Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) were among the top performing air-purifying plants in the early NASA studies. Even to this day, the potency of this particular plant continues to do well in research studies.
But what makes the spider plant so effective at cleaning the air in our homes and what are all of its benefits? The spider plant was one of the most potent plants shown to purify the air in the NASA studies and was able to remove 95% of chemicals like formaldehyde, xylene, toluene in a 24-hour period. Additionally, the spider plant is an easy-to-maintain houseplant and is non-toxic to pets.
Let’s go into more detail and what makes this particular plant so special for your own home.
The NASA Air-Purifying Plant Study and the Spider Plant
The famous study from the 1980s and 1990s has sparked the idea of using plants to purify the air inside a home. Since then, more and more interiors are “bringing the outdoors in,” and the spider plant is one of those plants that has become a favorite.
It isn’t a surprise at all, once you see the results.
The NASA study found that the spider plant removed 95% of toxic substances in a 24-hour period.
Granted, these studies were performed in closed glass chambers with an activated carbon topsoil layer, but there’s no arguing that some degree of those benefits can be achieved in virtually any normal home.
The spider plant does this by also absorbing toxic substances in the process of taking carbon dioxide in. These substances are then filtered out through the leaves and roots of the plant, with the help of microorganisms that naturally exist on the roots of the plant.
Two important toxins that the spider plant removed were formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene. Formaldehyde is commonly found in building materials and composite wood floors and furniture. Toluene and xylene, which you might have recognized by the sweet, pungent smell, are often found in lacquer finishes and paint thinners.
Don’t think that there isn’t any formaldehyde or xylene present in your home even if your home or building isn’t new or recently renovated. These chemicals (called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds) have a tendency to linger for years.
The Spider Plant Is Easy to Maintain
Compared to many other houseplants, the spider plant is an easy plant to maintain.
If you’re a busy person, then this plant is definitely for you.
The plant likes bright, indirect sunlight. You can buy it as a small plant with its small leaves (called spiderettes), and let it grow into a full-grown plant. The plant has tough, resilient leaves, making it a hassle-free plant even for those who neither have time nor a green thumb.
Baby spiderette shoots with their distinct white lines on the outer edges.
It requires modest watering and won’t wilt if you happen to forget to water it every once in a while. In fact, overwatering the spider plant is even worse as its roots will rot on the inside.
The spider plant may develop brown leaves, which isn’t a reason to discard it. In fact, this is perfectly normal. It simply means that there may be too much salt in the soil, so a good round of watering with some clean distilled water should help.
The plant also isn’t fussy about requiring repotting, unless you put it in a small pot to begin with. Prune its leaves every once in a while, start with a nice-sized pot, and you shouldn’t have to worry about it outgrowing the pot.
The plant does require a cooler temperature, ideally at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep it away from the windows in a cool area of your home.
The Spider Plant Is Pet-Friendly
One caveat to many air-purifying plants is that they are toxic to cats and dogs. The spider plant is one of the few plants that doesn’t have this problem, yet is powerful enough to clean the air.
So if you have pets, don’t be afraid to introduce a spider plant into your home.
You may obviously still need to keep it away from pets that like to get their paws to play with soil. If this is a concern, simply hang the spider plant up high and let its long spiderette leaves curl down as they grow from the container. I’ve seen quite a few spider plant pots in modern apartments hanging from macrame baskets and it looks very nice.
How Many Plants Will You Need?
I hate to be the messenger here, but you shouldn’t expect the air in your entire home to be cleaned out by just one single spider plant.
In fact, you may need quite a few a few plants.
No, actually, you’ll literally have to bring the outdoors in. How many you’ll need will depend on your home, but here’s a post that can help you figure out how many plants you’ll need based on square footage.
Expect to introduce quite a few plants into your home to see meaningful air-purifying results.
What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that are too small to be filtered out by mechanical filtration systems. They’re usually the result of industrial manufacturing processes and tend to find themselves in our homes through the introduction of building materials, flooring, adhesives, and paints. Even though VOCs “off-gas” and disappear over time, they still are a concern for three reasons:
- The average person spends 90% of his or her time indoors, so even small quantities of VOCs can add up with this high exposure time.
- Newer homes are built more and more air-tight, making it more difficult to ventilate and air out any VOCs.
- VOCs can have varying health effects and some can become severe (in fact, formaldehyde has been classified as a group 1 carcinogen). Some VOCs can have serious effects on the respiratory system, while others can affect the endocrine system of developing children.
What are the other plants that showed promising air-purifying benefits in the NASA study?
Many palms did exceptionally well (like the bamboo, dwarf date, and Areca palm plants), although you’ll find that the majority of palms are toxic to pets. Some other plants that were just as good as the spider plant, if not better, were the Boston fern, mother-in-law’s tongue, English ivy, dracaena, weeping fig, and chrysanthemum.
Should I mix up the plants or just use the spider plant only?
It’s best to introduce some other plants to fill in the gaps that the spider plant can’t fill. For example, while the spider plant was great at removing formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene, it was unable to remove some other chemicals. Here’s a list of the chemicals that the spider plant was unable to remove, and the plants that you can add to create a more well-rounded air-purifying mix of plants:
- Benzene – use English ivy, devils’ ivy, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, or bamboo palm.
- Ammonia – use peace lily, flamingo lily, and florist’s chrysanthemum.
- Trichloroethylene – use English ivy, peace lily, bamboo palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, Barberton daisy, florist’s chrysanthemum, or Janet Craig dracaena.
Some of the plants on the list are toxic to cats and dogs, but you can check this post for reference.