5 easy house plants that double as air filters

By Virginia K. Smith | August 1, 2016 - 8:59AM 

There are plenty of reasons to want to incorporate plant life into your apartment—peace of mind, decor scheme, a way to make up for your lack of outdoor space. But house plants also have one very practical application: They can help improve the air quality inside your apartment, and are a lot nicer to look at than a HEPA filter, to boot. 

While any greenery is better than none, some plants have a greater filtering effect than others. (In fact, NASA has even compiled a list of particularly effective plants for filtering, and suggests having at least one per every 100 square feet of your home.) That in mind, we've rounded options that'll thrive in your apartment (even if you don't get much in the way of natural light), and help you breath a little easier at the same time:


Snake Plant

Besides impressive properties as a filter for airborne toxins like formaldehyde, snake plants are famous for their easy upkeep, to the point of being nearly unkillable. (They also will generally run you under $20.)  "They're super low-maintenance, don't need a lot of light, and purify the air around them," a Sprout Home store manager tells us. Just be careful if you're an animal lover: These plants can be toxic to pets, so skip it if you've got a curious dog or cat around the house. 

(Photo via Home Depot)

Boston Fern

If New Yorkers can make it past the name, the Boston Fern make a top-notch house plant, and costs between $10 and $30, depending on size. Twig Terrariums co-founder Michelle Inciarrano notes that while they don't produce flowers, these ferns are "tough as nails, a great air purifier, are pet-safe, and quite beautiful." They also come in hanging and potted varieties so you can add some variety while still placing these handy plants all over your apartment. Boston ferns do best with indirect light and lots of humidity, so it helps to place them in a tray with pebbles and water, or mist them regularly. 

(Photo via Home Depot)

Peace Lily

Another recommendation from Sprout Home, Peace Lilies require only moderate light, and are a forgiving plant for the amateur gardener to maintain. "They don't bloom all year long, but they show you clearly if something's going wrong," Sprout's manager tells us. "For instance, if it gets really droopy, that just means it's thirsty, and it will bounce back pretty quickly. Or if the leaves start turning yellow, you may be over-watering or not giving it enough light." On top of that, these plants filter all four of the toxins NASA checks for in its rankings, meaning they also do some heavy lifting when it comes to purifying the air around your abode.

(Photo via AvasFlowers)


As a rule, palm plants are some of the plant world's MVPs when it comes to air filtering, and there are four different varietals on NASA's list (the Dwarf Date Palm, the Areca Palm, the Bamboo Palm, and the Broadleaf Lady Palm, to be exact). More generally, our source from Sprout recommends "any type of palm" for apartment-dwellers, as they tend to be low-maintenance and only require low to medium light. Another bonus: Double check the details of your specific type, but palms also tend to be non-toxic for pets.

(Photo via Home Depot)


Another option in the fern family, the Nephthytis comes with arrowhead-shaped leaves, and is an option that will flourish in even the worst-lit apartment. "This is a plant that you can't kill," says Mariane Garceau, associate director and plant buyer for the NYBG Shop. "You could stick it in the darkest corner and water it once a week, and it'll do great. It's one of the easiest plants you can possibly have."


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