Indoor Plants That Clean Air? Succulents!

Christmas CactusIt seems like everyone these days is looking for small (and big) ways to be healthy (me included). From drinking more water to cutting back on sugar, and exercising, we are taking steps to lead a healthier life.

A simple way to be healthier is to have indoor plants that clean air, especially in the bedrooms while we sleep. Regardless of anything else, we need oxygen…all the time…24/7 and the cleaner the air, the better for us.

The Air in my Home is Dirty?

Yes, very, very dirty. In fact, studies show that our home air is more toxic than the outside air. I know, shocking and somewhat unbelievable. I was with you until I did some research.

Let’s start with outside toxins and move our way in. It may seem obvious what outside toxins are, right?

Those produce the most. And, we can assume some of those get into our homes but are they the main culprits?

Nope.

  • Furniture (the material, paint/stain, glue)
  • Flooring and carpet (same as above)
  • Cleaning products (chemicals)
  • Air cleaners (chemicals)
  • Laundry detergent (chemicals)
  • Heating and Cooling systems (dirt in the ducts)
  • Mold

Gross.

Since I grossed you out and maybe frightened you a bit (sorry), I don’t want to leave you without some alternatives, let’s discuss ways, in general, to keep your air cleaner.

Cleaner Air, In General

  • Open the windows and let the airflow through, especially if using cleaning products
  • Store cleaning products (plus paints, stains, pesticides, and chemicals) away from your main living space
  • Minimize moisture/humidity from humidifiers and shower condensation to prevent mold

The biggest thing you can do, in my opinion, is to stop using candles, air fresheners, perfumes, well, scented anything plus use a natural laundry detergent (unscented/fragrance-free usually means more chemicals were used to get rid of the chemical and other smells).

The number of chemicals in fragrances are unbelievable, so bad for our health! Here are some alternatives.

  • Beeswax candles – all-natural, no toxic anything – these produce light/ambiance, not smell
  • Essential Oils can be diffused for smell and as perfume
  • Laundry Detergent that scores an A on EWG.org

Small things add up and make a difference.

Now, back to the air.

Succulents Can Help Clean My Air?

Totally! Plants, in general, are good for us physically, mentally, and emotionally and succulents provide an extra boost at night.

  • Physically – Unlike other plants, succulents release oxygen at night. That means that while we are sleeping, fresh oxygen is being released to help us doze. Plants also release about 10% of the moisture in the air. By having more plants you have natural moisture which helps prevent dry skin and colds.
  • Mentally – Brain capabilities including concentration and alertness improve with plants around. A University of Michigan study showed people working around plants had higher quality, accuracy, and up to a twenty percent higher memory retention of work over an environment without plants.
  • Emotionally – Plants are calming and reduce stress.
    • Kansas State University did a study with patients recovering from abdominal surgery and found “Patients with plants in their rooms had significantly fewer intakes of pain medication, more positive physiological responses (lower blood pressure and heart rate), less pain, anxiety, and fatigue, and better overall positive and higher satisfaction with their recovery rooms than their counterparts in the control group without plants in their rooms. An interesting note to this study—the majority of patients who had plants in their rooms reported that the plants were the most positive qualities of their rooms (93%), whereas patients without plants in their rooms said that watching television was the most favorable aspect of their rooms (91%)”.

NASA Agrees

NASA's BioHomeThis study is by far my favorite! Here are the highlights or click the link to read the entire study. If you want the really short version, skip to the last few sentences in this section.

  • B.C. “Bill” Wolverton was an environmental scientist working with the U.S. military to clean up the environmental messes left by biological warfare centers. At a test center in Florida, he was heading a facility that discovered that swamp plants were actually eliminating Agent Orange.
  • NASA began researching, developing, and designing sustainable living environments for long-term habitation of space.
  • In 1973, NASA scientists identified 107 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Synthetic materials, like those used to construct the BioHome (see picture above) give off low levels of chemicals. This effect, known as off-gassing, spreads the VOCs, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene, all known irritants and potential carcinogens. When these chemicals are trapped without circulation, the inhabitants may become ill, as the air they breathe is not given the natural scrubbing by Earth’s complex ecosystem.
  • Around the same time, builders began making houses and offices more energy efficient. One of the best ways to do this was to make the buildings as airtight as possible. While keeping temperature-controlled air in place, this approach reduced circulation. Combined with the modern use of synthetic materials, this contributed to what became known as Sick Building Syndrome, where toxins found in synthetic materials become concentrated inside sealed buildings, making people feel sick.
  • One of the NASA experiments testing this solution was the BioHome, an early experiment in what the Agency called “closed ecological life support systems.” The BioHome, a tightly sealed building constructed entirely of synthetic materials, was designed as suitable for one person to live in, with a great deal of the interior occupied by houseplants. Before the houseplants were added, though, anyone entering the newly constructed facility would experience burning eyes and respiratory difficulties, two of the most common symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome. Once the plants were introduced to the environment, analysis of the air quality indicated that most of the VOCs had been removed, and the symptoms disappeared.

Basically, houseplants cleaned the air of toxins and kept people from getting sick!

Top 5 Succulents to Clean the AirVariety of Succulents

There are a lot of plants that will clean the air but I’m partial to succulents (and I think you are too). Here are the best of the best, but any succulent will do, they all clean the air, these are just harder workers.

  • Aloe – Cleans benzene and formaldehyde (see below) from the air. Benzene is often found in paint, glues, gas, detergents, and more. One of the top air-purifying plants. If you only get one plant on this list, get this one.
  • Snake Plant or Mother in Law’s tongue – Cleans formaldehyde from the air. Formaldehyde is found in most air fresheners, paper towels, nail polish, furniture, polyester and in some toothpaste, baby care items, and skincare items.
  • Christmas Cactus – Reduces radiation and pollution in the air.
  • Easter Cactus – Same as above.
  • Rubber Plant – Also cleans formaldehyde and does well in lower light.

A NASA study done in 1989 recommended 15-18 plants to clean the air in your home or about one plant per 100 square feet. I’m sure if they did a current study, the recommended amount would be more.

Questions or Comments? Leave them below, I love to hear from you!

26 Responses

  1. My house is just on the main street and I literally breathe pollution every moment. Thanks for your suggestions on keeping the home air clean. This is an incredible post and I believe most people living in cities will relate to this post since pollution is not just affecting us outdoors but also inside our own house. Great to learn about the succulents can be helpful in cleaning the air inside the house. Aloe seems a great option to try. 

    • Hi,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! 

      Aloe is great, the rubber tree is great…any plant will help though so get one you think is pretty!

      Let me know if you have questions!

  2. Wow! Seeing so many authorities that have conducted researches on these kind of plants that could possibly be used to clear air. This is very great to know of and I will surely try to get more of the plants listed here. I already have aloe at hone and though I never knew about the air clearing effect but it feels good to know I have been under its cover before. Thumbs up in this post. Thanks

    • Hi Tracy!

      Glad you enjoyed the article! Wonderful, you were breathing cleaner air before you knew! Let me know if you have questions!

  3. What an interesting article. I’ve long known about aloe to be applied directly to the skin or even taken as a drink but I didn’t know it had such a powerful effect on the air where it is growing. Succulents truly are fascinating plants and your site makes me want to start growing them indoors. Very informative and interesting, thank you 

  4. Our home is like a compressed space with very few outlets to help freshen the air which is why I like to open my doors and windows wide open every morning to help flush out the congested air. 

    The furniture we make use of, our home inner paintings, insecticeds we use on insects, etc. These can make the air inside the house to be really polluted and most of us think we are safer when it comes to clean air inside the house. That is very far from the truth.

    The use of plants inside the house should never be underestimated. It comes with a lot of positives in help keeping the air clean inside the house.

  5. I have heard before that plants can help clean the air in the home.  Aloe is a great plant for many reasons.  Can the Aloe plant be placed anywhere in the house or does it need a lot of sunlight? Do you have recommendations on the number of plants to place throughout a home?

    • Hey Bryan,

      Great questions! It is recommended that you have at least one plant for every 100 square feet.  That came from a study in the last 1980’s so I would say at least 1.5 – 2 plants for every 100 square feet of your home.

      Aloe’s are great! They prefer bright sunlight but can usually tolerate filtered light as long as they get about 6 hours per day.

      Let me know if you have other questions!

  6. This is coming more as a surprise to me rather than learning about the potential good effects of the plants. How ignorant of most of us not to have paid cognizance of major particles that have spoilt and polluted our air. Well, luckily for us, we have access to information’s like these that could help us with enlightenment and details.  The plants you listed here are all cool and I can have access to all of them. I must surely get them all to help clean my home of polluted air

    • Hi Shelley,

      I agree, most people (I was there too) don’t realize the harmful stuff in our air both outside and inside. Plants definitely help but I think the biggest factor is eliminating as much as we can from our home environment (candles, air fresheners, etc).

      Have fun shopping for new plants and let me know if you have questions!

  7. Hello there, thanks for sharing this really wonderful post. Most people do not know how important it is to have plants in our house. These plants serves as meansbof beautification and also help our atmosphere all together but very little is known about  these plants. Looking at these plants you have given here, I’ll love to have some in my house as well. Best regards.

  8. Thank you, great article. A few years ago I got a bunch of indoor plants in order to improve the air quality. I figured that plants would release oxygen. But then you said that only succulents release oxygen at night? Don’t they all do a carbon dioxide and oxygen cycle continually? Anyhow, some of the plants I got were succulents and those happen to be the ones I have in my room. So it’s good to know that they are releasing oxygen at night.

    I only have some small succulents, so I will have to get some of the other ones you mentioned, like aloe. It would also be good in my home gym, because you need good air quality when you are working out. Your article was very thorough and detailed. Thank you and have a nice day!

    • Hi,

      Yes, all plants will release oxygen so any plant is great to have around! Succulents are just unique that they release their oxygen at night so they are perfect in your bedroom!

      Ahhh, yes, great point about plants in the home gym. The spider plant (not a succulent) is great for air quality too and looks great in a hanging pot if you don’t have a lot of floor space.

      Let me know if you have questions!  

  9. This is just the article I have been looking for!  I really did not realise that the air in our houses was so dirty, even more so then outside.

    After cleaning the apartment with furniture polish, floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner, one always assumes because it smells so “clean and fresh” that it is, but that is obviously not the case. 

    I love candles around the house, so I will certainly be looking to get the alternative Beeswax alternatives.  And I will be popping up the my local nursery to get a few aloes.  Personally I don’t think they are they prettiest of plants, but when it comes to being healthy there is no room for compromise!

    This has been a very informative and interesting read.  You have really given me great tips.

    Thank you so much, and I will let you know how I am getting on with my new plants.

    Renée

    • Hi,

      Wonderful! I’m so glad you are going to get a plant or two. Rubber tree plants are also great for the air if aloe isn’t your thing!

      I know, I always thought a house smelling good was refreshing, now I try for no smell!

      If you need help, let me know!

  10. Oh this is very good I must say. I didn’t know that some plants or succulents as you call them can really help with the bad air at home. No wonder my mothers house was always so fresh with the air. It’s very nice to learn all this on your website. I think I’ll plant more in my house here too. It’ll be a pretty good experience. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Wow, I’m really surprised to see this. Its good to know of another importance of plant around us and how healthy it is to keep clean our breath. I have a question but i don’t want you to see me as a negative minded person but, we’ve known of the pros of having plants around us specifically Succulents, please what are the negative impacts these plants can have on humans?? If there’s any, kindly state them. Thank you do sharing such an educative article, I like it.

    • Hi Jones,

      Great question!  There are no negative impacts from succulents on humans that I am aware of.  Of course, you shouldn’t eat them (only a few are edible).  Some are poisonous to pets if they digest them so I suggest keeping them out of their reach!

      Glad you enjoyed the article, please let me know if you have other questions!

  12. Great idea to put into practice. It’s undoubtful to me that the indoor air is more toxic than outside air, especially due to inadequate ventilation. To me, it sounds unfair to have unfriendly chemicals in some of our household products, like toothpaste and perfumes.

    Thanks for this very useful information, especially the part that says, having plants around can improve mental capabilities, because I am a witness to that. I grew up practically in a farm house and you won’t believe how brilliant we all were in that house because there were plants all around us. 

    • Hi,

      I totally agree I don’t think there should be so many harmful chemicals in regular household products!

      It is amazing how plants affect us, I’m glad you have seen it first hand!

      Thanks for commenting!

  13. I am stunned by the research you’ve shared. Plants that combat the effects of agent orange??? My dad suffers from its effects and his brother died from it. Too bad those plants weren’t known and widely distributed back in the day.
    I’ve read that Boston ferns are great indoor plants that don’t need much, if any, sunlight, and they help purify indoor air. It was advised to keep them in the bathroom. How do you feel about that? The only reason I never got one is that they seemed a bit pricy. Plus, I have a cat.

    • Hi Cathy,
      I know, it is stunning! Nature has a way of healing itself if given time and the ability to do so.
      Boston Ferns do make a wonderful indoor plant and they are great at cleaning the air.
      The ferns need moist soil to thrive so the humidity from the bathroom would be perfect for it. They do, however, require consistent bright indirect light so if your bathroom does not have a window, it will not survive.
      The fern is not poisonous to your cat but it is likely that your cat will want to play in it!
      Let me know if I can be of more help!
      Thanks,
      Lisa

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