Our ongoing series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. Previously, 6sqft rounded up a list of 10 nearly indestructible plants that are ideal for apartment dwellers with black thumbs. Now, we’re taking a look at plants that are powerhouses when it comes to cleaning indoor air.
Outdoor air quality is a concern for all, but few of us consider the airborne pollutants that have infiltrated our homes. Toxins from carpet, paint, upholstery and cleaning products are just a handful of modern-day products that can degrade indoor air quality, and studies have shown too much exposure to these manmade elements can cause lung and respiratory issues over the long run. Luckily, there are a number of houseplants that moonlight as efficient purifiers. Ahead you’ll find 15 of the best air-purifying plants suited for apartment living, according to Dr. B.C. Wolverton, a scientist who worked with NASA to develop a breathable environment for long-term lunar habitation.
The plants we list below have been found to be among the most effective in cleaning indoor air, absorbing common emissions found in everyday products that surround us. Most of these are easy to grow, but some require a little more care than others. In his book “How to Grow Fresh Air,” Dr. Wolverton recommends introducing at least two mid-to-large-sized plants per 100 square feet of space. Just note that some of these are poisonous to pets, so choose accordingly.
1. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata) ↑
Boston ferns rank as one of the best plant air purifiers and they also release an abundant amount of moisture into the air which will make for a pleasant environment. These plants look great in standard and hanging planters and are generally easy to care for, but they’re one on our list of plants that require specific attention. First, they don’t like direct light, so keep them out of windows. You’ll also need to mist and water them frequently to avoid leaf drop or the soil from drying out (it should always be moist). One way to boost moisture, particularly if your apartment is dry, is to put your pot atop a shallow tray filled with rocks and water. This will give your fern additional water vapor to draw from.
2. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum) ↑
This is one of the easiest plants to grow. They work great in a hanging basket or on ledges, and you can also train them to climb up poles or walls. The golden pothos is virtually indestructible and this makes them a popular choice for many households. Indirect light and good ventilation will serve this plant well, but they also thrive under fluorescent light. Keep its soil relatively moist and be careful not to overwater.
English ivy seen in the left pot. Image by Miyo Sekimoto
3. English Ivy (Hedera Helix) ↑
This climber is another air-cleaning powerhouse that ranks as high as theBoston Fern. English ivy is extremely easy to grow and it boasts aerial roots that will attach to additional surfaces to proliferate. Put them in hanging baskets to fill voids in your home. They grow well in mid to abundant light but hate high temperatures.
4. Palm Trees ↑
Add a little tropical flair to your home by adding a palm tree into the mix. Palms are excellent air-cleaners and are extremely easy to care for. Areca palms, bamboo palms, dwarf date palms and lady palms are highly recommended by Wolverton.
5. Rubber Plant (Ficus Elastica) ↑
Rubber plants are great for low light rooms and are easy to keep alive. Thick, leather-like, glossy green leaves also makes this an attractive interior addition.
6. Dracaenas (Janet Craig, Dragon Tree, Corn Plant and Warneckei) ↑
Dracaenas come in a variety of options, but the four we’re listing here are easy to grow and can tolerate dim light. The differences between them? Janet Craig grows with a slim silhouette and with full leaves, while the Warneckei grows more lush and stout. Dragon trees and corn plants grow as tall canes and are typically grouped into three stalks in large pots. Warneckeis and dragon trees can also both tolerate drier environments.
Image via Costa Farms
7. Ficus Binnendijkii Alii ↑
Ficus Aliis enjoy sun, so if you’ve got a bright space, theses trees will do well. Lack of light, however, will cause their leaves to drop. Given their tall stature (they can grow up to 15 feet) and long leaves, the Alii variety makes for great stand-alone decor.
8. Orchids ↑
Orchids are popular houseplants, loved for their exotic blooms. But in addition to being beautiful, these lithe plants are also great air-purifiers. Most people find orchids difficult to care for, but orchids and their flowers will endure if you understand how to tend to them. It’s common for orchids to fall victim to overzealous watering, as many believe that because they are native to tropical rainforests, they need to be kept very moist. But according to OrchidCare.com, “there are three basic types of orchids, as far as watering is concerned: those that should be kept evenly moist at all times; those that should be allowed to nearly dry out between waterings, except when in active growth; and those that should always be allowed to dry out a bit between waterings.”
Via My City Plants
9. Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum) ↑
Blooms indoors, tolerates low light, and releases moisture into the air; if your looking for a low-maintenance plant that flowers year round, this is your best bet. Peace lilies also rank high on the air-purification scale, nearly on par with Boston ferns and English ivy.
Image by David B. Gleason
10. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum) ↑
Also known as the airplane plant, this lovely green sends up slim, arching shoots that extend between six to 12 inches and feature a cream or yellow stripe at the center. They’re ideal for hanging planters but also look great on side tables as accents. Semi-sunny to shaded environments will keep this plant happy.
11. Umbrella Tree (Schefflera Brassaia Actinophylla) ↑
This bountiful plant grows tall (up to eight feet—but more demure sizes can also easily be found) with branches with large deep green leaves. These plants prefer lit areas but will also tolerate shade.
12. Dumb Cane ↑
This luscious plant of beautiful green/white/yellow foliage grows fast and will do well in semi-sun to semi-shade environments—they are also poisonous to humans when consumed, and will cause your mouth to painfully swell to the point that you won’t be able to talk (hence its name). However, as long as you keep from chowing down on its leaves or stems and wash your hands if you come into contact with any of its sap, this plant makes for a wonderful household companion and an above average air-purifier.
13. King of Hearts (Homalomena Wallisii) ↑
This plant reaches a petite six inches in height and has very ornamental leaves that can grow up to eight inches. While eye-catching, this plant can be quite finicky if not carefully tended to. Homalomena Wallisii loves heat and lots of moisture but prefers semi-shaded areas. If you want to grow one indoors, we suggest using a terrarium.
Image via Pernell Gerver
14. Red Emerald (Philodendron Erubescens) ↑
Red emeralds are climbing plants with glossy bright green and red oval shaped leaves that bunch up close together along stems to create greenery with good coverage. Easy to grow, this plant thrives in both mid to low light and does best in a warm environment. But because it’s a climber, you will either need to provide it wall space or a stake to scale.
15. Florist Mums (Chrysanthemum Morifolium) ↑
And finally, the cheeriest of the bunch, sun-loving florist mums are a great way to add color to a space that’s lacking that bit of something. Although the plant is typically reserved for holidays like Easter, indoor versions of chrysanthemums have been cultivated to flower year round so that you can enjoy them even in dormant seasons. Unfortunately, the flowers will only last 6-8 weeks, but a major plus to this plant is that is has an incredible transpiration rate that makes it a top-notch air-cleaner.
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