As winter grows dark and the weather gets gloomy, it’s time to acquire some companions that will change your mood: houseplants.
“People don’t realize that indoor pollution is often several times higher than the pollution outside,” says Donna Zagrapan, a horticulture specialist and former Penn State master gardener. “Plants become a simple and pleasant solution to alleviate that problem.”
Not all plants, however, are created equal. As Zagrapan noted at a recent Plants for Indoor Air Quality workshop at Greensgrow Farms, while most simply carry out the give-and-take of oxygen for carbon dioxide, some plants absorb toxins, too.
So which indoor varieties maximize your returns? The NASA can answer that.
Following a 1989 study to determine the best ways to clean the air in space stations, the government agency published a report on plants proven to purify the air. Researchers identified 29 species and varieties that remove common airborne chemicals, specifically benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia — all of which are linked to health issues ranging from headaches and eye irritation to heart problems.
Zagrapan notes that these chemicals are omnipresent in our homes, emitted as gases from various solids or liquids such as paint, rubber, floor wax, plywood paneling, and cleaning supplies. It makes her appreciate the understated capabilities of plants all the more.
“The idea that a plant can actually take these poisons out of the air — Mother Nature is just incredible.”
Below, Zagrapan shares the 10 NASA-endorsed, air-purifying plants that are easiest to sustain indoors.
The first seven will thrive even in low-light conditions, meaning that while you will need at least one small window in the room, direct sunlight isn’t necessary. The latter three — aloe and two types of ferns — are only slightly more demanding.
Zagrapan recommends one 4- to 6-inch plant for every 100 square feet of your home. The larger the plant, the more toxins it will absorb. And she has a clear favorite: “There is one plant — only one — that collects every single toxin that NASA studied, and that is the peace lily,” she says. “Everyone should have a peace lily.”