The Top 10 Plants for Removing Indoor Toxins


Common indoor plants may provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor air pollution. NASA scientists are finding them to be surprisingly useful in absorbing potentially harmful gases and cleaning the air inside homes, indoor public spaces and office buildings.

The indoor pollutants that affect health are formaldehyde, Volatile Organic Compounds (benzene and trichloroethylene or TCE), airborne biological pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, pesticides and disinfectants (phenols), and radon. These pollutants contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’, which causes symptoms ranging from allergies, headaches and fatigue through to nervous-system disorders, cancer and death.

Through studies conducted by NASA, scientists have identified 50 houseplants that remove many of the pollutants and gases mentioned above. Dr. B. C. Wolverton rated these plants for removing chemical vapors, ease of growth, resistance to insect problems, and transpiration (the amount of water they expire into the air). NASA, with assistance from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, conducted a two-year study directed by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, an environmental engineer from Picayune, Mr. Wolverton has worked as a research scientist for NASA for some 20 years. His study, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, of the interaction of plants and air found that houseplants, when placed in sealed chambers in the presence of specific chemicals, removed those chemicals from the chambers.

Dr. B.C. Wolverton, researcher and author of “How to Grow Fresh Air – 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office”, conducted plant studies for NASA that determined that plants can clean pollutants in homes, offices, factories and retail outlets. Later, Wolverton expanded the study and assigned plants a rating from one to 10, based on a plant’s ability to remove chemical vapors or indoor air toxins, ease of growth and maintenance, resistance to insect infestation and the rate at which water evaporates from the leaves.

Top ten plants for removing formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide from the air

1. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Also called the “Butterfly Palm”. An upright houseplant that is somewhat vase shaped. Specimen plants can reach 10 to 12 foot in height. Prefers a humid area to avoid tip damage. Requires pruning. When selecting an Areca palm look for plants with larger caliber trunks at the base of the plant. Plants that have pencil thin stems tend to topple over and are quite difficult to maintain.

2. Lady Palm (Rhapis excels)

Also called the “Lady Palm”, this durable palm species adapts well to most interiors. The Rhapis are some of the easiest palms to grow, but each species has its own particular environment and culture requirements. The “Lady Palm” grows slowly, but can grow to more than 14′ in height with broad clumps often having a diameter as wide as their height.

3. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

Also called the “reed palm”, this palm prefers bright indirect light. New plants will lose of some interior foliage as they acclimate to indoor settings. This plant likes to stay uniformly moist, but does not like to be over-watered or to sit in standing water. Indoor palms may attract spider mites which can be controlled by spraying with a soapy solution.

4. Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta)

Grows very well indoors, preferring semi-sun lighting. Avoid direct sunlight, especially in summer. Young plants may need to be supported by a stake. The Ficus grows to 8’ with a spread of 5’. Wear gloves when pruning, as the milky sap may irritate the skin. Water thoroughly when in active growth, then allow the soil to become fairly dry before watering again. In winter keep slightly moist.

5. Dracaena “Janet Craig” (Dracaena deremensis)

The Dracaena grows to 10’ with a spread of 3’. Easy to grow, these plants do best in bright indirect sunlight coming from the east/west. They can adapt to lower light levels if the watering is reduced. Keep the soil evenly moist and mist frequently with warm water. Remove any dead leaves. Leaf tips will go brown if the plant is under watered but this browning may be trimmed.

6. Philodendron (Philodendron sp.)

One of the most durable of all house plants. Philodendrons prefer medium intensity light but will tolerate low light. Direct sun will burn the leaves and stunt plant growth. This plant is available in climbing and non-climbing varieties. When grown indoors, they need to be misted regularly and the leaves kept free of dust. Soil should be evenly moist, but allowed to dry between watering.

7. Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

A hardy, drought-tolerant and long-lived plant, the Dwarf Date Palm needs a bright spot which is free of drafts. It grows slowly, reaching heights of 8-10’. The Dwarf Date Palm should not be placed near children’s play areas because it has sharp needle-like spines arranged near the base of the leaf stem. These can easily penetrate skin and even protective clothing.

8. Ficus Alii (Ficus macleilandii “Alii”)

The Ficus Alii grows easily indoors, and resists insects. It prefers a humid environment and low to medium light when grown indoors. The Ficus Aliii should not be placed near heating or air conditioning vents, or near drafts because this could cause leaf loss. Soil should be kept moist but allowed to dry between watering.

9. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata “Bostoniensis”)

The Boston fern grows to 4’ in height with a spread up to 5’. It has feathery ferns which are best displayed as a hanging plant. It prefers bright indirect sunlight. Keep the soil barely moist and mist frequently with warm water. This plant is prone to spider mites and whitefly which can be controlled using a soapy water spray. Inspect new plants for bugs before bringing them home.

10. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp. “Mauna Loa”)

The Peace Lily is a compact plant which grows to a height of 3’ with a 2’ spread. This hardy plant tolerates neglect. It prefers indirect sunlight and high humidity, but needs to be placed out of drafts. For best results, the Peace Lily should be thoroughly watered, then allowed to go moderately dry between waterings. The leaves should be misted frequently with warm water.


Greg Seaman

Hello. My name is Greg Seaman, and I write the pages for Eartheasy. Here’s a little information about my background and how the pages of Eartheasy have come into being.
A native of Long Island, New York, I was raised in a typical middle class home with two working parents and four children. After graduating from university, my first job was supervisor of the Centennial Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This was a two-year temporary exhibit called “Can Man Survive?”, and was a multimedia presentation of the impact of our modern lifestyles on the health of the environment. It illustrated how the earth’s carrying capacity was threatened by excessive energy consumption, pollution, overpopulation and unsustainable development. It was a real eye-opener, and this was 1970! Little did I know at the time that this experience was the seed which led ultimately to this website.The career path took me to jobs in New York, Boston and San Francisco. At age 30, my wife, infant son and I were presented with a unique opportunity to live on a small rural island in BC, Canada. After months of deliberation, we decided to give it a try.
Life on the island was a little like Swiss Family Robinson. With no electricity, services or even a road to our home, we learned to embrace the dictums of rural lifefstyle: look to yourself for solutions, and be happy with what you have. We grew our own produce in our beautiful organic garden and orchard, and fished, gathered clams and oysters, raised chickens and traded with neighbors for extras. Our home was built by hand, using old-fashioned hand tools and recycled materials from stately old homes being demolished in Victoria to make way for condominiums. Natural materials from the forest, such as fir poles and hand-split cedar shakes, helped give our home a unique character, and the process of learning to use these materials fostered respect for nature’s bounty.To learn more about our island lifestyle, read What it’s like living off grid.
Over the years our two children grew and thrived in a close family environment. Having no TV, our entertainment became our own creation – music, art, homemade games and family horse-play filled our evenings. Our children, and most of the island children it seemed, developed a strong sense of self from being grounded in nature and having the benefit of a close community where income, style of clothing, possessions and social status were not important.
Today, with our older child in University and the younger in High School, we find ourselves on Vancouver Island while the younger attends school. With access to electricity and the Internet, Eartheasy was born. The goal was simple – to encourage, inspire and inform people of the inherent wealth of a simpler, less material lifestyle, and the importance of protecting our natural environment as the very source of our well-being. I wanted to see a website where a wide range of information about sustainable living could be found in one location, and enough content for each topic so you didn’t need to click from link to link trying to piece together information.
Most of the pages of Eartheasy come from first-hand experience. The gardening pages, home-efficiency pages, recipes, non-toxic home care, family activities and gift alternatives come from 25 years of past living experience. Others come from many hours in the library, on the web, interviewing ‘experts’ in various fields, testing of my own and from many site visitors who’ve contributed a wealth of information. The drawings and illustrations are my own, and many of the pictures on the site come from our family album. Updates to the site are made on a daily basis in an effort to keep the content as current as possible.
It’s not my intention to suggest we all live a rural lifestyle. The values of a simpler, less-acquisitive lifestyle, with respect for nature, can benefit anyone in any setting – urban, suburban or rural. If the Eartheasy site gets you thinking about what constitutes true wealth in your life, and the implications our lifestyle and consumer choices have on the environment, then this web project will prove worthwhile.
Postscript: Since the above was written, quite a few articles now included in the site have been submitted by contributing writers. This has broadened the scope of the site and added the benefits of professional expertise and diverse perspectives. These writers are acknowledged in the contributed articles. Also, over the years many site visitors have submitted additions, corrections and updates to the information found on the pages of this site. As time goes by, more and more of the credit for this website is owed to these individuals. And finally, many people email Eartheasy with suggestions, comments and encouragement, and deserve acknowledgement and thanks for their unique contributions to this website.
And now, in 2007, my son Ben Seaman has joined Eartheasy to handle sales and product development. He graduated with a BSc from the University of Victoria, while concurrently building a successful contracting firm to pay for his university expenses. Over three years, Ben built the firm to almost half a million dollars in sales and 30 seasonal employees. Looking to align his work with his values, he switched into sales at an environmentally-friendly business specializing in water-saving technologies, where he worked for two years. He came to realize that making a living and having a high quality of life do not have to come at the expense of the environment. His desire to do more for the environment by encouraging others to think differently led him to work with his father on Eartheasy. Ben’s guiding values include proper stewardship of the earth, frugal use of resources, and honest dealings regarding the environment. 


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