The popularity of Indoor plants seems to only be increasing. I personally love bringing a little of the outdoors in with houseplants. But are indoor plants good or bad for people with allergies and asthma? You can definitely enjoy indoor greenery if you have allergies. But it’s important to choose the right plants and take a few extra measures to keep allergens at bay.
- Health benefits of keeping indoor plants
- Do indoor plants really purifiy the air in your home?
- Downsides of house plants with allergies and asthma
- Which are the best indoor plants for allergies and asthma
- References and more information
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Health benefits of keeping indoor plants
Keeping indoor plants is popular for a reason. Most people enjoy having greenery around them at home or at work. Houseplants can be attractively incorporated into your interior decor. WIth people spending more and more time indoors, indoor plants can also have a number of health benefits.
- Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis, increasing the oxygen in indoor areas. This can have a positive effect on mood and even productivity.
- Caring for indoor plants may reduce stress and anxiety1.
- Some popular houseplants can absorb harmful chemicals in home air and even reduce levels of dust2.
Do indoor plants really purifiy the air in your home?
You may have heard of the “NASA Clean Air Study”2. This study from the 1980’s is often referred to as evidence that indoor plants help purify your home air by removing volatile organic compounds (chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde). However, this study was looking at the effects of using indoor plants in small, sealed areas: space station conditions. The results don’t necessarily extend to a few indoor plants in a large, unsealed home or office. Other studies show mixed results in everyday environments3. You’d probably be better off opening a window to ventilate your home to remove VOC’s or using modern air purifiers with HEPA filters instead of relying solely on plants to do it.
That said, it certainly won’t hurt to include some of the suggested plants in your home of office.
Downsides of house plants with allergies and asthma
Any indoor plant can actually make allergies and asthma worse if not cared for properly.
Like anything else in the home, indoor plants can collect dust and other airborne irritants like pollen. If you have allergies or asthma, make sure that clean your plants too. Wipe down the leaves regularly with a damp cloth to remove dust and other allergens. (You can also pop the plants under the shower quickly to rinse the leaves.) This is good for the plants as well, as too much dust can block sunlight to the leaves and affect your plant’s health.
Houseplants can also be a source of mould and fungi, especially in overly wet soil. We have a family member with a mould allergy, so are very careful about sources of moisture in the home. To avoid mould and fungi, be careful to only water your indoor plants as much as they need. Only water them when the soil is dry to touch. Don’t leave water pooling in saucers underneath your plant pots. Read more about mould allergies at home.
Which are the best indoor plants for allergies and asthma
Many websites list the plants tested in the NASA Clean Air Study as being best for asthma and allergies. These are great choices, but not necessarily because they will effectively purify the air in your home. The best indoor plants are ones that don’t create a lot of their own allergens. Plants that don’t flower often or which have flowers with short stamens and little pollen are good choices.
Avoid plants that create a lot of pollen (including male palm plants and bonsai versions of common allergy causing trees). Choose plants that are easy to keep clean. Smooth leaved plants are easier to dust than plants with fuzzy leaves that can trap allergens. It’s also a good idea to avoid anything toxic to pets or young children, or which can irritate the skin.
There are so many beautiful allergy-friendly indoor plants to choose from. As a fellow allergy-sufferer, here are 5 of the best that we actually grow ourselves at home.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Peace lilies make a lovely indoor plant. The dark green leaves are attractive by themselves, but when in flower they are even better. The lily ‘flowers’ (actually a leaf) are white with a yellow centre flower. They don’t produce much pollen at all.
Best of all, Peace Lilies are very easy to care for. We’ve had one plant inside for over 15 years now. Just water when the soil feels dry to touch, but don’t overwater. Feed with a general fertiliser a couple of times a year and your plant should stay happy and healthy. You may need to divide and repot from time to time when the pot starts to get overcrowded.
Don’t forget to wipe the leaves to remove dust.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are very hardy. They don’t need a lot of sunlight or a lot of water. A moderate to well lit room will suit. Watering once a week in summer is plenty, and less often in cooler months.
Grown for their strappy green and white striped foliage, spider plants also produce long spikes with small white flowers. These flowers then turn into smaller spider plants that you can easily cut off and propagate to start another plant. Or you can let your spider plant trail downwards from a hanging basket or high shelf. You’ll still need to trim the babies off from time to time to stop the plant getting too big and to keep it healthy.
Devil’s Ivy/pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Devil’s ivy, also known as pothos, is another indoor plant that is incredibly easy to grow. Ours has survived more than 20 years and a lot of neglect.
There are different varieties, some with a lovely variegated leaf. If you position your pot of devil’s ivy on a high shelf, it can grow like down like a trailing jungle vine over time.
It does need a well lit spot, so make sure it is in a room with lots of natural light or on a window sill. Only water when the soil is dry to the touch. We fertilise with slow release fertiliser twice a year. Keep the leaves clean with a wipe or a quick rinse under the shower.
Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
Many varieties of palm tree make good indoor plants. The areca palm is a popular choice because it has lots of attractive feathery fronds. It’s also known as a Butterfly Palm or a Golden Feather Palm. They can grow to be 1.8-2m (6-7 feet) tall, so will need a suitable place to feature in your room. Keeping the pot on the small side will stop your palm growing too big.
Areca palms can be a bit fussier with care. They need good bright but indirect light and the soil can’t be left to dry out too much, especially in summer. You will need to use a slow release fertiliser to feed your palm in spring time. We also have to report ours about every 3 years just to replace the soil. Again, don’t forget to keep the fronds clean.
Mother in Laws Tongue / Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
This plant has lots of different names. Snake plant, Mother In Law’s Tongue, and you might also know of it as a Sansevieria (it’s former scientific name). Snake plants have tall slender leaves that grow upright are perfect for narrow spaces. Be warned though, they can get quite tall -up to 2m (6-7 feet) high.
Snake plants are very hardy and don’t need a lot of water. Only water when the soil is dry to touch. Over winter they really only need to be watered about once a month. If the soil is too wet your plant may rot.
Snake plants are fine with indirect light. And fertilise with slow release fertiliser every 6 months. Wipe the leaves clean regularly to keep you plant healthy and dust under control.
All of the plants we’ve listed are easy to grow and are good choices for new gardeners. For an excellent guide to looking after your indoor plants and finding the right balance of light, water and care, we highly recommend Darryl Cheng’s book , The New Plant Parent. (If you are in Australia, this great guide isn’t available on Amazon but you can order it online from Booktopia here – The New Plant Parent).
References and more information
If you suffer with indoor allergies, you might like our posts on How to get rid of dust mites: Practical allergy tips and Mould allergies at home.
To see the studies we’ve referred to and for more information about the benefits of indoor plants for allergies and asthma, see:
- 1 Min-sun Lee, Juyoung Lee, Bum-Jin Park, and Yoshifumi Miyazak, Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study, J Physiol Anthropol. 2015; 34(1): 21.
- 2BC Wolverton; WL Douglas; K Bounds (September 1989). Interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement (Report). NASA-TM-101766.
- 3Wikipedia: NASA Clean Air Study