Why should we even be concerned about using succulents to purify our indoor air? Many modern office buildings and homes are successfully designed to be energy efficient. This is obviously good for many reasons but it can have negative effects on our health. Very often there is dangerous indoor air pollution that accumulates in these structures. Toxic gasses build up that can be very harmful even in minute amounts. A great solution to this problem is to place plants that clean the air around your home and office.
Side Note: There are two amazing pots that are specially designed to actually help the plants filter even more toxins. Read about the amazing AIRY Natural Air Purifier and the Plant Air Purifier here.
Among the most effective plants that clean the air are six succulents.
There has been so much interest and research involving plants as air purifiers that there is now a word for it – “phytoremediation.”
Studies show that our indoor air may contain over 900 dangerous biological and chemical pollutants. The worst invisible pollutants include formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, trichloroethylene, ethyl acetate, chloroform, ammonia and acetone. These chemicals can bring on or accentuate allergies and asthma. They can also cause even more serious medical issues including various types of cancer. Some buildings and homes have been found to contain 90 percent indoor air pollution from these chemicals.
Sources of these dangerous chemicals:
- Household cleansers
- Tobacco smoke
- Gas stoves
Ozone is also a serious contributor to indoor air pollution. Ozone is an odorless, colorless gas that is formed when chemicals react with oxygen. Ozone can be created from laser printers, copy machines, ultraviolet lights, and incredibly even some electrostatic air purification systems.
After extensive testing, NASA concluded that many plants had the amazing ability to cleanse the air from unwanted indoor pollution. It was in 1998 that the NASA Clean Air Study determined that air purifying plants were a cost effective, efficient and simple way to rid toxins from enclosed places.
It was discovered that in addition to cleaning the air, plants
- Improved concentration
- Increased productivity
- Improved mood
- Enhanced memory
- Reduced stress
- Helped with fatigue
In the NASA study for optimal air cleaning, they recommended three plants in 10-inch pots for about every 100 square feet. This is just a general guideline, of course, since various indoor spaces are more polluted, have less ventilation and other factors. Also, all of the plants tested were better or worse at removing individual specific toxins.
Indoor air pollution may lead to debilitating medical issues. Before something more serious develops you may experience symptoms from indoor air toxins such as:
- Inability to focus
- Irritation of the nose, eyes, or throat
- Itchy or dry skin
Many people are acutely aware of the cause of their symptoms because they feel relief shortly after leaving the polluted indoor space.
Be aware that some plants commonly used indoors can be toxic to children or pets if they are ingested. Do some research and avoid using any plant that has the potential to harm a child or an animal. Another concern is that having an abundance of plants can increase the humidity in your home which can lead to mold problems. This will likely not be an issue if you allow the water to drain into a tray that you then remove so there is no standing liquid. Some say that covering the top with aquarium gravel or Spanish moss will also help prevent mold. Succulents, of course, use a lot less water and are likely never a source of mold.
So What Are the Best Succulents to Clean the Air?
To purify the air with succulents the best plants are: (Alphabetically)
- Aloe vera
- ‘Corn Plant’, Dracaena fragrans
- ‘Janet Craig’, Dracaena fragrans
- Red-edged Dracaena, Dracaena marginata
- ‘Warneckii’, Dracaena fragrans
- Snake Plant, Sansevieria trifasciata
All of these have proven through numerous studies to be some of the best plants to purify the air in your home or office. These air purifier plants also look great in your home. As a bonus we will also discuss one more plant, the Peace Lily, that is not a succulent but that is a super cleaner of air toxins. The Peace Lily also looks great in groupings with succulents.
Aloe vera (or synonym Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe Vera purifies benzene and formaldehyde from the air.
There are hundreds of varieties of aloe plants. The aloe vera has been researched the most and is a well-known plant that provides many health benefits. This was also the variety used in the NASA study and was proven to be a great air purifying house plant.
The aloe barbadensis are various shades of green. Some varieties have white spots or variegation. These plants do well indoors and are easy to care for.
The root ball can be carefully divided to start separate plants. Some aloe varieties also send offsets that can be separated and potted independently.
They do best with bright direct sun. Aloes should have a cactus soil mixture. You can make your own with a mixture of equal parts coarse sand and cactus potting soil. Rotate the pot a little bit every few days so the aloe receives light on every side.
Water aloe vera when you determine the soil has completely dried out. Insert your finger into the soil to about the second knuckle to test the dryness. After watering let it drain for 30 minutes and then empty the drip tray. In the winter you can nearly cease watering.
Aloe vera does not necessarily need fertilizing. If you think it does then fertilize in the spring with a 10-40-10 blend for blooming plants. Dilute the package recommend dose by half with water so that you do not over fertilize.
Corn Plant, Dracaena fragrans
The Corn Plant is a variety of Dracaena fragrans(also called Cornstalk). The Corn Plant removes formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the air.
They are not always marked correctly but the D. fragrans varieties include:
- Corn Plant or Cornstalk = glossy green leaves that have yellow stripes going down the center
- Massangeana = wide lime colored stripe down the middle of the leaf
- Lindenii = yellowish leaves with a dark green thin stripe down the leaf
- Victoria = white or cream stripes down the middle of the leaf (rare to find for sale)
The Massangeana variety may be the most popular but all of these varieties listed above have the same great air purifying traits.
Under the right conditions, this plant can grow to 15 feet but indoors is commonly 5-8 feet tall. It often spreads 2 or even 3 feet wide. They are sometimes referred to as false canes because of their distinctive cane-like stem. There is no lasting damage to cut the stems if the plant is growing too tall for your area.
The Dracaena Fragrans is a great easy to care for houseplant. Homeowners also love them because they can be grown tall and fairly narrow. This is a good plant to start children with because they can still thrive with a fair amount of neglect and abuse. Additionally, they are not toxic.
Corn Plants are not the easiest succulent to propagate from cuttings. You can give it a try by pushing the tips of cuttings into fertile warm soil and then keeping it moist. You can also try pushing pieces of the stem directly into the soil. This is one variety of Dracaena that benefits from rooting hormone.
Place your D. fragrans in indirect low light. It also helps to keep it away from drafty areas. Don’t be afraid to position it 6-8 feet away from a window. Be aware, however, that too little sunlight may cause the leaves to lose their colorful stripes.
The Corn Plant is very drought-tolerant but you cannot neglect it completely. If not watered for too long the leaves will appear wrinkled, withered and the tips will turn brown. Under watering can also cause the plant to develop cane rot. Overwatering will possibly lead to root rot. Use distilled water about once a week for the best results. If the top 1 inch of soil is dry that is a good gauge it is time to water.
Lightly fertilize with a soluble 20-20-20- or 5-10-5 fertilizer monthly during the spring and summer. You can do it less often if you prefer using a slow-release fertilizer. The plant is dormant in the winter so do not add any fertilizer then. Chelated calcium or gypsum will help discourage or remedy brown leaf tips. Following these simple guidelines will stimulate healthy growth.
‘Janet Craig’, Dracaena fragrans
NOTE: The Dracaena fragrans species (previously called Dracaena deremensis) has two main cultivars called the ‘Janet Craig’ and the ‘Warneckei’ which we will also discuss later.
The ‘Janet Craig’ will remove formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the air.
A great feature of this plant is that you can place it in almost any location. With just minimal care you can enjoy a lush houseplant with deep green foliage. The leaves are a solid green and are flexible, unlike the Warneckei variety which is stiffer. There is also a Janet Craig Compacta variety which is much smaller with leaves that are only 6-8 inches long.
These are easy to root from cuttings and there is no need for a rooting hormone. Simply push the cuttings into warm moist soil. Keep the soil moist and they should root within a month or so.
Any type of pot will work for this plant as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom. This plant does fine with low light. Bright light is also fine as long as it is indirect.
Keep these plants on the dry side but brown leaf tips indicate it is too dry. Like all the dracaenas use non-fluoridated water. These also do better if the water is not cold. The Janet Craig loves humidity so many people like to give them a light mist every day.
In the spring and summer fertilize monthly. Many people have success using 20-20-20 fertilizer but at half strength.
Red-edged Dracaena, Dracaena marginata
The Red-edged Dracaena (also called Dragon Tree) removes formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, xylene and toluene from the air.
There are dozens of Dracaena varieties and several cultivars. The Red-edged Dracaena, Dracaena marginata (synonym Dracaena reflexa) is unique with a beautiful reddish-purple along the edges of its green leaves. There is also a Bicolor variety with green and red stripes and a Tricolor variety that has an ivory stripe down the center of each leaf.
It makes for an excellent houseplant that is easy to care for. This plant grows slowly but eventually can reach as tall as 15 feet so plan on a room with high ceilings if you intend on keeping this for many years. With the right conditions, it will grow to about 3 to 8 feet wide.
It is very easy to propagate the D. marginata from cuttings. It takes approximately three weeks for each cutting to sprout its roots. You do not need to use a rooting hormone with these cuttings.
It grows well with loose well-drained organic fertile soil but can actually withstand almost any type of soil you choose. The Red-edged dracaena will do best with moderate light but can survive with low light. Multiple plants should be a minimum of 3 feet apart.
Although it is drought-tolerant these plants do better with at least moderate watering. Water once or twice a week and keep the soil evenly moist. It is sensitive to fluoride so try to use non-fluoridated or distilled water.
Lightly fertilize with a slow-release 10-10-10- or 8-8-8 fertilizer in the early spring and later in the summer. This is all you need to encourage healthy growth.
NOTE: There are over 40 varieties of Dracaena plants. The four we discuss in this article were the best plants for purifying indoor air. Of the four varieties of dracaena that we review the Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata) removes the most toxins from your environment. It would be the superior choice for air purification among the dracaena plants.
‘Warneckii’, Dracaena fragrans
The ‘Warneckii’ (sometimes spelled ‘Warneckei’) removes formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the air.
The ‘Warneckii’ is a cultivar of Dracaena fragrans which in the past was designated Dracaena deremensis. It has stiff leaves striped in green, gray or white. It often has the colored stripes along the border of its leaves. This is one of the shorter dracaenas and grows only to about 4 feet tall.
These root easily from cuttings and without any need for a rooting hormone. Gently push the tip cuttings into warm moist soil. Keep the soil moist and within a month they should root.
Place these plants where they receive moderate to bright indirect light. The plant needs more light if the leaves turn pale or the variegation starts to fade. Warneckii’s are very sensitive to fluoride so avoid any potting soil with perlite. Good drainage is a key for these plants so a good soil mix would be one-third pine bark, one-third peat moss and one-third sand.
Warneckii’s should be kept relatively dry but increase the watering schedule if you see the leaves turning brown. Frequently mist these plants lightly because they need some humidity to thrive.
About once a month in spring and the summer use 5-10-5 or 6-6-6 fertilizer for Warneckei plants. Avoid superphosphate or any other fertilizer that contains fluoride.
Snake Plant, Sansevieria trifasciata
Snake Plant (also called Mother-In-Law’s Tongue) will effectively clean the air of benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.
These plants are extremely easy to grow since they are durable and tough. They can survive partial neglect and poor watering schedules. This Mother-In-Law Tongue plant also thrives in small pots. Some say it is almost impossible to kill a Sansevieria trifasciata.
Start with a green healthy leaf and cut it into 2 or 3 sections. Press the cuttings into the potting soil making sure you point the top of the leaf upwards. It also works well to simply take cuttings and root them in water.
The root system is shallow so you can use a pot that is wider and does not need to be very tall. Be aware that plastic or weaker pots should not be used or the roots will crack the container. A generic all-purpose potting soil for succulents is fine to use. It does best away from drafts in a relatively warm room.
Thoroughly and evenly moisten the soil with water. Water in the spring and continue through the fall. Only water when the soil is dry to your touch. If possible avoid getting water on the foliage of the Sansevieria trifasciata’s.
The best fertilizer would be a liquid 8-8-8 or a 10-10-10 and you should apply it in the spring and again later in the summer.
Indoor plants help us by absorbing the air-polluting organic and inorganic harmful chemicals and convert them into compounds that they use for energy. That complex but invisible process provides us cleaner air to breathe.
Peace Lily, Spathiphyllum wallissii
(Bonus Recommendation) The Peace Lily is not a succulent but it always looks great paired with them! It is also just as easy to care for as most succulents so we just have to mention it. Additionally, the Peace Lily, along with the Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) were the top two plants to purify air removing all six of the toxins that were measured in the 1989 NASA tests. The specific Peace Lily used in the NASA tests was the hybrid ‘Mauna Loa’.
The Peace Lily will effectively purify the air of benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia.
Many people feel that the Peace Lily is one of the easiest indoor plants to grow. It has dark green glossy oval and pointed leaves and beautiful white flowers. It is able to grow in low to moderate light conditions. It will thrive with any basic houseplant potting mix as long as it is well-drained loose soil. Every one or two years you may need to repot the plant in a pot that is a couple of inches larger.
There are dozens of hybridized varieties of different sizes and colors. The variety used in the NASA air purifying plants study was the S. Mauna Loa which is one of the larger ones growing to 2 feet.
The three other most popular Peace Lily varieties are:
- S. Mojo = also a large plant with bright green leaves
- S. Starlight = up to 20 flowers can bloom on a single plant, narrow leaves with wavy margins
- S. Golden Delicious = possibly called this because new growth has a goldish-green color
Some Peace Lily plants will bloom even twice a year giving you several months of enjoyable flowers.
These are easy to propagate by gently dividing them during repotting.
For the best flowering, place the Peace Lily where it can get indirect sunlight from a window that is south or west-facing.
The Spathiphyllum thrives if you let the top inch or so of soil dry out between watering. Use room temperature instead of cold water. You are not watering enough if the leaves start to turn yellow. In the summer it helps to frequently mist these plants.
Fertilize monthly in the spring and summer with a diluted 20-20-20 fertilizer. Dilute the fertilizer with one-half to three-quarters water so it does not overpower the plant.
In conclusion, there is ample scientific research to prove that there are a number of indoor plants that purify the air. These studies show that plants can filter out volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It is not uncommon for people to spend 80 percent or more of their time inside, thus, making ozone and other chemical toxins very dangerous.
The United Nations Development Program estimates that millions of people die every year due to toxic indoor air quality. Other studies show that it costs billions of dollars annually measured by higher medical expenses, increased absenteeism, and poorer worker productivity.
Using some great succulents to purify the air is a simple and low-cost way to help your family improve and maintain their health.