Indoor plants our natural air fresheners

The air indoors can often feel stale and unhealthy, especially in winter. Indoor plants are natural air fresheners, and some even clean the air of household toxins.

It’s not just that rooms get stuffy. Harmful chemicals, called volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are released into the air by furniture, carpets, cleaning materials, paint, clothing, printers, and even people. For instance, Acetone, which can be found in some household cleaners may cause upper respiratory problems, headaches, fatigue and nausea.

One way to reduce the effect of seemingly innocuous household products is to use indoor plants that clean and purify the air by absorbing harmful toxins and breaking them down. Green leaved plants also convert carbon-dioxide into oxygen.

Even plants that don’t have air-cleaning properties, like ferns, increase the level of humidity which improves air quality. For plants to have an effect, it is estimated there should be two to three plants per 30m² (the size of a sitting room). In other words, the more indoor plants the better.

Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) is a compact, well-shaped plant that fits into any décor style. It not only removes formaldehyde and benzene but filters unpleasant odours and produces clean oxygen. Needing only low light to grow, it’s ideal for bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchens. Water once a week, and don’t over water. It is sensitive to cold.

Ficus benjamina in a living room can help filter out pollutants that are present in detergents, household cleaners, deodorizers and varnish. This popular indoor tree which has arching stems and glossy green leaves is ideal for the living room because it needs space and needs a well-lit position that is warm in winter. Try not to move it because it doesn’t like to be moved once it is in the right position.

It likes moderate watering, and liquid fertiliser once a month in summer. Spritz the leaves to keep them dust free. Plants that drop their leaves may be stressed by under or over watering or a change in temperature. Fertilise plants with light green leaves.

Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’
(rubber plant) also cleans the air and there are some attractive new varieties that are more compacts and with variegated green, cream and pink leaves, as well as a combination of bronze and maroon. These no fuss plants can grow up to 2m but can be kept shorter.

Plants need good indirect light, even though they grow in poor light. Don’t over-water. Let the soil dry out slightly between watering. They tolerate ordinary household temperatures but not sudden drops in the temperature. They also don’t like to be moved; find the right spot and keep it there.

Philodendrons are striking plants with heart-shaped or lobed green leaves. They remove Formaldehyde from the air (found in cigarette smoke, walls, carpets and adhesives). Some grow into large specimens but there are also mini’s like Philodendron ‘Shangri-la’ that remains compact with smaller leaves that are lush and glossy. Plants are bushy, growing 60 to 90cm high and wide.

This is a good plant for beginners because it needs very little care. It should receive bright, indirect light in a warm, moderately humid room. Water when the surface of the potting mix feels dry.


Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria) is one of the most used plants for improving air quality. It is sometimes called the ‘Bedroom plant’ because it releases oxygen at night, unlike other plants that absorb oxygen at night. It also filters formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air. There is a catch; experts say that six to eight plants per person are needed for an optimal output of oxygen.

It is a long-lasting plant that needs almost no care. It thrives in bright indirect light as well as medium light. Do not over-water.

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