Growing Clean Air

If you live in a densely populated city, no doubt you are concerned about air pollution. The smog from traffic, factories and landfills is enough to make someone, well, sick. If you live in a rural area, although you may be free of city traffic, industrial farming techniques such as crop sprays and CAFOs may still have you worried about your air quality.

But have you considered the air pollution coming from your living room? Yes, your living room.  Take a look around at the furniture and decor: Your couch that is coated with a flame-resistant substance. Your carpet or floor coverings which utilize formaldehyde in some form or another. Your paint, which more than likely contains benzene. The synthetic fibers in your pleather chair. Your rug with stain-resistant properties.

We could travel to the bedroom and talk about the glue used in making your night stands, the petroleum-based polyurethane foam in your mattress.

In the kitchen, the linoleum tiles and the varnish coating your cabinets…

I’m not advocating for glass-bubble living, or suggesting that you toss everything that you own and opt for tree stump chairs and grass pillows (although I must say I am interested in those). In today’s world, we cannot escape chemical off-gassing, which is the evaporation of chemicals from an object. Even if your home was furnished with stumps and shrubs, there would still be the office, with its chemical-soaked drapes and pleather chairs with plastic swivel bases.  Instead, I’m suggesting a counter: Plants.

During my greenhouse work, I was fortunate to learn about several plants that not only provide clean air, but actually clean the air around us.  Although every plant technically has air cleansing properties, some do it better than others and are more suited to remove specific chemicals in the air.  Here is a list of my favorites, what I like to think of as the “Fumigating Four,” all of which I have had at some point in my apartment here in Korea. Don’t have a green thumb?  I’ve ranked them in order starting with the easiest to care for.


Not only does this plant heal burns I receive when I forget to use potholders when taking hot bread from the oven, but it also removes formaldehyde and benzene from your air. As an added bonus, the aloe’s spikes will discourage your cat from turning your air purifier into a snack.


Aloe, with its skin and air healing properties.

Spider Plant

Often forget to water or ensure adequate sunlight for your plants? If so, spider plants are an excellent option. These guys can withstand a great deal of negligence while removing xylene (a chemical commonly found in processed leather), benzene and formaldehyde from the air. (They have even been known to bounce back after being mown by a certain cat).  Place several of these plants near leather furniture, carpets and rugs, or anyplace with floors, for that matter.


Spider Plant: air purifier by day, tasty snack for my cat by night.

English Ivy

Along with formaldehyde and benzene, English Ivy is reputed to remove allergens such as mold and particles of animal feces from the air, making this a must-have for those with pets. However, due to the toxicity of its leaves, care must be taken when deciding on the place for this plant if pets are present.  Despite its ease to grow in the States, this plant is the one I have had the most trouble keeping alive in Korea. Ivy enjoys lots of air circulation and cool nights, something that my apartment does not always afford. Although I failed two of these plants last year, I am developing a different plan of attack with a new English Ivy in the spring.


I received one of these from a friend who was convinced she was killing it. After repotting it and lowering its water dosage, the plant is thriving, and so is the air around it. Philodendrons are powerhouses for filtering several chemicals in the air, such as, you guessed it: formaldehyde. Philodendrons come in several forms, of which I have two of the climbing (larger) varieties. One I own is a lovely bright green with whimsical leaves known as Philodendron bipinnatifidum. The other philodendron I own is an Elephant Ear, known for its dark, beefy leaves that look like its namesake. Unfortunately, I purchased the Elephant Ear when it was still quite young and the leaves were not yet hardy enough to make it through Korea’s winter. I have the bulb stored, however, and should have beautiful leaves once again after its winter’s dormancy.


Philodendron bipinnatifidum

Note: For optimum house plant health and air cleansing abilities, all leaves should be gently cleaned with a damp cloth once a week to remove dust. 

Interested in more air-cleansing plant varieties? I recommend checking out a copy of  How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office by B. C. Wolverton from your local library and listening to Kamal Meattle’s innovative idea of cleaning his country’s air with house plants.


About continuethislabor

Hi I'm Tera. I'm interested in how flavors work together and how we can work together to be responsible Earth citizens. Currently I teach English in S. Korea with my husband, but someday we will own a small organic farm. There, we will grow vegetables, raise chickens and goats, and play Catan in our little cottage while drinking good coffee.

One comment

  1. I love this. Your ideas are really practical which is refreshing compared to other blogs.

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