The Best Non-Toxic Houseplants

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Do plants really purify the air?

Yes, kind of.

But also, probably no, not unless you have either your home so full of them you can’t fit in it.

(Or you have some algae, but that’s a difficult one to fit in with your decor.)

Just don’t let them read this article.

If you bring a plant into your home to purify the air it’s called phytoremediation. It’s a real thing. NASA does it. Well, they’re spending a lot of money researching it anyway.

They’re not doing it to be helpful though.

It’s so we can live on Mars. Except not yet because plants aren’t good at it. At least not good enough.

They’re working on genetically modifying them so they do what they’re already doing, but, er, more.

How do plants purify the air?

They’re just absorbing gases, includings VOCS (volatile organic compounds), through the stomata on their leaves as part of their usual photosynthesis…thing.

Little do they know they’re taking nasties like formaldehyde with ’em. Poor sods.

They don’t do it on a scale that’s going to have any effect on a home. Even if you have a couple of hundred plants, the air won’t be noticeably cleaner.

In fact, all their good work is probably undone by the fungus that’s living in the soil.

Houseplants aren’t unhealthy, but they also won’t do the work of an air purifier.

What VOCs are they removing?

Ammonia

Ammonia is everywhere anyway since it’s released from common household items like cleaning products and cat wee. Nice.

Benzene

One of the top twenty most widely used chemicals in America, so I assume it’s a pretty major part of UK manufacturing too. It can come into your home through vehicle exhausts and cigarette smoke. Whoop.

Formaldehyde

If your house was insulated in the 1970s, it’ll be FULL of formaldehyde. YAY. It also comes from cigarette smoke and any unvented heaters. Also found just chilling in the air. A hard one to get away from.

Trichloroethylene

Probably mostly from cleaning products. Maybe I’ll start wearing a mask when I clean. Or buy more plants *please imagine that one emoji with the shifty grin and raised eyebrow*

Xylene

Paint, cleaning stuff, clothing…everywhere really.

How does this actually benefit us?

If the plants are absorbing it…great.

Although, whilst I’m glad that my plants are absorbing all this crap, I’m sure that if there were dangerous levels in the air, my plants would be dying.

That being said, if you have kids in the house, or ill or elderly people, maybe popping a spider plant or two could really help. VOCs have been linked to asthma and cancer. Shit.

My house contains two healthy, active adults and one rabbit the size of a beagle. I’m not kidding *digression warning* we recently adopted a 3-year-old rabbit called Izzy after our eleven-year-old rabbit called Izzy (yes really. She came with that name and we obviously like it, so why change it?). Let’s just say the pictures we saw online were 3 years old and we didn’t know that french lops were a giant breed. Anyway.

Plants absorb the VOCs and erm, do something with them. Hang on a sec, I’ll google it.

Ok, apparently all the teeny bugs (or micro organisms, as a proper person would say) that live in the potting medium also eat the VOCs.

But what do the plants actually DO with them?

Ok, I can’t find that information. Presumably they change the VOCs into something else.

Although I did read that apparently the plastic plant pots a lot of plants are potted in release more VOCs than the plants can absorb. Great. Terracotta it is then.

Non-toxic air purifying plants

Here is a list of house plants that are good for removing VOCs from your home that won’t kill your cat if it munches on them. THAT BEING SAID any animal would probs get a dicky tummy if they ate the whole thing. Similarly, your dog may not necessarily drop down dead if it has a mouthful of monstera.

I’d just keep the two apart as much as I can.

Alos, just because a plant is effective at removing VOCs, this is only in comparison to other houseplants. If you need an air purifier, get one.

spider plant

Spider plants

Seriously, spider plants are the fucking best. They’re powerhouses when it comes to eating VOCs in comparison to other plants AND they take as much neglect as you can throw at them. Non-toxic, but I wouldn’t let my bunny eat it.

Boston fern

Good to keep in your bathroom when small because it’ll love the humidity and look fancy af. However, they get big quickly and there are fewer things more unsettling than a leaf stroking your bum in the shower.

They also shed. A lot.

Areca palm

They’re pretty cool looking, but mine got an infestation of scale and died.

I’m currently watching a cutting my dad gave me slowly succumb to root rot (my dad seems to have potted it in a small bog). He had to take cuttings because the original had a scale infestation.

Apparently they get scale a lot.

Not really selling them am I?

*Update* guess who died of scale. Yup. The cutting.

Banana plant

I want one but they’re too big.

Phalaenopsis orchid

I keep mine in a jar with no substrate. It bloomed! Do we think the pollen negates any air purifying efforts?

Tradescantia nanouk

Easy to grow, cheap, non-toxic. Nice. Also purple. A great propagation project for beginners too.

Hoya

Actually some are toxic, so check individual hoya. Most are fine.

African violet

Apparently cats like to eat them. They’re not toxic, but if your cats just gonna eat it, I maybe wouldn’t bother.

Cast iron plants

Want one, never had one.

Swedish ivy

Mine is in bloom (yay!) and has a small case of mealybugs (boo!). That is all.

Update: it died. And it was a pilea depressa, not a Swedish Ivy. Never mind.

Calathea

Hmm. Like hoya, I’d be tempted to check individual varieties before letting Fluffy have a good chomp. Although my rabbit ate an ENTIRE Roseopicta before starting on my Orbifolia. It didn’t do her any harm and she evidently thought it was delicious.

I have a Calathea care guide here.

Toxic air purifying plants

I’m going to annotate these again, for no reason other than to a) boost my SEO and b) entertain myself.

red rubber plant petiole

Rubber plant

Oh, now I feel like I have to be entertaining.

I got my rubber plant (that I now know I mustn’t eat) for £3 from Morrisons. It has put out one leaf in three months. In a hundred years it will be a tree.

snake plant

Snake plant

Nothing to say about this I haven’t said a million times before. Except I think people neglect theirs and it makes me sad.

I have a Sansevieria care guide here.

Monstera

I have two monstera deliciosa, and I love them, but if you’re after an aroid but big-ass leaves but worry you won’t have enough light, go for a philodendron – something like a Golden Dragon is similar to Monstera but will still grow in medium light.

Obvs I have both. Smaug is my boyfriend’s favourite plant, and he’s desperate for another, even though they’re huge and we have NOWHERE TO PUT IT.

I have a monstera care guide here.

fiddle leaf fig

Fiddle leaf fig

I have one and it’s alive. I give it no special care other than ensuring it lives somewhere with bright indirect light and minimal draughts.

And now I must never move it because apparently it will go off in a huff and die.

I have a FLF care guide here.

Peace lily

These are, according to me, the most efficient air purifiers because they have big leaves and lot of them. And they grow quickly, and it’s the growth process that makes them clean the air.

Dracaena

Poisonous and pointy. But it’s pink on the edges so I love it anyway.

Pothos

Stick it on top of a bookcase that pets cant climb.

Dieffenbachia

Really fucking poisonous. To point where you should wash your hands after touching it.

Doesn’t matter to me though because MINE FUCKING DIED.

After I tried EVERYTHING.

I’m not BITTER.

They’re actually really cool plants to keep, and I’m planning on getting a Reflector this summer. I have a Dieffenbachia care guide here.

Philodendron

Aroids are poisonous, is the vibe I’m getting. They’re great plants though (probably my fave) – care guide is here. If you like big plants but are crap at watering and have rubbish light, you were made to keep philodendron.

Aloe

See Dracaena. Except not pink. And more pointy. And not poisonous to people. And I know that because a colleague drinks the gel.

Keeping your pets away from plants

I have rabbits, they live in a big pen. One is disabled and I fear she’d get lost, the other is a digger, so I’d have holes in the floor. Oh, and she’d eat my plants.

Separation is the only guaranteed way to keep your pets away from your plants.

I have an article that details various methods for keeping cats off plants, but you know how tenacious cats can be.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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