Indoor Allergies? Plants Might Be the Answer

couple with indoor plants that combat harmful pollutants and allergens
Top 7 houseplants you can buy to help with indoor air purification and to improve your allergy symptoms.

With millions of Americans suffering from allergies each year, you or someone you love have probably experienced allergy symptoms at some point.  While most of us think of springtime pollen and outdoor pollution as the main culprit, we are actually more susceptible to breathing in harmful pollutants and allergens inside our homes and offices.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 90% of our time is spent inside.  Alarmingly, certain pollutants are 2 to 5 times more concentrated inside our homes compared to the outside. The EPA observes that energy-efficient building construction (mission sufficient ventilation) and increased use of synthetic building materials, furnishishings, personal care productus, and household cleaners all add to the increased concentration of home pollutants. 

Exposure to airborne pollutants in the home can lead to a range of health issues including headaches, fatigue, skin rash, allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and even lung disease or cancer.

Clearly allergies are a serious health issue, and one that costs the US healthcare system up to $18 billion per year.  However, there are natural, safe and effective ways to treat your indoor allergy symptoms. These remedies include regular cleaning with non-toxic products, proper ventilation, decorating with air purifying plants, and the use of a true HEPA air purifier.  That’s right, something as simple as buying a few houseplants can make a huge difference in your allergy symptoms.

According To NASA, Plants Really Can Purify The Air

There is a famous Clean Air Study from NASA in the 1980s which tested the impact of indoor plants on pollution levels.  Originally this study was designed to discover how to purify the air in the International Space Station; however, the results are meaningful for everyday people in their homes. 

The study found that there are up to 50 common houseplants plants which can effectively remove pollutants (such as formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, carbon monoxide and others) from the air.  Common allergic reactions to these pollutants include symptoms such as skin rashes, fatigue, headaches, eye irritation and difficulty breathing.

The findings from this study have huge implications for allergy sufferers.  As an additional benefit, adding in some greenery to your home or office has been shown to reduce stress and boost moods and productivity levels.

Which Are The Best Plants to Buy For Your Allergy Symptoms?

Before you throw away all of your chemical antihistamines and turn your living space into a jungalow, it’s important to understand which plants will be the best for your space.  The NASA study found that certain plants, like the Gerbera Daisy, Snake Plant and English Ivy, are the best at removing pollutants from the air.

There are three very important caveats for allergy sufferers.  First, you should never let the soil of your plant become too damp.  Damp soil could become a breeding ground for mold growth, which can trigger a severe allergic response.  Second, it is important to choose plants that do not give off pollen, which could also worsen your indoor allergies. And third, it is important to regularly wipe the leaves of your plants to remove any dust buildup.

Below is a list of some of the houseplants which you should avoid if you suffer from allergies or asthma:

  •         Any floral bouquet or centerpiece, as these fragrant displays can give off a lot of allergy and asthma triggering pollen
  •         Christmas trees are known to cause allergic reactions
  •         Fig plants can give off a sap similar to latex, so anyone with a latex allergy should avoid this plant
  •         African Violets attract dust, so could be a trigger for anyone with a dust mite allergy

Now that you know what to avoid, below are the top 7 houseplants you can buy to help with indoor air purification and to improve your allergy symptoms.

1. Gerbera Daisy

The cheerful and common Gerbera plant is listed as one of the best plants for air purification in the NASA study, as it is great for controlling benzene.  Benzene exposure can cause dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, tremors, confusion, irregular or rapid heartbeat, unconsciousness, and even death at extremely high levels of exposure.

Benzene is found in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke.  Tobacco smoke is the biggest source of benzene in homes, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  It is also used to make plastics, pesticides, synthetic fibers, detergents, furniture wax, paints, dyes, rubber, and lubricants.  Because of this, it is very common in everyday household objects.

You’ll want a potted Gerbera, with plenty of drainage holes as this plant likes to keep the soil well-drained.  In addition to air purifying benefits, this is also a plant that will reward you will beautiful blooms, just make sure you put it in a sunny spot inside your home.

2. Snake Plant / Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

Snake plants, also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, are a very common and easy to care for succulent.  This plant is great for those who maybe don’t have the green thumb, but still want to benefit from indoor plants in the home.

Their wide leaves effectively remove the five air pollutants of trichloroethylene (TCE), toluene, benzene, xylene, and formaldehyde from indoor air.

TCE is used as a solvent to remove grease from metal. Spot removers, paint removers and adhesives all contain TCE. TCE has been shown to negatively affect the immune system.

Toluene is used as a solvent for adhesives, thinners, lacquers and paints. According to the CDC, toluene exposure can irritate the eyes, skin and the respiratory tract. It affects the central nervous system, resulting in dizziness, headache, drowsiness, hallucinations, seizures, tremors, coma, and even asphyxiation. It also causes electrolyte imbalances, vomiting, nausea, respiratory depression, chemical pneumonitis and ventricular arrhythmias.

As we learned, exposure to benzene causes dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, tremors, confusion, irregular or rapid heartbeat, unconsciousness, and even death at extremely high levels of exposure.

Xylene is used in many industries, including wood processing and petroleum industries. According to the CDC, xylene can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and the skin. It may also cause confusion, dizziness, headaches and loss of muscle coordination. In high doses, it can kill.

Formaldehyde is used in many applications, for example in gas stoves or space heaters as well as in many building materials. Exposure can cause wheezing, fatigue, headaches, tightness of the chest, and skin rashes. The CDC adds that formaldehyde irritates the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and that high levels of exposure to it can cause nose and throat cancer. Sensitive individuals can develop asthma and other breathing problems.

3. English Ivy

This beautiful evergreen vine is native to western Asia and most of Europe.  NASA also lists this as one of the best air purifying plants. This is one of the best plants to have in the house, as it is very good at combating mold.

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine found a link between indoor exposure to mold and wheezing, coughing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms even in healthy people. Early exposure to mold may trigger asthma in children.

Mold spores are a very common indoor allergen, so it could help to place an English Ivy plant in mold prone areas.  This includes bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and anywhere that traps excess moisture or humidity.

4. Areca Palm

This ornamental houseplant bears yellow flowers in the summertime and grows 10-inch long leaves. 

As lovely as this airy plant is, it works hard purifying the air. The large leaves are great for cleaning the air.  The Areca Palm ranked highly on NASA’s list for its ability to remove formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, xylene and toluene from the air.

We already discussed the sources and symptoms of formaldehyde, xylene and toluene exposure.  Carbon monoxide is another common indoor pollutant, which can come from appliances, heating systems, cookers, and fires.  Exposure to this dangerous toxin can cause dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, nausea or vomiting, blurred vision, confusion, unconsciousness and death.

While all homes should have a functioning carbon monoxide detector, it can’t hurt to have some extra air purifying help from the Acrea Palm to eliminate smaller exposure levels that might not get picked up on the detector.

5. Peace Lily

The Peace Lily is a beautiful perennial and one of the most common houseplants in America.

According to the 1989 NASA study, this plant can help improve air quality by 60% by neutralizing the aforementioned effects of benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide.

6. Spider Plant

This popular perennial is an interesting plant with its 18-inch long, narrow striped leaves.  These long leaves are what make it great for purifying the air of harmful pollutants and indoor allergens.

The Spider plant has the ability to remove a significant amount of toxins in the household air within a few days, especially formaldehyde. Formaldehyde exposure, as you know, could be the culprit for your irritated eyes, nose and throat, wheezing, fatigue, and skin rashes.

With a 95 percent removal rate, the Spider plant is one of best at removing indoor pollution, according to the NASA study.

7. Draceana Plant

There are many species of the Draceana plant, which is sometimes called a Dragon plant. The shrubby versions are what is used as houseplants, not only for their shorter height, but because they tolerate low light and sparse watering.

Like some of the other plants mentioned, the Dracaena houseplant can help with those irritating chemical reactions to indoor allergens. Its specialty is removing benzene from cigarette smoke or second-hand smoke and from other household chemicals.  It can also remove the pollutants formaldehyde and xylene.

Additional Considerations For Indoor Allergy Sufferers

In addition to air-purifying plants, there are other natural ways to combat your indoor allergies.

Simple steps like avoiding carpeting and ensuring proper ventilation will go a long way to reduce airborne allergens inside your home.  You should also be sure to clean your home frequently, using non-toxic cleaners that do not give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). If you cannot fully avoid carpets, it’s best to vacuum regularly, at least once per week to keep dust mites under control.

If you have a serious allergy problem or an infestation from something like mold, you could consider purchasing a true HEPA air purifier (like one of these, which are great for tough allergens like mold).  Air purifiers work by using an internal fan to pull air through filters to remove pollutants and allergens, such as mold spores, dust mites, viruses, bacteria and particulate matter.  The filtration system is key, and you’ll want to invest in a machine that has a true HEPA filter, which can remove up to 99.97% of airborne particles down to 0.3 microns in size. This is the absolute gold standard in air purifiers.


With Americans spending more and more time indoors, it is important to understand the dangers of exposure to the everyday pollutants found in our homes.  While the health industry is investing huge sums of money on allergy related symptoms and conditions each year, there is much we can do on our own to improve our living environment and naturally improve our health.

Houseplants are a natural and scientifically proven way to reduce or even eliminate indoor allergens from our homes.  As long as you know how to properly care for the plant, and do not over water or accidentally bring in a pollen producing variety, you will be well on your way to cleaning your air and alleviating your indoor allergy symptoms in a natural and healthy way. 

About the Author

I’m John – the Air Control Guy – and I’m passionate about comfortable and clean living. I believe that starts with eliminating the toxic pollutants found in all of our homes and taking actionable steps to improve the quality of the air we breathe every day. That’s why I started At Air Control Guy, we want you to breath fresh and feel comfortable in your home all year long. Our motto is: Breath Better. Live Better.