For anyone who regularly spends the spring pollen season sniffling into their sleeve, the idea of plants helping with allergies may seem counterintuitive. Why would you bring the creators of the dread pollen directly into your home?
Luckily for aspiring indoor gardeners, not all plants are created equal in the allergy game, and some can even help you.
One thing is important to remember: Plants can filter certain compounds out of the air. These compounds may or may not be what's causing your allergies. If you're allergic to, say, dust mites, no amount of ivy in the world is going to change or help with that.
Where Do Indoor Allergies Come From?
So many things! If your house is newer and designed to be more energy-efficient, that also means it's better sealed against the elements. So while your temperature is easier to modulate, that also means anything that's floating in the air isn't going to get out.
There are plenty of things that build up inside your home in the meantime. Dust and the ensuing dust mites; cockroaches; pet hair, fur, or feathers; mold; and pollen are all potential allergy triggers.
Plants unfortunately can't help with most of these, though some of them can help regulate the humidity in your home, which then helps decrease mold growth. But what they can do is remove some other potential irritants from your in-home air, like formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, and carbon monoxide.
How Can Plants Help With Allergies?
Rather than being your nostril-clogging nemeses, some plants can actually help clean the air in your home, clearing out pesky chemical residues and other irritants. A study done by NASA in 1989 found that plants can filter out indoor air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, benzene, and formaldehyde.
Not a taxidermist, you say, so why would you have formaldehyde in your house? Check the ingredients in your favorite nail polish. Many of these compounds can be released by synthetic fibers, cigarette smoke (even if there's just residue on your clothes), hairsprays, paint removers, household adhesives, and chemical cleaning products.
It's important to note that the test was done regarding the ability of plants to regulate air quality basically within the vacuum of space; in places on Earth with normal air exchange, the EPA cautions that plants may be less impressive.
Which Houseplants Help With Allergies?
In general, you want a plant with smooth, glossy leaves, so it won't trap any allergen particles that might be floating around and let them build up. Most of these plants are also pleasantly low maintenance, for anyone concerned about the greenness of their thumbs (or lack thereof), and don't require too much light. After all, they were studied by NASA for their potential use in space travel.
Add plants to your household one at a time to make sure that they don't accidentally trigger any allergies, and always make sure that the plant is safe for any furry members of your household who may welcome the new addition by trying to chew on it. For more details on caretaking, you can visit the Better Homes & Gardens plant encyclopedia, which we consulted during our research.
1. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii)
The bamboo palm is noted for its easy-going attitude toward light; wherever you put it, it will probably be fine, as long as it's not in full sun. If you've got high ceilings, this is a good one for you, as it can grow up to 10 feet tall.
2. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Beginner-friendly Chinese evergreens can thrive in almost any indoor light condition. However, they do prefer temperatures between 70 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit and low wind—drafts can cause the leaves to brown.
3. English ivy (Hedera helix)
You probably picture the English ivy plant making its way up the side of a building or around a countryside trellis, but it can also adorn the inside of your home; BHG recommends hanging baskets to show off its pleasant trailing. It can help remove both organic particulate matter like mold spores as well as volatile organic compounds. It likes medium to bright light, a medium amount of water, and lack of drafts.
4. Ficus (Ficus benjamina)
Ficus varieties can range from less than 6 inches tall to higher than 20 feet, so we hope you have high ceilings. The Ficus benjamina specifically is also known as the weeping fig, with slender branches coming out from its central trunk in a delicate downward arch. It needs bright, indirect light and dislikes being moved, so try to scout out a good location before you bring it home. You'll know if you've upset it because it will dramatically drop its leaves in a demand for attention.
If you have a latex allergy, however, this is not the plant for you, as it does contain latex in the plant.
5. Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
These colorful little friends, also known as Gerbera jamesonii, are an absolute powerhouse when it comes to trichloroethylene removal in the NASA study. They're also one of the few colorful options on this list if you're looking to brighten up a windowsill. Because they do flower so dramatically, they will generate more pollen, so be careful if you're allergic on that front.
6. Mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria laurentii)
Mother-in-law's tongue is the term that NASA used for the Sansevieria laurentii, which is also frequently referred to as the snake plant, both presumably due to its pointy-tipped leaves. BHG calls it one of the toughest houseplants, and its fun vertical leaves and variegated colors make it a good aesthetic interior addition as well as a functional one. Just make sure you don't overwater it.
7. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum "Mauna Loa")
Lush, pretty, and infamously hard to kill, the peace lily (Spathiphyllum "Mauna Loa") can be a friend to even the most tentative plant parent. Bonus, these plants can also absorb mold spores and keep them from growing. Maybe consider adding one to your bathroom or any other space where moisture and humidity might be building up.
8. Pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Another colorful option, the Chrysanthemum family is a little fussier than some other options on this list. They should be planted in a well-draining pot that you can keep evenly moist and place somewhere that gets full sunlight. These can be triggering to people with plant pollen allergies, so proceed with caution.
9. Dracaena Family
NASA test four members of the Dracaena family in their experiments, the Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis "Warneckei"), Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis "Janet Craig"), Marginata (Dracaena marginata), and Mass cane/Corn cane (Dracaena massangeana). These plants can actually pull allergens out of the air and store them in their leaves, a handy feature.
Are There Any Plants I Should Avoid?
There are indeed some plants that can cause allergies. You don't want any that give off too much pollen, such as elaborate blooms and flower arrangements. African violets, for example, are known for collecting dust, and chrysanthemums are a cousin of the sneeze-inducing ragweed.
You should also make sure you're taking proper care of any plants in your home. Overwatering plants can lead to mold growth in the soil, which is another allergen hazard in itself. They can also accumulate dust just like any other surface and may need to be wiped down with a damp cloth every so often to get rid of any buildup.
Are There Any Other Ways to Remove Allergens Inside My House?
There are many, in fact. And some of the most common allergens like mold, pet dander, dust mites, and cockroaches won't be solved by bringing home a peace lily. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America has a few recommendations.
- Keep them out. The best strategy is always prevention; avoid bringing allergens inside with you by removing your shoes at the door. If you're allergic to plant pollen that could be getting in from outside, keep your windows and doors closed.
- Ventilate. We know, it sounds counterintuitive. But if you're worried about dust mites and their cousins building up inside, you want to get a flow of air in from the outdoors to help clear them out. It all depends on what your allergen trigger is.
- Stay clean. Keep your space clean and use environmentally friendly cleaning products. Steam cleaning is a great way to clean your home without using any chemicals, just water and heat.
- Lower humidity. Regulate humidity levels to less than 50%, which will make your environment less hospitable to mold and dust mites.
- Prevent pet dander. If you have pets with any kind of fur or feathers, they are generating potential allergens. Keep them out of your bedroom and clean their toys and beds often.
- Control roaches. Gross, we know. Keep up on chores like doing dishes and taking out the garbage and if you suspect an infestation, try traps or treatments like boric acid or poison instead of chemical cleaners.
- Lessen fabric levels. Thick carpets, fluffy upholstered furniture, and drapes can all catch allergens and provide homes for dust mites. Especially when they can't be washed regularly.
Bringing a few leafy new friends into your doesn't guarantee you freedom from allergies; however, some plants can help with allergies by filtering compounds such as mold spores, chemical residues, and other air pollutants out of the air in your home.
Plants are even more useful when combined with a proper cleaning routine and they'll help your home look even more put-together and lush, especially as winter sets in.
Pick up a few of the plants above and enjoy fewer VOCs in your air and some lovely new greenery to help relax both your eyes and your lungs.