New research shows these common house plants all absorb harmful chemicals.

By Amanda MacMillan
Updated April 20, 2017

This article originally appeared on

Want to clear the air in your home or workplace? Get some greens, says research presented today at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting. But not just any greens: The new study looked at five common house plants and found that when it comes to removing harmful chemicals from the air, some are better than others.

Indoor air pollution is a common and important threat to human health, according to researchers from the State University of New York Oswego, and can even lead to symptoms of “sick-building syndrome,” such as headache and fatigue. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted as gasses from cigarette smoke, paints, furniture, copiers and printers, cleaning supplies, and dry-cleaned clothes, are often to blame.

“Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them,” says Vadoud Niri, PhD, an assistant professor of chemistry who led the new study. Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can cause short- and long-term health problems, he adds, including dizziness, asthma, and allergies.

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Installing ventilation systems or other high-tech solutions can help remove VOCs from indoor environments—but they can be expensive, and Niri wanted to find a cheaper, simpler way to improve air quality. So he turned to plants, which take in carbon dioxide through their roots and leaves. Previous research has also shown that greenery can absorb VOCs like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde.

Niri and his colleagues built a sealed chamber containing a mix of different VOCs and monitored it over several 12-hour periods, both with and without different plants inside. They measured how quickly each plant took in the different VOCs, and how much of the chemicals remained in the air by the end of each experiment.

While all of the plants they tested reduced at least some of the air pollution, certain ones were more helpful than others. “Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations,” says Niri. Here’s a breakdown of the five plants they tested and what, exactly, they found:

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