Best Indoor Plants for Clean Air

closeup of a fittonia plant

The Spruce / Alonda Baird

We already know that through photosynthesis, plants help us by taking carbon dioxide from the air and releasing pure oxygen into the atmosphere. Ever since NASA investigated the potential for plants to clean the air of super-sealed space stations in the 1980s, people have been inspired to improve their environments with houseplants. 

When it comes to removing toxins from the air, the bigger the plant and its leaves, the better its ability to purify the environment. How many plants do you need to achieve fresh, healthy air? The answer lies in many factors, such as the types of furniture and carpet used and their ages, whether smoking occurs on the premises, and how well the dwelling is sealed. Start with one or two handsome specimens, and see where your quest for a healthy atmosphere takes you when you grow these air-purifying plants. 

  • 01 of 07

    Purple Waffle Plant

    hemigraphis alternata plant
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    According to a study in HortScience journalHemigraphis alternata, the purple waffle plant, is very efficient in removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, toluene, and octane. These common indoor pollutants come from everyday household items like paint, cleaners, hair spray, and even dry-cleaned clothes. 

    Purple waffle plant has deeply puckered foliage, which gives it an extra-large leaf surface area to do its air cleaning job. The reverse sides of the leaves on this low-growing plant are purple, which contrast handsomely with the deep green leaves. Keep waffle plants moist, and give it bright light to maintain the vibrant purple color. 

  • 02 of 07

    English Ivy

    English Ivy

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    Hedera helix is the common ivy that tolerates most light and soil conditions, but its ability to remove VOCs from the air in your home make this houseplant extra special. Horticulturists have exploited the robust nature of ivy by developing many fancy cultivars, including 'Fluffy Ruffles' with ruffled leaves and 'Gold Baby' with golden variegation. Grow two varieties in a large hanging basket for beautiful contrast and twice the air purifying properties. 

  • 03 of 07

    Wax Plant

    Wax Plant

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    Another forgiving houseplant, Hoya carnosa is also known as the wax plant for its perfect-looking, waxy flowers shaped like stars. Wax plants will tolerate lower light levels, but flowering is most prolific in high light conditions. 

    The trailing stems of wax plants are attractive in hanging baskets or used in conjunction with plant stands. The wax plant is drought tolerant, and prefers life on the dry side to prevent root rot. Grow several plants to maximize the removal of five common VOCs from your home. 

  • 04 of 07

    Asparagus Fern

    an asparagus fern in a basket

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    The frizzy leaves of Asparagus densiflorus are fantastic for adding texture to mixed houseplant containers. The fine leaves on upright stems contrast with trailing plants that appreciate the same high moisture and low light conditions of the asparagus fern. Try asparagus fern with ivy, coleus, or philodendron plants anywhere you desire the air-purifying properties of a low-care houseplant. 

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  • 05 of 07

    Purple Spiderwort

    Purple Spiderwort

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    The succulent leaves of Tradescantia pallida, also known as wandering Jew and purple heart, are durable favorites both inside and out of the home. Although the purple spiderwort is an annual and a tropical houseplant, it can survive temperatures down to 25 degrees F, and is a thriving plant for colder rooms in the house. Researchers found that purple spiderwort exhibited superior abilities to remove VOCs from the air, so plant several specimens in areas where you are bothered by fresh paint fumes or new furniture odors. 

  • 06 of 07

    Nerve Plant

    closeup of a fittonia plant

    The Spruce / Alonda Baird

    Fittonia argyroneura plants don't produce any noticeable flowers, but the rich pink, red, or white veining of the leaves contribute to the ornamental value of this houseplant. The nerve plant doesn't need a bright spot to thrive, but consistent moisture is necessary for plant health. With more than a dozen varieties in cultivation, you can grow a grouping of several colors to get the maximum air-purifying results from your plants. 'Frankie' has more pink than green on its leaves, which looks striking planted in combination with the mostly white 'Titanic' variety. 

  • 07 of 07

    Weeping Fig

    Branch of ficus benjamina with variegated leaves, selective focus, copy space.
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    Ficus benjamina, or weeping fig, is a handsome specimen to grow as a small indoor tree if you can provide the right environment to prevent it from shedding leaves. Weeping figs like bright light and consistent moisture, but not soggy water dumps. Weeping figs don't fare well near air registers, where dry conditions and temperature changes stress the plants. Pamper your fig tree with a shovelful of compost, as you would an outdoor garden plant, and give it a bright spot in a humid area of your home, like the kitchen or bathroom, and let its leaves work their air-scrubbing magic.