Best air purifying plants for indoors

Introducing my shortlist of the best air purifying plants for indoors.

I’ve tried and tested these plants indoors in the UK. They’re mainly hardy and easy to look after for beginners.

I’ve been educating myself about the benefits of air purifying plants lately.

The science has been around for a while (the most quoted research is from NASA in the 1980s). This suggested that certain plants can purify the air indoors, by removing some airborne toxins from your home.

Adding greenery is certainly a natural and cost-effective way of improving air quality. The bonus is that a plant-filled home looks amazing and can make you feel good.

The health benefits of exposure to greenery, and the rise in forest bathing, made me want to add to my indoor greenery. After all, in the UK we often need to enjoy our greenery indoors rather than out.

So what does science tell us about air purifying plants?

Plants do absorb some toxins from the air, and it’s likely many can improve your indoor air quality.

Obviously they’re no substitute for good ventilation and a well-constructed building. But it seems that their benefits go well beyond simple good looks.

How many plants do we need at home?

It seems to be the case that some is better than none, but the more the better.

The NASA study suggested having up to 18 plants in an average sized home.

If you’re wondering what features you should look for, try choosing plants with the largest leaves. Size matters in the air purifying plant world.

Plant care

I am no plant expert, and have relied on trial and error, with the occasional casualty.

For the beginner plant parent, these are the basics you need to know –

  • Generally they all need less water in winter, and more in the summer. A regular weekly watering seems to suit most plants, although in hot weather you’ll need to up this.
  • Many plants will benefit from feeding.
  • You need to rotate their pots occasionally, just a quarter turn every now and then.

I’ve also tried and tested different locations in my house for these plants. Hopefully these tips on the best spot will help you too.

Most reliable air purifying plants

I’ve had all of these plants at home for several years.

Some are higher maintenance than others (I’m talking about you, Fiddle Leaf Fig!)

If I can keep them alive and let them do their air purifying magic, then so can you.

Ferns

Boston Ferns are really good for shadier spots inside your house.

  • You need to keep them warm and moist.
  • Test the soil with your finger and water accordingly.
  • You should also mist the leaves regularly with water.

At first I hoped my fern would be happiest in the bathroom. Probably the humidity would have been perfect, but I think there wasn’t enough light for it to thrive.

So this fern copes better in the entrance hall. It’s usually comfortably warm (underfloor heating) but never in direct, bright sunlight.

air purifying plants boston fern swiss cheese plant
Boston Fern

Palms

Areca and Kentia Palms are easy to get hold of. They need a good amount of space around them, as they grow into quite a wide plant.

They bring a hint of the tropics to their location, and need indirect light. Some humidity is ok too.

  • Water once or twice a week, depending on the season.
  • Set outside in the rain occasionally to wash the leaves.

It’s worth knowing that the ends of the leaves will go brown and crispy in brighter light. Don’t panic. I’ve given mine several radical haircuts, before shifting it into a shadier spot. Doesn’t seem to bother it.

air purifying plants palm
Indirect light-loving Palm

Mother-in-law’s Tongue

Also known as the Snake Plant.

Mother-in-law’s Tongue can really go anywhere in your house. I’ve read that it’s particularly good in the bedroom, as it does much of its oxygen production at night.

  • This plant is very hardy.
  • Easy to care for and doesn’t need much water – just when the soil is dried out.
Snake plant (or Mother in Law’s Tongue)

Aloe vera

Aloes are perfect for your windowsill or somewhere bright and sunny.

  • Only water occasionally, when soil has dried out. Don’t include it on your regular weekly watering round unless it needs it. I overwatered mine and it collapsed – be warned.
  • You can break the leaves and apply the gel to burns and skin irritations.
air purifying plants aloe vera
Aloe Vera in a bright spot

Ficus or weeping fig

This is the most common type of ficus. Because of its rounded shape, the ficus looks really good in the corner of a room. It seems to soften the edges of a space.

It’s pretty hardy but, like many other plants, best in indirect light.

  • It drops a lot of leaves. Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’ve killed it!
  • Apparently moving unsettles it, so find a location and stick with it.
  • Water once or twice a week.
  • Mist its leaves in summer.
air purifying plants weeping fig ficus
Weeping Fig

Fiddle leaf fig (ficus lyrata)

The diva of my plant population. It looks like a beauty, but behaves like a beast for me.

Of all my air purifying plants, the Fiddle Leaf Fig is the most awkward to care for.

Sometimes it looks lusciously leafy, but at the minute it’s sulking for unknown reasons and has dropped all the leaves from the bottom half of its trunk. Still looks pretty good though! I’m not giving up.

I think the key is choosing the right location. Mine likes to be well away from the window. The problems seem to come when it’s too close to the light.

  • Needs indirect or morning/evening light, not bright sunlight beside a window.
  • Water once or twice a week.
fiddle leaf fig plant
Temperamental Fiddle Leaf Fig

Monstera

My Monstera (Swiss Cheese Plant) is my plant hero. I bought it (on Gumtree) from a lady who’d grown it from scratch for about 15 years. It’s huge! The tallest leaves reach our (high) ceiling. I’ve given it a trim a few times, and it didn’t mind a bit.

Somewhere a bit darker in your house is fine for a Monstera. Mine is beside a north facing window that gets virtually no direct sunlight. The room is bright, but it feels like the Monstera sits in the shady corner.

Apparently Monsteras likes humidity, and need to be kept reasonably moist. Ours takes a LOT of water at one sprinkling. Depending on the season, once or twice a week seems to be frequent enough for watering.

  • Keep moist and mist the leaves occasionally.
  • Ours is too big to manhandle outdoors, but they can go outside in the rain for a shower.
  • Needs regular watering – test the soil with your finger and keep it moist.
air purifying plants monstera swiss cheese plant
My monster Monstera or Swiss Cheese Plant

My plant buying tips

So now you know which plants are hardy enough for a beginner, but potent enough air purifiers.

Where do you get them?

I’ve bought indoor plants online. It’s worth trying, as online retailers often have a bigger range than you can find in store.

You might prefer seeing the plants in person before you buy. For that, I suggest supporting a local nursery or small business (although I have been known to load my Ikea trolley with indoor plants – all still thriving!).

One source that might not have occurred to you is to find them second-hand. Downsizers are often selling large, well-established indoor plants. If you buy directly from a plant parent, you can also get all the details of that particular plant’s needs.

And of course if you have green-fingered friends or relatives, you can also ask for cuttings from their indoor greenery. This is on my to do list – apparently Monstera is easy to propagate, and I can easily spare the leaves!

For more tips on styling interiors with flowers and greenery, check out my online courses here.

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