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9 best air-purifying plants for a breath of fresh air

Bring the outdoors in with these leafy friends

Laurie Davidson
Friday 23 April 2021 12:19
<p>We considered how easy each plant was to care for, the conditions in which they thrived and, of course, how they looked</p>

We considered how easy each plant was to care for, the conditions in which they thrived and, of course, how they looked

House plants are always a great idea: not only do they look good and help to bring a slice of the outdoors inside, they also purify the air so you can reap their health benefits, too.

All plants remove carbon dioxide from the air, recycle it and emit it as oxygen, which is beneficial in any setting, but particularly good if you live in a city or large town with increased pollution levels.

All of the plants we have tested have the added benefit of removing toxins, including such chemicals as formaldehyde (found in cleaning and hygiene products) and benzene (present in paints, glues and detergents) from the air.

Not all plants are created equal, however, and some require more care and attention than others and thrive better in specific conditions, so make sure you choose plants that suit the environment in your home. Follow the care instructions that come with your leafy friends and you won’t go far wrong, but if you’re new to the world of house plants, there are plenty of hardy examples for the less green-fingered among us that are difficult to kill…

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In this test, we considered how easy each plant was to care for, the conditions in which they thrived and, of course, how they looked.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Patch Plants kentia palm (Howea forsteriana)

The kentia palm (also known as a thatch palm or paradise palm) oozes tropical vibes thanks to its flat, pointed fronds. The plant we had was pretty big, over 1.5m tall, so was definitely best suited to being placed on the floor. Smaller versions are still fairly tall as they start from around 1m, so we’d put them on the floor too, or in a raised floor-standing pot, rather than on a shelf or side table. Despite its size it is a slow grower, so it’ll only need repotting after several years, rather than months. It prefers moist air, with lots of light but not direct sunlight, and needs watering around once a week, though a few unseasonably warm days meant we watered ours twice in 10 days. Hardly a chore.

Bloombox Club dragon tree (dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’)

Best for: Cold spaces

We loved the white-striped leaves on this dragon tree, and its full, lush looks. It’s a fairly hardy plant that can withstand temperatures as low as 10C, so we placed it in a corner of a living room next to a slightly draughty vent to see how it would fare. Absolutely nothing happened, which is exactly what we’d hoped for. It thrives in full sun (though not direct sunlight) and only needs watering when the top of the soil feels dry to touch. It’s probably a little too big to put on a shelf or side table; in a raised plant pot is where it looks its best.

Leaf Envy peach flamingo flower (anthurium ‘joli peach’)

Best for: A splash of colour

If ever there were a plant made for the home office – somewhere you’re confined to for several hours a day – the peach flamingo flower is it. You can look at it all day and smile every time it catches your eye. The big, glossy green leaves and pale coral, cupped centre leaf are wonderfully contrasting, the perfect colours for spring, and it’s small enough to pop on a large desk, or a shelf if space doesn’t allow. It thrives best in a mixture of light and shade and only needs watering around once a week when the top of the soil becomes dry. A really pretty plant.

Hortology aloe vera (aloe barbadensis miller)

Best for: Forgetful waterers

As a succulent, aloe vera can practically be neglected and it’ll still survive as it stores most of the water it takes up in its spiky, fleshy leaves. We decided to put this to the test and haven’t watered our aloe for a good few weeks; its leaves are still a vibrant green, pointing skywards and give a little when pressed between our finger and thumb, indicating there is still plenty of water present. Overwatering is a problem, though, as are draughts, so keep it in a warm, sunny spot – ours was happy on a side table near a window – and water sparingly. As they grow, aloe plants can become fairly heavy, so make sure it’s in a sturdy pot to counter its increasing weight.

Dobbies spider plant (chlorophytum comosum ‘variegatum’)

Best for: Inquisitive pets

Small yet perfectly formed, the spider plant gets its name from its many winding leaves that droop down as they grow and often curl up around themselves, akin to a spider’s splayed legs. These plants rarely grow more than 20cm high, so are best suited to narrow shelves, small side tables and other compact spaces. They prefer bright, but not direct, sunlight and moist, but not soggy, soil – ours was watered roughly every six days. Unlike a lot of the plants on our list, the spider plant is completely safe for dogs and cats, so the only thing you have to worry about is your furry friend knocking it over which, thankfully, won’t require a trip to the vets. A great entry-level plant for a low price.

Next Flowers peace lily (spathiphyllum)

Best for: Shady spots

Probably the most elegant of all the plants in our test, the peace lily has glossy green leaves with prominent ridges and a contrasting white spathe with a spiky-looking spadex. While it grows well in indirect light, it also adapts well to shade, so consider a peace lily for a darker spot in your home, though it will struggle if the temperate drops much below 10C. Keep the soil moist and you won’t go far wrong – drooping flowers are a good visual indicator that it needs a drink. Our 40cm-tall plant (including the pot) was placed on a shady console table in the hallway and has fared well. We chose this spot because it’s a place that this tester’s cats do not venture into, an important consideration as the peace lily is toxic if ingested by cats and dogs.

The Little Botanical snake plant (sansevieria)

Best for: Mixed conditions

Like most of the plants in our round-up, the snake plant (also brilliantly nicknamed mother-in-law’s tongue) doesn’t require much watering, only when the soil is dry. For our test, that has meant once every 12 days or so, which should drop to around once a month in the cooler winter months. As a rule of thumb, these succulents do best in moderate sunlight but are also fine in spaces with low light, full sunlight and even draughts. As a result, it’s a great choice for spots that see varying conditions. It’s a handsome-looking plant, with gorgeous markings on its leaves and a wavy, upright habit that looks a little like dancing flames. It’s not too big, either, and ours sat happily on a floating shelf surrounded by books.

Beards & Daisies dragon tree (dracaena maginata)

Best for: Bathrooms

Another dragon tree, but a different variety to the other example in our test, and therefore it has different qualities. Its bamboo-like trunk and spiky green leaves conjure up images of a jungle, so it’s unsurprising that this species of dragon tree benefits from having its leaves misted and is a great choice for a bathroom. It prefers bright but indirect light, so we placed it in our windowed bathroom on a shelf, but taller ones (they can grow up to 6ft) would look better placed on the floor. Despite thriving in humid conditions, dracaena maginata only needs watering when the top layer of soil dries out.

Oxy-plants English ivy (hedera helix)

Best for: A trailing effect

Ideal for windowsills, shelves and indoor hanging baskets, English ivy’s trump card is its ability to create a stunning cascading effect that lends a subtle wild look to wherever it’s placed. Of all the plants we’ve tested, this required the most frequent watering (about once every five days; it is used to the English weather, after all!), but it’s still by no means demanding. As far as light levels go, English ivy will cope with most conditions that are thrown at it, but prefers bright, indirect sunlight. If you want to stimulate growth, place it in moderate to full shade from time to time. Otherwise, place it on top of a tall cabinet, like we did, and wait for the leaves to slowly tumble down the sides. For less than a tenner, you can’t really go wrong.

The verdict: Air purifying plants

For sheer impact and its wonderfully tropical feel, the kentia palm gets a big thumbs up, though the absolutely lovely and very affordable peach flamingo flower gave it a good run for its money. Yes, the kentia palm is a little more expensive than some of the others we tested, but you get a lot of plant for your money as it just keeps on growing and will last for years and years. And for hassle-free care and quirky looks, the snake plant deserves an honourable mention. Any plant that can adapt this well to changeable conditions is a definite plus.

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If you don’t trust yourself with being a real plant parent, check out our review of the best dried flowers

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