Despite our abundance of generally favourable weather and supposed love of the great outdoors, many Aussies spend a huge amount of their lives inside.

Unfortunately, the air we breathe in our homes and offices can often be less than pure and lead to various health ailments. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and formaldahydes are emitted by carpets, plastics, curtains, couches, computers, electronics, copiers and even clothes. Elements such as MDF, glues, paints, fireboards, gas stoves and the like can also give off toxicity.

Whilst the VOCs emitted are usually at low background levels (unless they are new) they can still cause a whole host of ailments such as headaches, eye problems, sinus problems, sore throats, fatigue and concentration loss. At best these poblems are annoying, but at their worst they can manifest into something more serious such as “sick building syndrome” which can arise due to impacted air quality and poor ventilation.

The power of indoor plants

Research conducted by the Plant Environmental Quality Group at Sydney’s University of Technology showed that in an office where VOCs were at a level of 450ppb if three or more plants were placed in the room, then the levels were reduced to 100ppb. This was significant considering that some people start feeling sick when levels are as low as 200ppb. Another British study found that a house with six or more pot plants had a third of the nitrous oxides in the air, compared to one with no plants.

Basically, the plant leaves absorb some of the VOCs but the bacteria in the soil actually takes up most of the chemicals. This means if you want your plants to absorb lots of CO2, then larger leafed plants are better, but if you mainly want to remove VOCs, any plant is fine, as long as it’s growing in soil.

Top 10 detoxing plants

If you’re interested in organically purifying your air, the following plants are considered to be most effective at removing pollutants from the air:

  1. Devil’s ivy – also known as golden pothos, fights nasty toxins like xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, but is also toxic to pets, so keep it out of reach.
  2. Boston fern – filters out the irritating chemicals, xylene and formaldehyde.
  3. Chinese evergreen – helps filter out a variety of air pollutants and begins to remove more toxins as time and exposure continues.
  4. Weeping fig – otherwise known as ficus, it’s are particularly good at filtering formaldehyde, xylene and toluene – but is also toxic to cats and dogs.
  5. Bamboo palm – filters out xylene and formaldehyde from the air as well as transpiring a litre of water a day so they’re great humidifiers.
  6. Spider plant – will still thrive in low temperatures and reduce indoor air pollution in the form of formaldehyde and xylene.
  7. Peace lily – cleanse your home of pollutants like acetone – a carcinogen commonly found in nail polish and paint.
  8. Snake plant – also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, it filters out a chemical called formaldehyde, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.
  9. Flamingo lily – known to be effective in removing formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and ammonia.
  10. Pineapple plant – produces more oxygen than most and will improve air quality.