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Peace lilies in a pot inside a house with a window behind
Indoor plants can provide surprising benefits to our health by reducing levels of indoor air pollution in our homes and offices. These plants are able to absorb harmful gases emitted by home furnishings, upholstery, cleaning products and building materials, so let’s take a look at the best ones to use.

 

What you need to know about air-purifying plants

Name: air-purifying, air-filtering or air-cleaning plants.

Height: 15cm up to 4m.

Foliage: variable but predominately green, some with marked or variegated leaves.

Climate: most of these plants naturally occur in tropical and sub-tropical environments, so are suitable for growing indoors or outside in sheltered warm-temperate or mild growing environments. 

Soil: a premium potting mix for indoor plants is preferred but will grow in fertile, well-drained soils in the garden.

Position: most prefer filtered bright light away from direct sunlight, which may burn the leaves.

Flowering: from inconspicuous spathes and spikes to masses of colourful blooms completely covering the foliage.

Feeding: use a controlled-release fertiliser when initially planting and a water-soluble fertiliser every month during the warmer months.

Watering: water usually once every week and more frequently during the hot summer months. Allow the soil’s surface to dry out between each watering.

Appearance and characteristics

Air-purifying plants come in all shapes and sizes, so there is certain to be one to suit your taste and internal décor. Ranging from tall palms to ferns and orchids, climbers, weeping trees, shrubs and succulents as well as colourful flowering plants, the choices are endless.

The green leaves of a weeping fig

Why you should grow air-purifying indoor plants

Health effects

Living in modern homes and offices can have unintended effects on our health originating from lack of air flow or harmful gases emitted by home furnishings, upholstery, cleaning products and building materials.

These common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may cause personal health problems including asthma or sick building syndrome whereby people residing or working in a building encounter symptoms such as nausea, headaches, allergies, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, coughing and an inability to concentrate. These reduce productivity and usually only improve after vacating the building for an indefinite period of time.

Research

Clean air studies by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in 1989 suggested that some popular indoor plants could be used as a way to purify the air in space stations. The study found a number of indoor plants filtered out and absorbed common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that frequently affect our health including formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.

Research by B.C. Wolverton in the early 1990s focused on the removal of xylene, toluene and ammonia by indoor plants. Indoor plants also remove and use carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis to produce oxygen. More recent research is concentrating on how the micro-organisms and bacteria in the potting mix reduce pollutants, particularly benzene.

Plants have also been shown to improve the mental health and wellbeing of patients in hospital and to reduce the mental fatigue and stress levels of office workers. So, all the more reason to grow them.

Top air-purifying indoor plants

To make a difference in your home or office, place 1 or 2 plants in either 200mm or 255mm pots per 9.3 square metres to clean up the air.  Results will take effect in less than a week and the more plants that you have, the better the results will be and the more immediate air quality improvement will be.

The best plants to clean the air by removing harmful pollutants are: 

  • Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii): a multi-trunked palm for brightly-lit situations growing around 2 to 3 metres tall.    
  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis'): a graceful arching sword fern suitable for growing in pots and hanging baskets in medium to bright light. Keep moist and increase the humidity for best results. 
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp): an evergreen herbaceous plant with large green leaves and white spathes surrounding the flower spike.  Suitable for growing in low-light situations indoors. 
  • Mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata'Laurentii'): an upright succulent plant with snake-like foliage in grey-green stripes with yellow margins. 
  • Florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium): a colourful perennial with lobed foliage and masses of intricate daisy-like flowers available in all shapes and sizes during autumn. 
  • Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana'): an evergreen perennial producing green and yellow variegated leaves atop sturdy grey canes. Grow in medium- to low-light conditions. 
  • English ivy (Hedera helix): an evergreen climbing and trailing plant with small green or variegated leaves suitable for planting in hanging baskets and/or edging in pots and containers. Best grown in moist potting mix in bright or medium light. 
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum): a weeping variegated herbaceous plant forming plantlets at the end of branched inflorescences. Fleshy tuberous roots make this plant hardy and drought tolerant in brightly lit conditions. 
  • Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina): a large evergreen tree with glossy weeping foliage growing 3–4 metres high or more indoors in both sunny and partially shaded conditions. Keep moist in summer and drier during winter. 
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum):  an evergreen tropical perennial with silver, green, pink or yellow variegated leaves forming clumps of erect or drooping foliage. Suitable for growing in low light and drier potting mix conditions. 
  • Philodendron sp: a evergreen tropical perennial with thick glossy green or burgundy leaves, many deeply lobed and drooping. Suitable for growing in brightly lit conditions. 
  • Barberton or transvaal daisy, gerbera (Gerbera jamesonii): a rosette-forming herbaceous perennial suited to bright conditions indoors with large colourful daisy-like flowers predominantly in shades of red, pink, yellow and white. 

How to care for air-purifying plants

Always use a premium standard potting mix for indoor plants. Apply a controlled-release fertiliser when potting up plants and a water-soluble fertiliser every month during the warmer seasons.

If you like this then try

Indoor plants: all you need to know about choosing and caring for indoor plants. 

Peace lily: beautiful foliage year-round and gorgeous, generally pure white, flowers over a long period.

Sansevieria plant (mother-in-law's tongue): long lived, hardy and require minimal maintenance.

Spider plant: popular, fast-growing plant that sends out arching stems to create new plants. 

Ficus: commonly called figs, ficus includes an extensive array of indoor and outdoor plants.

Philodendron: a big bold shaped plant with tropical overtones. 

Start planting today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing.

 

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

When following our advice in our D.I.Y. videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member.