Top 5 houseplants that can remove indoor toxins

Air purifiers too expensive? How about getting a humble houseplant instead.


No such thing as too much green. © Brina Blum/Unsplash

You don’t see it, but an accumulation of toxins are always present in your home. These pollutants contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’, which causes symptoms ranging from allergies, headaches and fatigue. The danger here is that we can’t see them – and the only thing we can do is to start taking prevention measures.

These can be found lurking in paper, carpets, plywood, paints, adhesives, detergents, plastics and other seemingly harmless items in your home:

FORMALDEHYDE can irritate your skin, eyes, nose and throat, causing itchiness and coughing.
TRICHLOROETHYLENE can irritate your nose, throat and nervous system if it’s inhaled.
BENZENE may cause dizziness, tremors, nausea and drowsiness at high exposure levels.
XYLENE can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea; it may also irritate your lungs, causing shortness of breath.
TOLUENE has been shown to cause eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as problems with short-term memory and motor function.

Most people are nonchalant about getting air purifiers – which are expensive, takes up space and seem unnecessary to many. What about getting houseplants instead? Not only do they look cooler but they have the ability to purify the air too – all at the cost of a little water, fertiliser and some TLC.

Here are a few plants that are common in Malaysia and can be easily found:

#1 Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)


Stripes are back in trend! © Mokkie/Wikimedia Commons

This grass-like, striped foliage is chic and easily found everywhere. They clean several toxins from the air, but are perhaps best known for decreasing carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels – which means more fresh O2 for you! They are also great for removing toxins emitted from most home furniture (fabrics and glue used), flooring and insect spray – like ethylbenzene and formaldehyde.

And contrary to its name, no, the spider plant does not attract nor repel spiders. However, they could be prone to aphids and mites – so be sure to keep it in a hanging basket near a window or glass door and not fully outdoors.

Easy to care: 4/5
Toxin-removal power: 4.5/5
Light requirement: Light to medium

#2 Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)


Fern up the green! © Unknown Wong / Unsplash

Ferns are everywhere, even when you don’t want them in your garden. The good thing is that they are found easily and you don’t even need to buy them – just ask for a bunch from your green-thumbed neighbour. Most people leave them be because they’re just so beautiful and iconic. This particular species of fern work well against formaldehyde; and in fact, a recent study found ferns to be the best class of plants for removing this particular toxin.

Another common garden fern in Malaysia is the Swamp Fern (Acrostichum Aureum) or known as Pucuk Paku. So, even if you get a different species of the fern family, it would still do its job while lasting a lifetime as they are very hardy, evergreen plants.

Easy to care: 5/5
Toxin-removal power: 3/5
Light requirement: Medium

#3 Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)


Keep palm and breathe easy. © Jordan Whitt / Unsplash

Can you say Insta-worthy? These medium-sized palm plants are the crux to creating that luxurious hotel holiday vibe in your home and adds a dash of class to almost any setting. The best part is that they thrive in humid areas (Malaysian weather for the win) and removes toluene and xylene from the air – especially if your home is newly painted and furnished with items fresh from the manufacturing warehouse.

The areca palm also emits large volumes of water vapour – it’s great for dry air (air-conditioning) plus it isn’t fussy about how much water it gets. Another close relative with similar benefits is the bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii).

Easy to care: 4/5
Toxin-removal power: 4/5
Light requirement: Medium to strong

#4 Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)


The large open petals are what gives them their ‘moth’ nickname. © John Wiesenfeld / Unsplash

Who knew that orchids are more than just pretty flowers? A particularly popular species of these fragile flowers are known to remove formaldehyde from the air and are very beneficial for oxygen supply too! They are one of the few plants that produce a lot of oxygen at night – which makes them a great bedroom companion. Plus, they come in like a hundred different colours!

Orchids are notoriously hard to care for – they need cool and shaded areas with some filtered sunlight. In Malaysia’s extremely humid climate, it’s very important to ensure your orchid is placed in a cooler part of your home, otherwise, they will begin to wilt.

Easy to care: 1/5
Toxin-removal power: 3/5
Light requirement: Light to medium

#5 Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”)

lily plant

A plant that’s lily, lily great for the home. © Forest & Kim Starr/Wikimedia Commons

The only plant in this list that flowers – and is a common fixture in many hotels. It is a triple threat plant to toxins since it’s able to not just remove trichloroethylene, benzene and formaldehyde from the air; it can also purify and humidify indoor air. It’s characteristic white flower and green leaves have a glossy, waxy texture that needs daily misting to maintain its sheen, but it is also super tolerant towards neglect (in other words, it won’t die as easily as those fussy succulents!)

However, for all of its great attributes, the one downside is that it can be harmful to children and pets – and should be kept well out of reach.

Easy to care: 5/5
Toxin-removal power: 4.5/5
Light requirement: Light to strong

There you have it – the best houseplants to keep your home fresh and free of harmful carcinogens, at the fraction of the price of an air purifier. You can find these plants easily at any local nurseries, PASU, IKEA gardening section, and even online plant shops like Daun, GardenShop2U and not forgetting – your aunty or neighbour’s garden.

Breathe easy, adopt a houseplant today!