5 Air Filtering House Plants That Are Safe For Pets

Jan 7, 2022 | Home & Garden, Natural World | 3 comments

Natural Air Filters

House plants can offer a fantastic addition to your home. Bringing nature indoors can provide excellent decorative features, and really liven up indoor spaces. Amazingly, some indoor plants can even function as natural air filters, and can remove harmful chemicals from the air in our homes. [1]

Plants release water vapour via transpiration through the leaves and into the air, raising humidity. High transpiration rates create convection currents that cause toxin-laden air to be pulled down into the soil around the roots, where microbes in the soil break down the gases into a source of food and energy. Air also moves in and out of leaf stomata, which are pore-like openings on the leaf surface, and filtration can occur in this process too. [2]

Whilst it can be easy to think of pollution as an industrial process that happens ‘outside’, modern products we use every day can pollute the air quality in indoor environments. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in indoor air, and many of them can affect human health. [3]

In this article, we will have a look at five of our favourite house plants that can filter toxins out of the air. Whilst there are many other plants that can act as natural air filters, but some (such as lilies) are toxic to pets. As pet owners, we would only ever grow houseplants that are ‘pet safe’. Therefore, all the plants in this article are generally accepted to be safe for households with pets, and our experience matches up with these reports.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at out top five houseplants that filter the air!

1. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

The Spider Plant is a beginner friendly house plant that is a natural air filter, tolerant of neglect, non-toxic to pets, and can thrive in a variety of places in the home – no wonder it’s one of the most popular and widely grown house plants on the market! Native to coastal areas of South Africa, this tough plant enjoys a sunny spot where it can receive a lot of light. However, these vigorous plants can also thrive in areas that have indirect light.

Spider Plants Create An Avalanche Of Baby Clones Once They Reach Maturity
Established Spider Plants Send Out An Avalanche Of Baby Clones

Spider plants are fantastic natural air filters, and are able to filter carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, xylene, and a variety of VOCs from the air. [4]

Spider plants have thick rhizomes that store water and nutrients, and this helps them be incredibly durable and robust house plants. Due to this innate storage ability, Spider plants are not overly fussy about watering, but try not to abuse this fact and let the pot dry out to the point that the soil becomes crispy.

Aim to water the plant once a week or so, and do not let the plant sit in overly soggy, waterlogged soil. As they enjoy bright positions, summer sun may quickly dry out the soil, so be prepared to water more frequently in hot weather.

Spider plants are generally quite small and are compact growers, reaching a maximum of around 15″ (40cm) in height. Their long, narrow leaves reach out over the edge of the pot, creating a lush green cloud of foliage.

As is the case in our image, established Spider Plants produce a number of plantlets on the ends of elongated stalks that can reach up to two feet long! This creates a sprawling and dramatic display as the plant begins to cascade softly over a windowsill or ledge. The plantlets are practical too, as they can be planted up to easily propagate and duplicate your plant. The plantlets, sometimes endearingly referred to as ‘Spiders’ or ‘Spider Babies’ will often throw out roots in to the air whilst they are still attached to the parent plant, just inviting you to pull it off and pot it up for it’s own space.

Are Spider Plants Safe For Homes With Pets? Yes. Spider Plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are non-toxic to cats and dogs. [5]

2. Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

If you are partial to a touch of the exotic, then the Palour Palm may be a good fit for you! This gorgeous and tropical looking palm makes a fantastic house plant that is robust and very easy to grow when given the right conditions. Previously classified as Neanthe bella, the Parlour palm is a native of the rainforests of Southern Mexico and Guatemala. The Parlour Palm is perhaps the easiest Chamaedorea species to grow as a house plant often grown for it’s lush foliage. Small yellow flowers appear on the branches in early Spring.

The Parlour Palm Filters The Air With It's Exotic And Lush Foliage
The Parlour Palm Filters The Air With It’s Exotic And Lush Foliage

The Parlour Palm has been found by studies to be able to effectively filter the carcinogenic compounds Formaldehyde and Benzene from the air. [6] It also filters a number of other toxic VOCs, including Ammonia, Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Xylene and Toluene. Those lovely leaves are not just for show!

Chamaedorea elegans is a strong grower, and will eventually reach about 7ft tall by 3ft wide. They can tolerate a bit of root crowding in the pot, but it is wise to consider giving it a comfortably spacious pot in which it can happily spread it’s roots in for many years. This will ensure optimum growing conditions whilst also reducing the need to re-pot it at a later date.

How do you care for a Parlour Palm? One thing to keep in mind is that Parlour palms don’t enjoy full, direct sunlight, and their best growth occurs in a position that receives indirect light. Indeed, one of the most useful aspects of the Parlour Palm is it’s ability to grow in lower light levels than a lot of other exotic looking house plants. [7] Light shade works well for these palms, and a spot receiving light from a North facing or East facing window is ideal.

In it’s native habitat, it is generally happiest when growing in soils with good drainage, and so any decent loamy soil is a good fit for Chamaedorea elegans. Coddling this plant can hold it back, as it really does not appreciate overwatering or sitting in wet, soggy soils. A good watering every couple of weeks can work well, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. The Parlour Palm seems to appreciate periods of dry soil.

Are Parlour Palms Safe For Homes With Cats? Yes, Parlour Palms (Chamaedorea elegans) are non-toxic, and are safe for homes with cats and dogs.

3. Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

On the subject of ‘air filtering palms’, there is another option that is easy to grow and cat friendly. Rhapis excelsa is an interesting species of fan palm that develops a wonderful architectural form. Also known as the Broadleaf Lady Palm, these plants are part of a horticultural lineage stretching as far back as the 17th Century!

The Broadleaf Lady Palm Is Particularly Good At Filtering Ammonia From The Air
The Broadleaf Lady Palm Is Particularly Good At Filtering Ammonia From The Air

Rhapis is a genus of only 10 different palm species that are found in Southern Japan and Southern China, and it is believed that the Lady Palm was bred from plant stock in this region as far back as 500 years ago. As a result of this, these palms only exist in human cultivation, and are not found anywhere in the wild.

The Lady Palm was imported in to Japan around 1603, and was traditionally used to adorn Tokugawa shogunate palaces, and later became a popular house plant in regular Japanese homes. As global trade became easier in the Age of Discovery, these plants made their way to Europe around the 1770s, before later finding their way to North America in the 1850s.

The Broadleaf Lady Palm is a fantastic house plant in many ways. The ability of this plant to clean toxins from the air is well known, with research finding that the plant can filter carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, and xylene from indoor environments. Studies have found that it is also particularly effective at filtering airborne ammonia particles. [8]

Not only that, but the plants are extraordinarily tough, and can tolerate wide ranges when it comes to temperature and humidity. However, let’s quickly discuss how you can take care of the Broadleaf Lady Palm.

The Broadleaf Lady Palm likes a spot where it can receive bright but indirect light. Whilst a little direct sunlight won’t be an issue, over exposure to the suns’ rays can scorch the leaves.

These plants can get quite big, eventually reaching a maximum height of around 12ft (3.7 metres) in ideal conditions. It grows around 10 inches (25cm) a year indoors. Whilst this means the plant won’t suddenly hit your ceiling overnight, it is wise to choose a pot that provides good space for the plant to spread it’s roots and grow in to.

The plant does not tolerate over-watering well, so do not allow the plant to stand in water or extremely soggy soil, as this will start to rot the roots and base of the plant. A regular watering that keeps the soil ever so slightly moist is a good idea.

Is the The Broadleaf Lady Palm Safe For Homes With Pets? Yes, the Broadleaf Lady Palm is safe for a household with cats and dogs, and is non-toxic. [9]

4. Barberton Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

If you are seeking some vibrant flowers from your house plants, look no further than Gerbera jamesonii. Also known as the Barberton Daisy, these little plants gives you a dazzling display of colour for up to six months of the year. Despite the name, these plants are not really daisies. Geberas are part of the family Asteraceae, which makes them close relatives of the sunflower.

Gerbera jamesonii Cultivars Provide Many Vibrant Colours
Gerbera jamesonii Cultivars Provide A Variety Of Vibrant Colours

They are compact and small plants, and their fine cut evergreen foliage hangs gently over the edge of a pot. The defining feature of the Barberton Daisy is of course, the wonderful blooms. Over the years, horticulturalists have cross-bred varieties and developed a wonderful selection of flower colours. You may often see some of these listed as ‘Gerbera x hybrida’.

These colourful plants are also superb natural air filters. Gerbera jamesonii is capable of removing a number of noxious VOCs from the air, even receiving praise in a NASA study for being one of the most effective house plants for removing toxins from it’s environment. The study found this little plant to be able to filter 107,653μg (Micrograms) of the toxic chemical Benzene from indoor air each day. As if that wasn’t enough, it was also found to be highly efficient at filtering the carcinogenic chemical Trichloroethylene, removing 38,938μg from the air per day. [10]

So, how do you care for the Barberton Daisy? The difficulty in growing this plant is finding the ideal location. If you place it in the right location, Gerbera jamesonii is very easy to grow. The paradoxical nature of growing these plants indoors is that they like sunlight, but can get scorched by hot sunlight through windows. To solve this, the perfect spot for Gerbera jamesonii is a cool spot that also receives direct sunlight for some of the day. A popular option is to place them near a window that gets direct morning sunlight, but is shaded from the hot midday sun.

If you place it in the right location, Gerbera jamesonii is very easy to grow. Water once or twice a week, and aim to keep the soil moist, but not soggy or waterlogged. Whilst it can be tempting to focusing on the beautiful flowers of this plant, it is worth making sure the leaves are healthy, as they provide a truer indication of the plant’s health than the temporary flowers.

If the flowers die, you can simply trim them off, as a healthy Gerbera will soon produce new, fresh blooms to replace the old ones. This practice, known as ‘Deadheading’, is a useful way to encourage new blooms, as the plant can put energy in to producing new blooms rather than in to creating seeds in a spent flower head.

Is Gerbera jamesonii Safe For Homes With Pets? Yes, the Barberton Daisy is non-toxic, and so is safe for a home with cats. [11]

5. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)

If you are looking for a house plant to fill a spot that doesn’t receive direct sunlight, the Boston Fern may be the perfect plant for you. There are many ferns Nephrolepis genus, many of which being popular with Victorian home owners. The Boston Fern was introduced in 1894, and has remained a highly desired house plant ever since.

The Boston Fern Is A Fantastic House Plant For A Shady Spot
The Boston Fern Is A Fantastic House Plant For A Shady Spot

This fern is also a brilliant natural air filter, being particularly effective at filtering Formaldehyde and Xylene from the surrounding environment. [2] The Boston Fern can even filter some Carbon Monoxide and Benzene too.

Ferns are a particularly ancient type of plant, and ferns are found in the fossil records from as far back as 393 million years ago. [12] Their ancient lineage means that they are slightly different in a few ways to the rest of the plants on our list, which are all much younger species.

Ferns do not produce seeds, and instead reproduce via spores. Nephrolepis exaltata produces spores on the underside of it’s leaves in two rows of round ‘sori’, which are spore bearing organs. These sori are rows of small brown patches, and inexperienced growers may sometimes mistakenly assume these little patches are insect damage or mould. Rest assured, for they are totally normal features on ferns.

What kind of conditions do Boston Ferns thrive in? Being a fern, this plant enjoys a cool spot that does not receive too much direct sunlight – medium bright light suits it much better. A North facing windowsill can be a good option. Ferns are well adapted to humid woodland, so it makes sense that the Boston Fern can even thrive as a kitchen or bathroom plant, where it can enjoy the high humidity. The ability of the Boston Fern to take in environmental moisture can help regulate the humidity of indoor areas, and thus can help reduce mould development.

When it comes to watering, there are a couple of rules to follow to ensure your fern is healthy and happy. During the growing season, (Spring, Summer, Autumn) the Boston Fern appreciates moist soil and regular watering. The fern will not tolerate periods of extended drought well, so ensure you keep the soil moist, but do not oversaturate the soil to the point that it becomes waterlogged, whereby water begins to sit at the top of the pot.

Be prepared for a slight change in the routine in the Winter however, when the Boston Fern will become dormant. During this time, you do not need to water as frequently, as the fern will not be taking in as much moisture from the soil.

Are Boston Ferns Safe For Homes With Pets? Yes, Boston Ferns are non-toxic and are safe for homes with cats and dogs. [13]

Conclusion

All five of these house plants provide a fantastic way to provide clean air in your indoor environments. Not only that, but house plants make a great visual addition to the home, and can liven up an indoor space with a touch of natural beauty.

It is also important to remember that all these plants can also help regulate the oxygen levels in your home. During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is taken in through plant foliage, and oxygen is produced and released by the plant as a byproduct. At times when no photosynthesis is taking place such as at night, plants respire and release carbon dioxide.

The plants on this list are all easy to care for, requiring minimal maintenance and attention if given the right spot. These species are house plants for beginners, that are safe for pets, and purify the air in your home just by being there – a winning combination!


See also:

Indoor pollutants and VOCs can originate from a number of sources including chemical based cleaning products, varnishes, adhesives, bioeffluents and combustion sources such as open fires or burners. Significantly, air fresheners are also a source of VOCs, and we have written an article explaining this in more detail.

[References]

1. Dela Cruz M, Christensen JH, Thomsen JD, Müller R. Can ornamental potted plants remove volatile organic compounds from indoor air? A review. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2014 Dec;21(24):13909-28. doi: 10.1007/s11356-014-3240-x. Epub 2014 Jul 25. PMID: 25056742.

2. Using Houseplants To Clean Indoor Air – Kent D. Kobayashi, Andrew J. Kaufman, J. Griffis, J. McConnell, Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Guam.

3. Lim SK, Shin HS, Yoon KS, Kwack SJ, Um YM, Hyeon JH, Kwak HM, Kim JY, Kim TY, Kim YJ, Roh TH, Lim DS, Shin MK, Choi SM, Kim HS, Lee BM. Risk assessment of volatile organic compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) in consumer products. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2014;77(22-24):1502-21. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2014.955905. PMID: 25343298.

4. Li J, Zhong J, Liu Q, Yang H, Wang Z, Li Y, Zhang W, Agranovski I. Indoor formaldehyde removal by three species of Chlorophytum comosum under dynamic fumigation system: part 2-plant recovery. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2021 Feb;28(7):8453-8465. doi: 10.1007/s11356-020-11167-3. Epub 2020 Oct 15. PMID: 33063207.

5. https://plantsforcats.com/en/plant/chlorophytum-comosum

6. H. Teiri, Y. Hajizadeh, M. Reza Samaei, H. Pourzamani, F. Mohammadi – Modelling the phytoremediation of formaldehyde from indoor air by Chamaedorea Elegans using artificial intelligence, genetic algorithm and response surface methodology.

7. University of Florida, Cooperative Extension Service – Chamaedorea elegans, Parlor Palm, Fact Sheet FPS-119 October, 1999.

8. https://www.wolvertonenvironmental.com/MsAcad-93.pdf

9. https://www.houseplantsexpert.com/broadleaf-lady-palm.html

10. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/19930073077/downloads/19930073077.pdf

11. https://plantsforcats.com/en/plant/gerbera-jamesonii

12. https://www.scirp.org/reference/ReferencesPapers.aspx?ReferenceID=2469351

13. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/boston-fern

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Written by Keymer Health

January 7, 2022

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