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Indoor plants that purify the air

Little-known fact: furniture polish, plastic, and dyes used to make our furniture and wall paint actually release small amounts of harmful, irritating gases that we breathe in unwittingly. Fortunately, Mother Nature has an alternative to air purifiers to guard ourselves from these indoor gases, in the form of these air purifying indoor plants.

These ten tropical plants you can grow to purify the air, get rid of dust particles, and even humidify a room.

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1. Monstera plant – humidifies dry air

monstera plant aka swiss cheese plant
Image credit: @platinum.flora

This humidifier doesn’t run on electricity. To relieve dry skin or throat irritation due to snoring, the Monstera plant can add water vapour to your bedroom air.

Also known as the swiss cheese plant for its holey leaves, it’s all the rage on Instagram aesthetic shots. Even those lacking a green thumb can easily grow new plants from cuttings in water.

Amount of care needed: Low

2. Areca palm – absorbs harmful gases from wooden furniture

areca palm in a pot
Image credit: @xninkasii

Anyone who’s had a manicure or hair treatment will be familiar with that unmistakable salon smell in the air. That’s the smell from acetone in nail polish and hair products that irritates our eyes and lungs. But many don’t know that small amounts of this gas are also slowly released from the varnish on wooden furniture.

So if you or your family are wooden furniture aficionados, this stylish areca palm is a good addition to absorb acetone and also other gases from furniture and dyes that cause skin irritation, fetal disorders, and cancer.

Add some fertiliser pellets to the soil that nourish the plant and help its roots breathe, improving its air filtering abilities.

Amount of care needed: Moderate

3. Rubber plant – safe for people with pollen allergies

rubber plant in a pot in singapore
Image credit: @kitsune.26

Pollen allergy sufferers might fire off a volley of sneezes and start tearing up against their will when they’re simply trying to enjoy outdoor greenery. But they should at least be able to breathe without swollen sinuses in their own home. Go for a rubber plant to cleanse the air if that describes you, because its flowers and fruits don’t grow often when it’s potted and kept indoors.

Rubber plants remove formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide from the air, perfect for newly painted or renovated flats, or rooms that face busy expressways. They also thrive on neglect and actually like drier soil, so they’re hard to kill and can be watered only once a week.

Amount of care needed: Low

4. Spider plant – safe for pets

spider plant with spiderettes
Image credit: @khaneye_sabze_ma

The spider plant removes harmful xylene, toluene, and formaldehyde from your air, without harming curious pets who decide that it looks like a tasty snack. Seeing how the spider plant’s baby plants called “spiderettes” dangle from its stems like spiders hanging from a web, it’s no wonder how it got its name.

This plant reproduces enthusiastically, so you can repot the spiderettes into smaller pots. Or keep the baby plants attached to their mama, and use them as a room divider or decorative plant in any empty corner that you never knew what to do with.

Amount of care needed: Low

5. Snake plant – converts carbon dioxide to oxygen

three snake plants
Image credit: @naaf.kl

To decorate a bedroom or nursery, get this snake plant that unlike most plants, converts carbon dioxide to oxygen at night. Besides helping sleepers breathe well, it doesn’t hurt that the snake plant also removes harmful gases such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air.

If once a week is too frequent a watering schedule for you, you can give this hardy plant a drink just once every few weeks. Even though it doesn’t need much water, it grows tall so it’s best placed in a pot on the ground.

Amount of care needed: Low

6. Aloe vera – as effective as nine electric air ionisers

aloe vera plant in a white pot
Image credit: Thuy Doan

It’s time to unplug your air purifier and replace it with this succulent, because the air-cleaning effects of one aloe vera are better than nine air purifiers combined. So besides being a skin balm or healthy snack, it can also remove microorganisms from our air.

Even though this is a desert plant, direct sunlight can ironically create black, burnt spots on its leaves, so keep it away from the sun’s rays.

Amount of care needed: Moderate

7. Money plant – lucky plant that symbolises success and wealth

money plant in a pot
Image credit: @nurserylive_

The money plant is said to boost our fengshui energy, but also has the more tangible effect of producing oxygen at night to freshen the air. It grows easily in soil or water – I have one that has been chilling out in a bowl of nothing but water and pebbles for years.

You can also flex your gardening skills by letting it hang from a basket, or even climb along a rope or net hung across a window. As the plant grows non-stop, it will create a natural “green wall” to shield you from the hot afternoon sun.

Amount of care needed: Low

8. Bamboo palm – cleans dust with negative ions

bamboo palm
Image credit: @thehanlonrealestateteam

Cool science fact: all plants produce negative ions that attach themselves to dust, germs, viruses, and mould spores, making them fall to the ground so they can be swept up easily. The bamboo palm’s larger surface is especially good at pumping out those negative ions, and doesn’t guzzle electricity or produce harmful ozone like electric ionisers do.

Another reason to keep one: the bamboo palm removes benzene and formaldehyde gases. Pet owners should pluck off any berries that may grow regularly because they’re toxic to animals, but the rest of the plant is pet-safe.

Amount of care needed: Moderate

9. Peace lily – grows well in dim rooms

peace lily in a white pot
Image credit: @qom_cactus

Native to tropical rainforest floors, the peace lily loves dim light, so you can put it in a windowless office or bathroom that could use some decoration with its subtle white flowers. It also removes trichloroethylene gas and ammonia fumes from furniture and paint.

When this graceful plant has had enough nutrients or water, it’ll subtly droop its leaves, so move it into a new pot for better drainage.

Amount of care needed: Moderate

10. Dendrobium orchids – huge variety of colours to choose from

dendrobium orchids of different colours
Image adapted from @blossomdurango

Dendrobium orchids come in a wide range of shades from purple to pink to yellow to white to red, and even multiple shades on the same flower. So whatever your favourite colour is, you’re sure to find a bloom to match. Over 3,000 Dendrobrium species are known to man, and that number keeps growing as gardeners in Singapore and abroad create new hybrids.

Besides looking glamorous, they also clean up xylene, toluene, chloroform, and acetone fumes released by beauty products, so your dressing table or bathroom is an ideal spot to place them.

Orchids are notoriously fussy, but keep them growing strong with at least 8 hours of daily sunlight, and plant them in charcoal for fast drainage.

Amount of care needed: High

Houseplants that purify indoor air

Guard against invisible pollutants with plants that freshen the air the way nature intended, without racking up electricity costs. All ten of these plants were even tested in outer space by NASA – yes, the NASA – and are scientifically proven to reduce harmful gases. Plus, they’ll add a touch of class to any empty spot in your home or office.

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Cover image adapted from: @kitsune.26, @naaf.kl, and @platinum.flora
Originally published on 1st February 2020. Last updated by Renae Cheng on 7th June 2021.

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