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Monday Mission: Get Some Air Filtering Plants

houseplants improve indoor air quality

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to buy a new plant with the goal of improving your indoor air quality.

I’m all about the simple things.

Green plants add ambiance to a room, make people feel happier and more peaceful, and, if you choose the right ones, they’re not too time consuming to care for.

When they can even help improve your physical health, I say, why not?

Although I have a special talent for killing living things with roots in my care, I have managed to keep a houseplant alive since college (it was from my Busia’s funeral), and the plant I bought about a year ago when I was looking into the issue of indoor air quality is still alive and looking fairly well, so it’s probably time to add yet another to the family. Winking smile

As you’re looking into houseplants, keep this list handy. It includes plants that NASA determined to be particularly good at cleansing the air, going beyond the normal “green plant job” of trading carbon dioxide for oxygen and stepping up to remove toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toulene, and ammonia from the air. (top photo source)

List of Air-Filtering Plants

Air filtering house plants

(photo source)

If you have children or pets, there’s one other nugget of information to take into account when buying houseplants. Some plants are harmful when nibbled on by said animals or curious toddlers, so it’s important to check whether they’re poisonous, edible, or somewhere in between.

Filters all 6 above toxins:

  • Peace lily (but is toxic to dogs and cats)
  • Pot Mum or Florist’s Chrysanthemum (but poisonous if eat by dogs, cats, horses)

Filters 4-5 of the toxins:

  • English ivy (toxic to cats)
  • Golden pothos (but poisonous to pets and children if chewed)
  • Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (toxic to cats and dogs)
  • Red-edged or Warneck or Janet Craig dracaena (toxic to cats and dogs)
  • Lilyturf

Click over to the Wiki list to see if your favorite houseplants are on the list and to find some that are non-toxic to cats.

NASA also recommends 15-18 houseplants (6-8″ diameter pots) in a home that is 1800 square feet, so I’ve got some more plant purchasing to do to make a real impact! Source: Wikipedia

You Said WHAT is in My Air???

Why are we looking for plants that filter formaldehyde, benzene, toulene and those other weird –enes anyway? Is that stuff really in the air we breathe?

If you have carpet, pressed board furniture, permanent press clothes and standard mattresses, give a big welcome to formaldehyde, which offgasses from those and more.

Got plastic or polyester in your closets or furniture? Hello, benzene.

Hoping you don’t have trichloroethylene in your home? If you have paint, varnished wood, or adhesives – think on your counter, cupboard faces, baseboards, and wooden furniture – you’re out of luck.

We’ve been talking about offgassing in the Kimball home recently. Nothing but good times and a barrel of laughs here, aren’t we? Winking smile As our kids grow, buying new (or used) beds and mattresses is a fact of life (although if the kids could vote, I’m sure they’d be cool with sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags on a regular basis!). We’ve been discussing what kind of mattress to get for our almost-5-year-old Leah, and I’m wishing to replace our older son’s mattress, which may be older than me. *cringe*

Conventional mattresses are treated by law with flame retardants, much like all the fuzzy, footie pajamas that my kids love (more on avoiding flame retardant sleepwear). Those chemicals are nasty and offgas as formaldehyde and more. To avoid the chemicals, you have to either spring for an organic cotton mattress or, generally, get a doctor’s prescription and go right to a factory to get one made from rubber/latex without the chemicals.

You can expect to pay double, triple, or even quadruple what you’d fork over for an inexpensive, basic mattress. Le sigh.

My husband, ever the skeptic – and I think becoming even more so the more I get into natural health – said during our mattress conversations, “Is this offgassing thing even real?? What if it’s just a good marketing scheme to sell expensive mattresses to gullible people?”

After a day to Google search, he came back with: “Okay, it looks like the offgassing is a real thing. The story holds water.” From the mouth of the biggest skeptic ever!

We’re still not sure what we’re going to do about a mattress exactly, but my baby step philosophy says this:

Clearly just about every home has something, probably dozens of items, that are offgassing yucky chemicals right now. It’s impossible for the average family to replace all their furniture, carpet, wall covering, counters, etc. with perfectly natural materials that won’t offgas. We could either have a stress-related heart attack or invest in some inexpensive plants.


I say – buy some plants!

And put a reminder in your calendar to water them weekly or bi-weekly.

RELATED: Where to Find Organic Mattresses.

Here is a good roundup of the top 15 air purifying plants, along with some specific purposes that each of them can combat, and here is the original study from 1989 for you science geeks.

Fight Mold and Allergies with Plants

English Ivy

(photo source)

I’m becoming more than a little impressed and enamored by the English ivy, which may improve indoor allergies as well as a commercial air cleaner, reduce airborne mold by up to 60%, and best yet, it’s tolerant of low light and lazy watering.

I think we’re made for each other!

One of the more frequent issues people struggle with when trying to cut bleach from their house is mold, especially in bathrooms, as evidenced by the comments in last week’s natural disinfectant post. English ivy can start reducing mold spores within hours of being put in a room. How awesome is THAT for an easy, ongoing, natural solution (that doesn’t require any elbow grease)?

It’s definitely going on my list. Way cheaper than this air purifier I reviewed, which is hard to pinpoint whether it really works or not, anyway.

Note: If you have ivy as a houseplant, be sure to never toss cuttings outside or plant them in the soil – apparently it’s an invasive species in N. America and can take over forests! Thanks to an astute commenter for that note!

How many houseplants do you have? Do you think they make you feel better, physiologically or emotionally?

Sale on MAM’s Children’s Health Guide

Modern Alternative Mama is running a sale on all editions of A Practical Guide to Children’s Health, a well-documented overview of natural perspectives on such issues as picky eaters, vaccinations, childhood obesity, teeth, sleep, and more – just about everything parents encounter in the adventure of raising healthy children. There are even a handful of kid-friendly recipes and information on safe personal products and home environment considerations.

A Practical Guide to Children’s Health is a good introductory book, probably perfect for new parents or those just beginning their natural health journey. If you’ve already been using essential oils and herbs for a few years and spent dozens of hours doing your own research on vaccinations and chemicals in bathtime products, you might find it too simplistic for your needs.

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

34 thoughts on “Monday Mission: Get Some Air Filtering Plants”

  1. Pingback: Houseplants | healthy girl gamer

  2. Tiffany via Facebook

    The hard part in my house is finding a soot w/ enough sunshine to keep them going.

  3. Lavinia via Facebook

    Vinegar is also really effective at killing mold, but it smells. Plants are much prettier. It seems that using vinegar to kill mold patches that you can see, and then also getting a plant to help keep it from regrowing would be a good two-pronged approach.

  4. Pingback: Eats and Reads: April 22-28 | Storms Stories

  5. I love going to Lowe’s plant clearance section. I purchase one or two plants for about $2.00, each time I go. I have many pots at home to re-pot them in. They are often small plants, but hey they grow fast.

    1. Yay for Lowe’s!! I’ve gotten most of our front landscaping off their clearance shelves (including knockout roses and other very nice plants). I’ve also gotten a few house plants that way. Love that place!

  6. Angela Mills

    I read about this a couple years back, and we purchased one plant that doesn’t need much watering and even my black thumb hasn’t killed it. I think it was English ivy, I’m not sure. The problem is, according to this ill need nearly 30 plants for our house size! I think I’ll get one with each paycheck until we have one in every room at least!
    I love the purifying qualities, but I also just feel happy when I see plants or flowers in my home! We have a glass enclosed shower, and I love looking out and seeing flowers. I think a plant would do just as well!

  7. Maria Roberts

    Thanks for this info. Looks like I’m gonna go for the Lilyturf as I have cats and dogs 🙂

  8. I have 7 potted plants in my house and 4 in my office. I would have more in the house if we had more natural light, but we’re a rowhouse in the middle, so we have windows only in the front and back and a lot of trees in the back yard; only two rooms get good sunlight. I’m excited to know that English ivy thrives in low light and is especially good at air filtering!

    My office has big windows and good light. I feel that plants are especially important in the office because it’s a sealed building with a giant HVAC system. Recently, the HVAC quit working, so we had no air circulation for two days, and the low oxygen in the building was noticeable! It was actually easier to breathe in my office than in the rooms without plants.

    My best houseplants are spider plants. My mom gave me one for my first dorm room 22 years ago, and I’ve had at least one at all times since, as well as giving away many babies! They are very unfussy. The only problem I’ve had is that they “eat” dirt so that their roots get exposed to the air, and then they need more frequent watering…and in the winter, I can’t just get them more dirt from the yard…but I’ve found that they’ll happily accept coffee grounds, shreds from the pencil sharpener, or hair clippings!

    In the summer, we put our houseplants outside on the porch because they enjoy the extra sun, and having the windows open improves air quality in the house.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Your story about the oxygen in the office is incredible! It’s so cool to hear about actually being able to feel the difference…
      🙂 Katie

  9. Even though I’m lucky enough to remember to water my cats, let alone a plant, I recently decided to get a few plants for my dark and drafty house (wish me luck!). I believe I found the Bamboo Palm to be one of the few nontoxic plants that made an air-filtering list. My MIL is also going to pot a chunk off of her 100 year old fern that’s been passed down through generations.

  10. My husband and I actually sleep on a Naturepedic mattress, and I think it is quite comfortable! (It’s the standard quilted cotton one, I think actually marketed for kids, but we have a queen.) My husband wanted a Tempurpedic when we got married last June, but I was stubborn, and he now agrees that this is probably better for our backs, anyway. It is firm, but not a problem. We’re getting a Naturepedic for our upcoming little one, too!

    I have also heard of people getting plain cotton futon mattresses, especially for young children. This website gives some good ideas:

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Nice that your husband sees your point now; it’s funny what we women get stubborn about, isn’t it?! 😉 Katie

  11. We bought mattresses from White Lotus in NJ and they were reasonably priced. We didn’t get Organic but we did get chemical free. The wool wrapped around the cotton is the fire retardant. The standard cotton/wool mattresses are much firmer than a usual mattress however they have ones that have latex in the middle for more cushion. I do miss the soft cushier mattresses but at least I know our family is not inhaling chemicals all night.

  12. I remember Dr. Mercola saying Stearns & Foster mattresses don’t have flame retardants. I think that’s what he bought. But I think I later read somewhere that wasn’t true anymore??? Not sure, I want to look into it again cause our mattress is looking pretty sad.

    Wow about the plants though! I’ll have to get some English Ivy. I didn’t know it was that good.

  13. We are currently facing the mattress dilemma too. We’ve used a naturepedic crib mattress and looked at the twin naturepedic mattresses. The cost is a bit to swallow, especially given there’s nowhere to “test” them out. The reviews are also poor as well where comfort is concerned, at least on amazon. I’m not sure what we’re going to do but look forward to others comments.

  14. Our third child is due in a few weeks, so we’ve been facing the mattress dilemma, too. Our son has had a conventional mattress for three years now, which has always bothered me. I recently bought a food-grade poly-something plastic cover for it and it is SO loud. He seems to have adjusted to it, but it was rather comical the night we put it on. It sounds like he’s sleeping on a bag of potato chips.

    After looking around, I think I’m going to go with the naturpedic twin. We’ve had their crib mattress (much less expensive than a twin) for 5 years now and have been happy with it. I just feel like it’s worth the splurge since my kids are breathing that air all night long, every night. I was excited to find out that IKEA has two natural mattresses without flame retardants until I saw the price ($630 and $750) so, the same price as the cheapest Naturpedic.

    It sounds like California is going to repeal their strict flame retardant law, so hopefully we will have some more mainstream options soon!

  15. Cats like to eat houseplants – better just to keep them apart. I have lots of hanging planters and several plants that are banished to rooms that are closed to the cat. I found that when I put a palm that was non-toxic where the cat could get it, he chewed it to death. My living room window is looking rather bare. 🙁

  16. English Ivy?
    Before you buy any plant, cross-check with a local invasive-species list. You may not be able/want to compost the prunings.
    I grew up in Portland, OR. English Ivy was imported there, and it has taken over many forested areas, smothering native plants and removing forage/shelter for native animals that (used to) depend on those plants. I don’t recognize the others on your list as invasive (several of them would die over winter, if allowed outside, which is a good way to control them) but a lot of very innocent-looking plants are invasive somewhere.
    I love green things, but be careful.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Now that’s not one I would have thought of!! Good call on making note of that – so probably not a problem for an indoor plant, but you’re right, trash any prunings instead of letting them be outside. Thank you! 🙂 Katie

    2. That’s a very good point! Seeing English ivy on this list, I thought, “Hey, I could easily get some of that from my neighbor, because it’s threatening to pull down her house! I bet I could take a cutting and put it in water to grow roots….” English ivy is invasive here in Pittsburgh, too, but it is helpful in that it stabilizes hillsides where erosion would otherwise be a problem. It loves to grow up buildings, though, and can do serious damage to them.

    3. First, I have to say I LOVE this site! And I’m not even a mom or a home maker of any kind 😀 Two thumbs up for simple, natural living any day.

      But I must echo the thoughts on English Ivy. Here on the East Coast, it’s a major invasive species, and has more or less ruined many local ecosystems. It can become so thick on the floor of forested areas that they become “ivy deserts” where no understory plants can grow through the thick carpet-like matting of vines. It also damages siding on buildings and can cause trees it grows on to decline or or even die. Incredibly, the state government here does little to nothing to curtail it, and it’s even sold at major garden centers (such as Lowe’s).

      I have to say though, I didn’t know about its air-purifying qualities. I’m sure as a houseplant, it’s lovely, but be careful about prunings as mentioned. English Ivy spreads rapidly and easily in North America.

      By the way, I got here looking to see if you have any natural poison ivy remedies listed. I picked up a bottle of Tecnu at the pharmacy, but I’m not happy about all the unpronounceable names on the back of the bottle…

      God Bless!

      1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

        Hi EB,
        For the poison ivy, I’d go first to Redmond Clay and there are a few more ideas here:

        I updated the post about the English ivy, thank you!
        🙂 Katie

  17. Stacy Makes Cents

    LOL Oh dear. I kill plants. All plants. This is the place where plants come to die.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Totally me too! I bet I water my big shefflera (sp??) once every 2 weeks, poor thing…

  18. I know the importance of having houseplants, but don’t have practical places for them that are out of reach of kids. I thought about hanging plants, but am afraid of dripping water onto the carpet. Also, I’ve had plants in the past (in other places I’ve lived) but would get gnats in the soil. Any suggestions?

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I’m not sure about gnats in the soil, but I bet there’s an easy additive (peroxide? just a guess) that would help. There are hanging baskets with drip pans attached so you don’t get water dripping unless you really, really overdo it! 😉 Katie

    2. Another simple option with hanging planters is taking them to the sink or bathtub to water, then re-hanging once you’re sure they’re not going to drip 🙂

  19. I am surprised at how many plants that are good at filtering air are toxic to both cats and dogs. I have a dog and three cats, so I will have to do more research until I find a non-toxic option.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I was too! Some folks are saying to keep them as hanging plants, but you’d have to be vigilant about the leaves dropping off… 🙂 Katie

  20. Right now there’s only one plant– an enormous jade tree, originally my grandma’s. I’d like to have more, but one of my cats has a passion for un-potting plants, as well as great leaping ability. Might try some hanging planters, though.

    Yet again, great info!

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