12 Indoor Plants That Help Improve Air Quality, According To NASA
Photo: Jonathan Borba

We have all experienced the vitalising effects of being outdoors and breathing in fresh air while basking in nature. But did you know that fresh air can also help improve your immune system? Even if you are just out for a stroll, your body will increase its production of natural killer cells, neutrophils and monocytes, which boosts immune function. The increased levels of oxygen also helps energise us and lift our mood.

However, with the current circuit breaker measures in place, heading out for a walk might not be such a good idea. So why not bring the fresh air indoors instead? With the help of NASA’s clean air study, we have compiled a list of 12 indoor plants that not only elevate oxygen levels indoors, but also purify the air and are easier to care for than you would think. Time to put those green fingers to work.

1. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has the unique ability to remove benzene and formaldehyde indoors—especially formaldehyde over a long period of time. Also, aloe vera has evolved to develop what’s called a carbon fixation pathway, also known as a CAM pathway, which essentially means it absorbs carbon dioxide at night better than during photosynthesis, making it the perfect bedroom plant—so you don’t have to fight with your plant for oxygen. Another benefit is that aloe vera gel has antiviral, anti-fungal and cell-regenerative properties, that when applied to skin can help soothe sunburn, calm skin irritation, hydrate, improve fibroblast activity (read: anti-ageing) and gently exfoliate because of the salicylic acid naturally present in it. 

#Protip: Place it in a spot with lots of morning and evening sun and provide it with plenty of water, but water it infrequently—once every 1 to 2 weeks should work. 

2. Peace Lily

Peace lilies are one of the few flowering indoor plants that is also great at improving indoor air quality by absorbing benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene by as much as 60 percent. It is also great at reducing the levels of mold spores by absorbing and using them as food. This is especially useful for those of us living in a tropical climate where the higher levels of humidity tend to promote the growth of molds. If you are planning on keeping a plant in your bathroom, consider the peace lily. It helps keep mildew at bay, and absorbs harmful vapors from alcohol and acetone from cleaning supplies. 

#Protip: A great starter plant for novice gardeners, this lovely gem is able to take a fair bit of abuse without much permanent damage. It’s tolerant of shady spots but will thrive best when kept in a well-lit area that’s away from direct sunlight. Water when the soil feels dry-ish to the touch and don’t panic if you see it all drooped over. Just give it a drink and it’ll perk right back up. 

3. Rubber pants (ficus elastica)

Originating from India, rubber plants, also known as ficus elastica, are the perfect indoor plants to keep if you do not have green thumbs. They are hardy plants with leather-like leaves and enjoy filtered light and can be grown in small pots or large pots—depending on how big you would like them to grow. It absorbs xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene and purifies the air. 

#Protip: Place in a spot with bright indirect sunlight and water when the soil feels dry at the top Otherwise, keep calm and carry on. 

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4. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

If you are looking for an indoor plant that can grow quite large and act as interior decor while purifying the air, and have got the interior real estate to accommodate it, then the bamboo palm is your best bet. Because it can grow to be about three and a half meters tall, it is also a formaldehyde filtering machine. Bonus? They are pet friendly. 

#Protip: Unlike some of the other plants in this list, the bamboo palm requires a lot of indirect sunlight. You should water it often and keep it away from dry air. Also, if your plant manages to bear fruit, be mindful when handling it as it contains a chemical substance that can irritate the skin.

5. Golden pothos

The golden pothos, otherwise colloquially known as money plant, is incredibly easy to care for. It does not require direct sunlight and it is great at removing toxins such as xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. You can leave them to sit pretty anywhere in your home really, just bear in mind to keep out of your pet’s reach as it is toxic to animals when ingested. An unexpected benefit of keeping them in your home is the fact that they are natural spider mite repellents. 

#Protip: Another great starter plant, it’s near impossible to kill one of these guys – but they aren’t invincible. Best conditions include bright indirect light and regular watering when soil is dry-ish to the touch.

6. Chrysanthemums

Here is another flowering plant that is great at filtering out toxins such as ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene in the air. Chrysanthemums also doubles as floral arrangements, which is perfect now that we are all working from home and on video calls all day. 

#Protip: Like most flowering plants, chrysanthemums are sun lovers that thrive under direct sun. However, to ensure it continues to bloom regularly, you might have to “cheat” a little as shorter lengths of direct sunlight (to replicate autumn and the coming of winter) is needed to trigger its flowering response. Ensure that the soil is fully dry between each watering.  

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7. Gerbera daisies

Yes, your favorite gerbera daisies are also exceptionally great at removing airborne formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. Similar to aloe vera plants, these daisies continue to release oxygen through the night, making it a great addition to your sleeping space. Increased oxygen levels in your bedroom helps falling asleep a lot easier, especially for those dealing with sleep apnea or breathing disorders. 

#Protip: Not quite as hardy as chrysanthemums, these daisies thrive in direct morning or evening light but will need protection in the afternoon. Or, keep it in a spot that gets lots of bright indirect light throughout the day and water once the soil is dry. 

8. Red emerald philodendron

Similar to ficus elastica, the red emerald philodendron has waxy leather-like leaves that are great at removing airborne formaldehyde. The plant is also incredibly low-maintenance and requires low light. The only caveat is that it is also considered a toxic plant, so keep out of reach from children and pets.

#Protip: Plenty of bright indirect light and regular watering (once the topsoil is dry to the touch) is what will make this plant happy. 

9. Snake plant

Also known as the mother-in-law tongue, the snake plant is an especially resilient indoor plant that filters formaldehyde, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen at night. It requires very little light and only needs to be watered occasionally. And since it grows vertically, it does not take up much space. 

#Protip: Much like money plant, this plant is able to take quite a bit of abuse. Having said that, bright indirect light and a deep watering once every week or two is what this easy guy needs to thrive.

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10. Spider plant

If you do not think you have what it takes to care for an indoor plant, we recommend opting for the spider plant. It is a low-maintenance plant that does not require a lot of sunlight and removes carbon monoxide and xylene in the air. Bonus? It is animal friendly, so can really just forget about—as long as you water it occasionally. 

#Protip: Direct sunlight will scorch this vivacious plant’s leaves so place it in a bright spot out of the sun and water when the soil feels dry-ish to the touch.

11. Dracaena

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Here is a sprightly green plant that has long leaves that are great at filtering out airborne formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. They require warm and indirect sunlight, so anywhere that is partially shaded will do. Another thing to note is that its leaves are toxic to cats and dogs. 

#Protip: The stereotypical indoor plant you see gracing the lobby’s of office buildings, dracaenas offer maximum visual impact with minimal care. They’re also drought-resilient slow growers that won’t require frequent re-potting. Tolerant of a variety of light levels (they do still need some form of light), water when the soil is bone dry. 

12. Chinese evergreen


The Chinese evergreen is a hardy tropical plant that NASA has proven to be an effective cleanser of airborne formaldehyde and benzene, often found in household detergents. They will thrive in low light conditions, well-drained soil and humid environments—making them perfect as bathroom air purifiers and decor. 

#Protip: Place them in a bright spot with indirect light and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Fertilise them twice a year to keep them in optimum condition.