The Zoe Report’s New Leaf series spotlights the plants you need to know about — from actual plants that double as decor, to plant-based beauty ingredients that will instantly upgrade your skincare routine. For this installment, we've rounded up the best indoor plants that aren't just pretty to look at, but can actually help purify the air around you.
Plant decor for the home is not a new concept. In fact, you could say what the little black dress is to fashion, greenery is to a living space: a classic yet perfect touch to tie a look together. But while these living art pieces hold their own in appearances, some indoor plants also serve double-duty as effective air detoxifiers.
This little piece of practical info may not come as too big of a shock to you, especially if you recall anything from your childhood science classes. As you might remember, plants go through a process called photosynthesis in which they use light to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen. "Like the pores on our skin, plants have small openings on their leaves called stomata through which plants can take in carbon dioxide," Christina Stembel, CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, tells The Zoe Report. "Air-purifying plants use these same ‘pores’ to absorb toxins like benzene and formaldehyde. Once absorbed, the toxins are synthesized into harmless compounds by the bacteria and fungi living around the plant’s root structure in the soil.”
This toxin-absorbing capability can prove quite useful in your home, where all kinds of pollutants might be lurking without you knowing. “Impurities found in the air inside homes include things like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde (which is common in cleaning products, toilet paper, tissue, and even cosmetics), benzene, and trichloroethylene,” Sara Eff, biologist, Gardens Technology at ScottsMiracle-Gro, tells TZR. "These polluting gases are very common in new buildings and offices because of materials used in construction. Examples are synthetic carpets, laminated counters, fabrics, adhesives, ceiling tiles and caulking compounds, just to name a few. As more energy-efficient and better insulated homes are being built, one downside is harmful pollutants can get trapped inside."
But before you rush to the local nursery, it’s important to note that some plants are more effective than others. Stembel explains that, “in general, the more stomata (that’s science speak for a plant 'pore') a plant has, the better it will be at ridding its environment of toxins.” According to Eff, "plants with large leaf areas tend to be higher on the list of air purifiers because the greater leaf surface allows the plant to absorb more pollutants through their stomata."
That means that, unfortunately, the oh-so-trendy succulent plants taking over chic living spaces everywhere rank low in the purifying department, Liat Tzoubari, co-founder of ethical home essentials brand, Sevensmith, tells TZR. These may have to be designated to strictly decoration. It's also important to note that one plant here or there probably won't do much for you. "For plants to effectively purify the air, numerous houseplants should be planted," Eff says.
To help you build a solid purifying-plant shopping lists, here are few solid options experts recommend:
“Also known more terrifyingly as Devil’s Ivy, pothos are low-maintenance plants that make like Rapunzel and grow long tendrils of foliage when given the space,” Stembel says. “We like to play this look up in a hanging basket or vessel.”
“They’re one of the few flowering plants on my list,” Stembel says. “Their beautiful, white blooms and glossy, green foliage are a great way to add color and texture to any space.”
“These are another great, low-maintenance option for first-time/forgetful plant parents, because they can miss a few waterings and withstand a wide variety of temperatures,” Stembel says. “Fun fact? They also proliferate quickly, shooting off baby spider plants that make it easy to share their detoxifying abilities with friends.”
“These plant pals look great in small pots but also have the potential to grow into full grown trees if properly cared for,” Stembel says. “We love their dark green to burgundy foliage and more minimal vibe — we think they’re a perfect, low-key option for fans of fiddle leaf fig trees.”
“Snake plants are kind of our all-arounder here at Farmgirl,” Stembel says. “We run them multiple times a year in various sizes because they’re so easy to ship, easy on the eyes, and incredibly easy to care for. Their tall, spiky foliage is a great accent to most spaces. Bonus points? They thrive on neglect. Last-minute vacation? Busy at work? No need to worry about finding someone to water this plant."
"Research has shown that English ivy can help remove mold spores from the air," Eff says.
Care & Upkeep
OK, so you've stocked up on your plants of choice. Now, where to put them? Well, before you pick up a plant, Eff says to abide by this placement rule: "One plant (in a six- to eight-inch container) per 100 square foot of living area is the NASA recommendation for the optimum effects of air filtering."
For optimum purification and chic decor payoff, Eff suggests establishing a "container garden" which can easily be set up on a bookshelf, side table, or even the top of a refrigerator. "Many of these indoor plants don’t require much maintenance if they receive the right amount of sunlight and water, and the occasional repotting into a larger container with fresh soil," she says. "Added bonus: Anything with a drainage hole can be used as a container — making it super affordable, and periodically changing plant containers is an easy way to freshen up any living space."
Stembel says when finding a place to put your plant, the most important thing is to make sure it has enough light to thrive. The amount needed will vary, depending on the type of plant, but Stembel says a good general rule of thumb is to start with bright, indirect light (unless otherwise indicated). "Keep in mind windows can magnify light by up to three times," she says. "Placing a plant on the windowsill of a window that receives direct light will ensure that plant won’t stick around for very long. Find a spot at least three feet from a sunny window and your plant pal will thank you. Again, just like with the watering, check your plant regularly for signs off too much light. Browning edges can be indicative of sunburn."
According to Stembel, being a "good plant parent" all boils down to three key components: water, light and humidity. "Every plant we ship (and every plant that you buy from a store) comes with a set of general instructions," she says. "But caring for a plant in your own space means taking into consideration environmental factors that those general instructions may not account for."
If this is your first go-round with plants, the team at Farmgirl Flowers always recommends putting your greenery on a strict watering schedule. While most indoor plants thrive on being watered once a week or so, some varieties, like the snake plant do better with less frequent sessions, Stembel says. "Whatever the length of time, set up a schedule and stick to it," she advises. "Over the next month or two, check your plant for signs of over- or under-watering." These signs can include changes in foliage (yellow can indicate too much or too little depending on the plant while brown almost always means too little). "Keep in mind that plants have a delayed reaction to care (in most circumstances)," Stembel says. "The care you provide today will most likely show its results in a few weeks’ time. Be patient and be consistent."