Breathe Easy



In recent decades, in the interest of energy efficiency, our homes have become increasingly airtight. Unfortunately, that also means that toxic chemicals commonly used in building materials, home furnishings and household cleaners off-gas and build up within our interiors with the potential of making us sick. The good news is that NASA research found that many commonly grown houseplants not only produce fresh oxygen, they also clean the air of indoor pollutants.



Formaldehyde, found in virtually all indoor environments, irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat and is linked to asthma. Sources include urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), particleboard and pressed wood furniture. UF resins treat paper products (grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels) and are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants and adhesive binders in floor coverings, carpet backings and permanent-press clothes.



Trichloroethylene (TCE), a commercial product, is used in metal degreasing and dry cleaning industries. It is also used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives. It is linked to hepatocellular carcinomas and is a potent liver carcinogen.



Benzene, a commonly used solvent, is also present in many items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber.

In addition, it is used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes. A skin and eye irritant, benzene has been linked to chromosomal aberrations and leukemia in humans. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances and diseases of the blood system.



Most homes do not have air filters that can eliminate these toxins from the atmosphere. Enter the Green Rescuers! Plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors. Combining activated carbon in the soil and a small fan around potted plants can enhance these living air cleaners.


Papyrus, epiphytes

The top-performing plants in NASA’s study were Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea), Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema), English Ivy (Hedera), Snake Plant (Sansevieria), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Dracaena, Gerbera, Chrysanthemum, Golden Pothos (Epipremnum), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum) and Philodendron.



On average, for every 100 s.f. of living space, one 6-8 inch potted plant improves air quality. Adding these easy-care plants to your home won’t take much of your time and will reward you many times over. Pick up a few and start breathing easier!

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
This entry was posted in Country Gardening, My Photos and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

106 Responses to Breathe Easy

  1. Timely post, Eliza. We had more insulation blown in a couple of months ago, have the pellet stove roaring all day, and pull the warm window curtains down at night. I’m looking around right now trying to figure out if I could add a couple more plants.🙂

  2. Pauline says:

    We have quite a few house plants, maybe I was doing the right thing without realising it! Love the texture of the Pilea leaves!

  3. Beautifully photographed and educational

  4. Val Boyko says:

    So helpful Eliza! Great photos of your healthy ad healthful indoor plants. Thank you 💛

  5. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    Fascinating Eliza. I knew that certain plants were supposed to be good – spider plants is one that I have heard about a few times, but will look into acquiring a few of the others. My indoor plants suffer a bit from neglect, but they certainly seem to do better on under-watering than over-watering:)

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Absolutely, roots need to breathe air, so better to under than overwater for sure! All the plants listed are pretty tough and tolerate relatively low light in the average home.

  6. ladygrace33 says:

    Never seen such beautiful leaf as on you first photo. I love green plants indoors.

  7. Laurie Graves says:

    Great post! Let’s hear it for green and growing things, indoors as well as outdoors.

  8. arlingwoman says:

    Lovely plants and great info. I have a few plants, but I also leave a couple windows cracked…

  9. Treah says:

    Great & informative post! I would add that the fragrance of plants, flowers & soil also heal the spirit.
    Makes even this avowed “No houseplants” woman want to go get some!🙂

  10. Robin says:

    Beautiful series of plants, and lots of great information. I wish I could have house plants. The cats try to eat them which is not always a healthy thing for them to do. There is also my brown thumb. I have killed every house plant I’ve ever had except the cacti currently enjoying the heat of the wood stove in the living room. I put them outside once a month when it rains. Otherwise, I leave them alone and they seem to respond best that way. They’re even flowering right now which surprised me. 🙂

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks, Robin. That surprises me that you have a brown thumb with your love of nature.🙂

      • Robin says:

        It’s a strange thing, Eliza. I’m getting better, at least outdoors. I started with zinnias in the scrounger’s garden and have added to it each year. Most of what I planted grew. Zinnias are easy, but I like them so much that I plant them again every year. I even branched out (pun not intended) and planted butterfly bushes, a dogwood, and a redbud. They all survived their first year and some bloomed.

        My mother had an amazingly green thumb. She could grow anything. She even brought what appeared to be dead back to life. And her orchids! She grew them in the kitchen window and they thrived and flourished.

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Your mother’s plants sound wonderful! And you’ve made a good start outside. Tending plants is second nature to me. I guess it simply requires keeping them in mind and checking them regularly. Most are watered once a week or so (depending on soil dryness) and fertilizing every few weeks. You might try putting it on a calendar to remind yourself to check them. Overwatering tends to be the biggest problem – one must touch the soil and only water pot completely (no small sips) when dry to the touch. No standing in water either – drain saucers if they fill up. Hope that helps!🙂

  11. Great post, Eliza! This year I plunged into an indoor garden and love it. I’ve covered an entire chest of drawers and a table, so they are clustered together. The air is noticeably more humid and pleasant around them and I find myself gazing happily at them at odd times in the day. Good for the mind as well as the air🙂

  12. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    Thanks Eliza! Are all those plants in your house? They are beautiful!! So healthy. Just looking at them makes me breathe easier.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks, Mary. No, most of them were taken at our local college greenhouse. They have ideal humidity and light, so they are extra healthy! I have mostly peace lilies, snake plant and ferns.

  13. Great info! Didn’t know most of it

  14. Great article and photos Eliza. I need to buy some new plants!

  15. Maria F. says:

    Great post, I love all the images. I had a post similar to this one, and I used an extremely interesting link from Pinterest:

  16. Heather says:

    So much good stuff in here! We are, after 15 years with a plant-eating cat, enjoying some houseplants now. I just need to work on their containers and I’ll be a happy, healthier gal😉

  17. Hannah says:

    Your first photo has such lovely greens, Eliza! I have lots of plants on the available windowsills but could use more windowsills on the other side of my house which has a roof overhang.

  18. MK says:

    What a great post, Eliza! When I’m in a plant-full environment I always feel soothed and more peaceful. I wonder how much of that is the clean air and how much is plant-vibe?

    ps – love your Title, and that first plant, and that NASA article.

  19. dorannrule says:

    If only my plants would live! I have had plastic plants die – a rubber tree lost its leaves one by one.🙂 Seriously, you make me want to go out right now and find an indoor plant to nurture.

  20. Sue Vincent says:

    Interesting that many of those ‘best performers’ are the most common, easiest cared-for houseplants.

  21. Beautywhizz says:

    I should put some more plants alongside my African violet and peace lily. Love the pilea.

  22. Jewels says:

    Beautiful and informative post, thanks Eliza! I love breathing! 🙂

  23. This was such a great posting, Eliza. I am looking around my house thinking we could certainly add some plants. You have given me some great ideas!

  24. Julie says:

    Great post Eliza and timely reminder, many years ago I worked in a school where every room was filled with plants to absorb the fumes from various plastics, I had forgotten how important it is, we have very few indoor plants at home. These chemicals are quite disgusting.

  25. Kathy Sturr says:

    Such gorgeous greenery Eliza! I used to have the plant that’s pictured first. I loved that plant – it was so “puckery” and fun to touch. I don’t worry too much about a toxic household since our house was built in 1876! and we ripped out all the upstairs carpet, foam mat and particle board from the flooring. Soon, we will rip out the carpet downstairs as well. I only use natural cleaners, too – vinegar and cheap vodka! (The vodka is to drink while I clean – just kidding! – it’s supposedly a great disinfectant.) Although of course, I would love more plants, more plants, more plants but I don’t want to kill anymore over winters. Maybe I will find a way to enjoy them summers and donate them (senior home?) before I leave for winter. This winter I have brought a few with me and they are a little chilly right now outside but they already look so much better being in the humid air!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Yes, you’re in the perfect plant paradise right now! I am cognizant of the dangers of chemicals so use vinegar as well – it cleans the best, I think, and baking soda and borax work well, too. I stay away from fragrances other than natural oils. Tougher to get around is upholstered furniture, but most of ours is no longer new. Hopefully, the plants I have are taking care of the traces!

  26. Brian Skeys says:

    A very informative post Eliza, we have quite a few orchids in the house, I don’t know had good they are. Where would man be without plants and insects?

  27. Spy Garden says:

    Thank you so much for this information! Going to the nursery ASAP;)

  28. I am definitely using this as an excuse to purchase more plants for the house (and my office) – thank you!

  29. Pingback: Breathe Easy | oshriradhekrishnabole

  30. Interesting. Over the years I’ve given up on the traditional list of house plants (because I am an intermittent waterer), so mostly I have succulents and orchids. I doubt that they are so great at cleaning up the air? The textures in your pictures make me want to try harder though.

  31. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on stevetanham and commented:
    Wonderful blog about using house plants to protect against domestic poisonous gases…

  32. adeleulnais says:

    Reblogged this on firefly465 and commented:
    Very important advice about improving your living quality.

  33. adeleulnais says:

    Reblogged. Very important advice on how to create a healthier living space. Thank you so much for posting.

  34. Fascinating post. Living on a boat, we have to keep our vents free, and try to air our home as often as possible to prevent the build up of condensation, mold and mildew. We got through last winter without so much as a sniffle, but when we went to look after our friend for a week, we both had constant headaches and had colds by the time we got back. Modern homes nearly all have double glazing, central heating, wall to wall carpets, insulation and ways of keeping out draughts. You might be keeping the ‘bad things’ out, but what about the bad things you take into your home that can’t get out?

  35. Reblogged this on Edgewise Words Inn and commented:
    We all can use a little fresh air, and my husband is the King of Houseplants. Now I know why his efforts make our home so pleasant! Author and blogger Eliza Waters tells us how to brighten the environment and improve the atmosphere inside our homes.

  36. kimwrtr says:

    Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog and commented:
    Using plants to help you breathe easier. Great advice.

  37. Thanks Eliza, great post about the power of plants and the natural world!

  38. What a wonderful post! Looks like you’ve enjoyed a field trip, Eliza, to a marvelous greenhouse. All of your photos are delicious, but your last photo of the Begonia steals my heart! Everything you’ve said is absolutely on target. Plants also keep our air rich in oxygen and moist, and they are very peaceful and comforting companions. Thank you for this beautiful ‘public service announcement,’ Eliza<3<3<3

  39. Pingback: Happy New Year 2016 | Spy Garden

  40. Interesting and informative post… and nice to see some green! Great job!

  41. Julie says:

    I am amazed and tickled to have a reason to buy more house plants. Thank you for this very interesting post. Go green! Yes, I am a spartan fan.

  42. I agree so much with this great post. I am trying to get house plants into every room I work in or ever have to visit. They clean the air and sooth the soul!

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