You may not realize that the indoor air you’re breathing right now is laden with formaldehyde, benzene and other chemicals that could kill you. They’re called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are emitted by carpet, air fresheners, paints, cosmetics, even newspapers. They can cause serious health problems, including asthma and cancer, and are responsible for more than 1.6 million deaths each year, according to a World Health Organization report.
Luckily, common house plants absorb VOCs in indoor air — some better than others. Both NASA and the University of Georgia have experimented with dozens of house plants to determine which is the best at scrubbing VOCs from the air you breathe.
We’ve culled the lists to find the top eight that provide a breath of fresh air to your home:
Purple Heart Plant (Tradescantia pallida)
Why it’s beautiful: Its trailing, purple stems; long, violet-purple leaves; and pink flowers make a fashion statement while it cleans the air.
Care tips: It likes full sun and moist soil. Cut back blooms after flowering, and fertilize monthly during growth spurts.
Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus)
Why it’s beautiful: Its lush, lacy foliage adds a bright green pop to rooms.
Care tips: Place in dappled shade; keep well-draining soil moist; and prune periodically to keep it bushy. Asparagus ferns love some fresh air, too. So move them outside in summer.
Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis alternate)
Why it’s beautiful: You’ll love its cascading foliage with purple-metallic tints.
Care tips: Keep foliage bright by placing plant in bright but indirect sun. Water regularly, but don’t let roots sit in water. To provide the high humidity it likes, place pot on or near water-soaked pebbles, or grow in bathrooms.
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Why it’s beautiful: Its variegated, trailing or climbing foliage adds visual interest to any room.
Care tips: English Ivy likes bright light, moist soil (don’t let it dry out), and cool nights, making it a good candidate for three-season rooms. Mist leaves regularly, especially in winter.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Why it’s beautiful: This tropical has glossy, pointed leaves and white flowers that emerge from slender stalks.
Care tips: These stunners are happiest in light-to-moderate shade. Water and mist frequently, and never let soil become completely dry. Avoid drafts.
Variegated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
Why it’s beautiful: It’s an impressive evergreen with thick, long leaves that can grow up to 12 feet. It easily fills empty spaces in a room.
Care tips: This is not a diva plant. It’s not picky about light or water, and can grow in any room. The only thing to worry about is rot, so give it well draining soil, and don’t let roots sit in water.
Red-edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
Why it’s beautiful: This indoor shrub has globes of green-white-redish foliage at the end of single or double trunks. Can grow to 15 feet, a perfect size for an empty corner.
Care tips: Dracaena loves well-draining soil and partial sun. Water only when the top inch of soil is dry. Feed monthly between spring and fall with a liquid fertilizer.
Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Why it’s beautiful: Big, daisy-like flowers that bloom on mounds of dark green foliage. What’s not to like?
Care tips: Place in rooms with bright light and average humidity. Water so soil is always moist. But no matter how well you take care of it, don’t expect the plant to re-bloom indoors. If you transplant to your garden in spring, the plant might give you a second show.