Econundrum: 5 Houseplants That Clean Your Air

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 6:55 AM EST

Anyone who's tried to decorate an apartment on a budget knows that houseplants are great: They're cheap. You can buy 'em at the supermarket. And many are remarkably independent. Plop a philodendron down basically anywhere, and voila: instant hominess.

Another houseplant plus: They can clean your air. A team of horticulturists at the University of Georgia recently tested 28 common houseplants to see how well they removed volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—noxious chemicals found in paints, glues, cleaners, and other things around the home—from indoor air. They found that most of the plants tested filtered at least some of the chemicals. The plants themselves do some of the work through photosynthesis, but their soil helps, too, says Bodie Pennisi, a University of Georgia horticulture professor who was involved with the study. "During the day the plant does it; during the night‚ tiny soil organisms remove gases when the plant is not as active."

The five species listed below were the all-around top scorers; they excelled at removing all the chemicals tested.


1. English Ivy English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Great for: a-Pinene (found in wood cleaners)
2. Purple Heart Plant Purple Heart Plant (Tradescantia pallida)
Great for:
toluene (found in kerosene, heating oil, paints, and lacquers)
3. Asparagus Fern Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus)
Great for: a-Pinene (found in wood cleaners)
4. Wax Plant Wax Plant (Hoya carnosa)
Great for: octane (found in paint, adhesives, and building materials)
5. Purple Waffle Purple Waffle (Hemigraphis alternata)
Great for:
benzene (found in glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents, and cigarette smoke); trichloroethylene (also known as TCE; found in adhesives, paint removers, and spot removers)

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