There are a wide variety of toxic chemicals lurking in your home, and while you can take steps to minimize them, one the most prevalent chemicals in your home isn’t easy to get rid of. Formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound that’s emitted in low levels by a variety of household building products and furniture, may cause cancer in humans and has been known to trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions when present in high levels. A common component of glues that hold pressed-wood or particleboard furniture and cabinets together, it’s also emitted by natural gas stoves, carpet glues, flooring glues, caulks, sealants, paints, furniture finishes, and the water- and stain-repellent finishes applied to upholstery and clothing.
Although government regulations have reduced the amount of formaldehyde used in insulation and particleboard furniture, the sheer number of potential formaldehyde emitters found in the average home makes the chemical difficult to avoid. The good news: you have a cheap, easy, green tool at your disposal to help get rid of it. Add these seven household plants that NASA scientists have discovered help remove formaldehyde and purify air to your home for a safer, cleaner atmosphere.
Boston Ferns remove more formaldehyde than any other plant. They’re also highly efficient at removing other indoor air pollutants, such as benzene and xylene—components of gasoline exhaust that can migrate indoors if you have an attached garage. The downside to these plants is that they can be finicky. You need to feed them weekly in seasons when they’re growing, monthly during the winter, and they like to be watered regularly. Depending on the humidity and moisture levels in your home, you may need to water them or mist their leaves daily.
Palm trees seem particularly good at removing indoor air pollutants, specifically formaldehyde, and they’re relatively easy to care for. The best at formaldehyde removal is the Dwarf Date Palm, which is closest in appearance to the palm trees that remind you of warmer climates, but you’ll also get clean air with a Bamboo Palm, Areca Palm, Lady Palm, or Parlor Palm. Palm trees like cooler temperatures, preferably in the 60 to 75°F range.
If you’ve got a dim office that’s just screaming for cleaner air and a little touch of nature, try a rubber plant or Janet Craig. Both will tolerate very little sun—although they may grow more slowly—and are at the top of the list for formaldehyde removers, which is particularly important in offices where most furniture is made from particleboard held together by formaldehyde-based glues. Janet Craigs will tolerate more abuse and neglect than rubber trees, but rubber trees are a little more aesthetically pleasing.
Grown outdoors, English Ivy is an invasive species that can damage your home’s exterior and tear off your gutters, but bring it inside, and it becomes an effective formaldehyde remover. Thanks to its ability to climb structures, it’s easy to grow as topiary and use as a decorative element in your living spaces. English Ivy likes part sun and part shade, so it’s a good plant to try indoors and isn’t as temperamental as Boston Ferns. Occasional watering and misting during the winter will keep it healthy.
One of the few houseplants that will bloom indoors, the Peace Lily with its seashell-shaped spathes really will bring a touch of summer into a dreary winter. One of the best plants for removing formaldehyde, it also removes benzene and certain VOCs that are emitted by harsh cleaning products—making it another good office plant if your maintenance staff doesn’t use green cleaners. It also prefers low-light conditions and has a high transpiration rate that will humidify your air. Just be aware that the leaves can be poisonous to pets and children.
Though not high on the list of formaldehyde removers, this plant is a tough one to kill. It tolerates a lot of neglect, is forgiving when over-watered, is relatively effective at removing many air pollutants, and it a great starter houseplant for people without much indoor-gardening experience. Golden Pothos are often mistakenly sold as philodendrons, which are related plants that are equally good at removing formaldehyde and are almost as forgiving to newbiw houseplant tenders.
Florists’ Mum and Gerbera Daisies are the best at removing formaldehyde, with tulips not far behind. However, nothing worth having comes easy as these flowering plants require more careful watering and feeing and prefer cool temperatures below 65°. If you’re a really dedicated gardener, you can try rooting a new azalea plant in a container garden outside this season and move it indoors in the autumn, because azaleas can be bred to flower all winter, are great at removing formaldehyde, and don’t have to be tossed out when their flowers fall off.