s also used in rubber, leather, and printing industries.
  • Ethylene glycol: detergents, pesticides, windshield fluid, antifreeze, adhesives
  • Acetone: paint, wallpaper, furniture polish, nail polish, nail polish remover

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning – read up on the list of all known volatile organic compounds here. It’s also not just in your home – it’s pretty much everywhere you go, from offices to schools (ever heard of sick building syndrome?) and even restaurants. That’s why addressing the issue in your home, where you spend a large part of your time, is a great starting point.




Good news – plants can eliminate them up to 90% of VOCs in the air - and in 24 hours, no less (try finding an air purifier that’s that efficient)!


NASA, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Penn State, and study centers for heavily polluted locations in Asia have all reported the effectiveness of plants in reducing VOCs inside homes, offices, and commercial buildings.  We’ll save you the time of combing through all those studies by pointing out the major WOW findings:


  • During Hurricane Katrina displacement, many trailers were found to be highly contaminated with formaldehyde. When plants were placed in the trailers, the levels of formaldehyde were reduced from potentially toxic levels of 0.18 ppm to 0.03 ppm. (EHP)


  • In 2009, out of 28 plant species tested for VOC removal capabilities (significantly more than NASA’s 1989 study, which tested 12), the average removal of VOCs in the air as a result of plant activity was 50% in 6 hours


  • In World War recovery hospitals, they would keep spider plants in the mustard gas/chemical warfare recovery units because the people who had experienced chemical warfare were literally detoxing and off-gassing the chemicals through their bodies – and the plants would help clean the air!




Sounds like magic! How do plants do it?

Plants take in the air around them for photosynthesis, to use the carbon dioxide. As they bring in the air for their photosynthesis process, they trap the toxic chemicals (the VOCs volatile organic compounds), filtering them through their root process.


If they’re taking in all the “bad,” how do the plants stay “good?!”

The answer is in the plant’s (and soil’s) microbiome. Just like we have a gut microbiome that breaks down the harmful stuff our body can’t use, plants and soil have a microbiome that metabolizes the volatile organic compounds into harmless ones.


Note: this is why good quality potting soil is super important as well!!! Do NOT buy sterilized soil, which is often recommended to prevent bugs, because the soil is part of the microbiome (in fact – in many experiments, soil is used as the control group, and even the soil shows to reduce VOCs by 20%)


How can I bring these benefits into my home?

When you bring plants into your home, you have to keep in mind:


Animals and small children: many plants are awesome air purifiers, but very toxic to dogs, cats, and toddlers. Especially in the case of cats, don’t expect that just putting them up high will keep them out of them – opt for plants that are ASPCA certified to be nontoxic – they’ve got an entire list that you can even narrow down by type of pet you have.


Different plants’ attention requirements: unless you have a ton of time to dedicate to nurturing your plants, or are an experiencing horticulturist, don’t go all out buying all different kinds of plants that require different amounts of water, different soils, and perhaps even requiring to be moved from dark to light. You want everything on the same schedule so that you only have to remember one watering schedule!


Your home’s lighting: most of the plant suggestions below require minimal to even no light, but if you see a plant in the store that you just have to have (that’s not on this list), make sure you’re aware of its lighting requirements before purchasing it.


The size of your home: all of the studies conducted placed the plants in relatively small chambers, as they were in a laboratory setting and required a controlled environment. Your home, however, is likely bigger than a lab chamber – so perhaps consider more than just 1 plant.



Keep in mind: scientists have determined that the filtration - and the biome exists mostly within the roots, so plants that are more leafy  (high surface area to take in air) with less blooms and a bigger, stronger root  system are best for air filtration.




OK! I'm ready to be a plant mom! How do I do it?

check if your local store's got any of these, but note that one's with a * are toxic to pets and small children!


filters benzene, xylene, ammonia, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene

filters formaldehyde and even airborne fecal matter

filters formaldehyde and xylene


filters formaldehyde and benzene



filters benzene, xylene, ammonia, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and helps restore moisture to dry winter air just as efficiently as an electric humidifier!

SNAKE PLANT (AKA Mother-in-Law's Tongue)*
filters benzene and formaldehyde, and is probably the easiest plant to take care of - it functions well in darkness.

filters formaldehyde

filters trichloroethylene and benzene

filters benzene, xylene, toluene

filters formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and carbon monoxide


filters benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde




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