Some research suggests you could improve the air — and the mood — in your home by nurturing these plants.
These popular houseplants may help refresh the air in your home.
Houseplants are definitely having a moment. Videos tagged with #houseplants have logged more than a half-billion views on TikTok, and other social media platforms, including Instagram and Pinterest, are bursting with photos of people showing off their houseplant collections.
“As working from home has increased in the past year, along with long periods of confinement, it’s no wonder that plants have become the new critical home essential,” says Nick Behr, cofounder of hydroponic gardening company Modern Sprout.
The sense of calm that taking care of a plant can bring is perhaps especially beneficial during a pandemic. Research, including a small study involving 24 young men published in 2015 in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, suggested that nurturing a plant and watching it grow can reduce stress levels, soothe anxiety, and help you feel calmer. According to Brooke Blocker, the owner of eco-friendly online plant shop Outside In, there’s even a name for healing through plants: horticultural therapy.
“The act of caring for plants helps us step outside of ourselves and nurture a living thing,” notes Blocker. “I consider it a meditative practice — and actually, many plant parents are adding plant care to their self-care routine.”
The Potential Health Benefits of Keeping Houseplants
Keeping houseplants can also be good for your physical health, according to Behr — and even NASA has confirmed the helpful benefits of having certain kinds of plants in your home.
The 1989 NASA Clean Air Study, which was formally known as A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, famously found that some plants could remove toxins from the air through the process of photosynthesis.
As plants photosynthesize, in a process called photosynthesis, they remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen. Plants can also absorb toxic chemicals from the air, and either metabolize them or incorporate them into their own tissues, according to a study and review of prior research published in March 2018 in Wireless Sensor Network.
That’s not even the end of the list of houseplant benefits. Plants increase oxygen levels in your home, which could potentially help to reduce headaches, improve focus, and boost your overall mood, says Navya Mysore, MD, a primary care physician with One Medical in New York City. Plants also increase the humidity in your house, which could potentially help alleviate dry skin, she says.
Many indoor plants may help remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. VOCs are emitted from a variety of sources, including paints, varnishes, flooring materials, smoke, and more, per the American Lung Association. Breathing in VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and cause nausea or difficulty breathing.
Overall, the evidence for using indoor plants to treat or manage specific conditions is limited — but in theory, there are very few risks to adding plants to your home.
Start With These 7 Popular Houseplants
Tending to any kind of plant can be beneficial for your mental health. But if you’re also looking to improve the air quality in your home, Behr, Blocker, and Dr. Mysore advise buying one of these seven plants at your local nursery or online store.
Peace lilies, which are members of the genus Spathiphyllum, have a reputation for being easy to grow — so they’re especially suitable for rookie gardeners who are dubious about their ability to keep houseplants alive.
A number of studies have suggested they’re good for the air quality in your home, too. A study published in December 2021 in Applied Sciences suggested that peace lilies helped remove CO2 and the VOC formaldehyde from the air, while more past research has suggested that peace lilies can reduce the total amount of VOCs in the air.
A word of caution: Keep peace lilies out of the reach of children and pets. The plant contains calcium oxalate, a substance that can irritate the stomach and respiratory tract if consumed in large amounts, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
How to Care for Them You can put peace lilies in medium to low light, but they’re more likely to produce flowers in bright, indirect light. Don’t overwater them, but do keep the soil moist.
Another easy-to-care for plant, the golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) doesn’t just look pretty, with its vines and heart-shaped leaves: It’s also known for being a natural air purifier. For example, one study, published in July 2017 in Building and Environment, suggested that golden pothos can effectively lower indoor ozone levels. And other past research on the air-purifying benefits of plants showed that, like the peace lily, the golden pothos plant can remove VOCs from the air.
Keep in mind that, also like the peace lily, the golden pothos contains oxalate, which the Pet Poison Hotline notes can be harmful to your pets if ingested.
How to Care for Them This low-maintenance plant is also a good choice for people who may have erratic watering habits. Just take care to not overwater them.
Don’t let the name of this houseplant fool you; this succulent plant won’t scare you at all. The snake plant (which is also known by the scientific name Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii and as “mother-in-law’s tongue”) has tall green leaves, like swords, that are graceful and elegant. And keeping a snake plant in your home can also help you breathe a little easier: It was included among the plants in the NASA study that removed toxins from the air.
How to Care for Them Snake plants prefer warmer temperatures, so place them in a warm spot in your home. Bright indirect light is usually the best kind of light for a snake plant, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, but if all you have is a shady corner, it should do just fine there, too (although it may grow a little more slowly). Let the soil dry out between waterings.
You often see English ivy (Hedera helix) outdoors, but it makes a nice houseplant, too. A study published in 2015 in the Indian Journal of Science and Technology found that this plant was successful at lowering the level of carbon dioxide and formaldehyde in the air in a laboratory environment. And the March 2018 Wireless Sensor Network study and review (referenced above) noted that the English ivy plant filters VOCs like benzene, xylene, and toluene from the air, and has even been shown to reduce mold.
But once again, watch out for your pets — English ivy is toxic to cats and dogs, according to the ASPCA.
How to Care for Them Bright indirect light is the way to go for English ivy. Use a container with good drainage, and water these plants thoroughly but then let the soil on top dry out before you water it again, advises the Clemson Cooperative Extension.
The Warneckii Dracaena, or Janet Craig plant, is an elegant plant with long tapered leaves that may also be able to help remove some toxins from the air, per the NASA study mentioned earlier. But like some other plants, this plant is toxic to animals like cats and dogs, according to the ASPCA, so keep your furry friends in mind when choosing this type of plant.
How to Care for Them This plant doesn’t require much hands-on care, but it’s a good idea to avoid putting a Dracaena plant in direct light. It should flourish in medium, indirect light. Let the soil dry a bit between waterings.
The 1989 NASA study was conducted in a lab, rather than a real-life setting, but a more recent study, published in 2017 in Environmental Health and Toxicology, placed several plants in the Ficus genus, including the rubber plant, in a new building. The researchers found that the plants were effective at removing VOCs from the air in this real-world setting.
How to Care for Them You can grow a rubber plant in a container either inside your home, or on your patio or porch. They’ll grow well in sun or shade, and they’re tolerant to drought, but make sure the soil is able to drain well.
How to Get Started and Choose a Plant
To truly purify the air in your home, an air cleaner with a filter like a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that can trap allergens and irritants is probably your best bet.
But as Blocker says, “While a lot of plants are likely needed to effectively clean the air, it never hurts to try.”
Don’t be anxious if you’re new to plant care! Talk to the people at your local plant store or nursery for some advice. They might also suggest some other plants that are suited to your space, like aloe vera, Boston ferns, or areca palms.
Once you’ve settled on a few plants, make sure to note any instructions about light and drainage, because those are the biggest factors that will contribute to the health and vibrancy of your plants, Behr says.
“Start small with simple, low-maintenance plants and let your collection grow as your knowledge base — and confidence — grows,” he advises.
Mysore also recommends starting with plants that will suit your lifestyle. “I have a toddler and a dog that is super active, and I need plants that could survive with me forgetting to water for one week — and they exist. It’s about finding them,” she says.
And sometimes, the best plant is the one you’re excited to have in your home. For example, maybe you just like the way a plant smells, and that’s a good reason to add it to your home: “Not only is scent intimately tied with memory, aromatics have the power to stimulate your mind and decrease stress levels,” says Behr.