In today’s world, we spend most of our time in houses and office buildings, which are sealed tight to save energy.
Without enough ventilation, toxins given off by paint, pressed wood furniture, cleaners, cosmetics, and other materials, can build up inside – making indoor air many times more polluted than outdoors.
These toxins have been proven to make us sick with diseases like asthma, allergies, COPD, chronic fatigue, and may contribute to Type 2 diabetes, obesity – and even cancer.
Back in the 1980s, NASA recognized that air quality was going to be a problem for astronauts hermetically sealed in a spaceship or a manned moon base.
The researchers discovered that certain plants are very good at purifying these harmful toxins from the air, while adding beneficial oxygen. But many of the plants that NASA recommended are not safe for pets.
As the “Mom” to three cats, I decided to create my own list of pet-safe house plants that clean the air (see below).
Health benefits of house plants
Based on the NASA research, one entrepreneur living in the polluted air of New Delhi, India, built a large office building that relied on 1,500 house plants grown in a roof-top greenhouse to filter the air flowing through the circulation system. (2)
This building, called Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park, was tested by the Central Pollution Control Board in New Delhi.
The Control Board found that workers in the building experienced 52 percent less eye irritation.
The Control Board found that workers in the building experienced 52 percent less eye irritation than workers in other buildings. Their respiratory symptoms went down by 34 percent and headaches were reduced by 24 percent.
Also, their lung impairment was decreased by 12 percent and the incidence of asthma was 9 percent lower.
The study also found a 42 percent probability of increased blood oxygen for those remaining inside the test building for 10 hours.
More oxygen = better brain function.
How to pick pet-safe plants
So I’ve convinced you that purifying the air in your home is a good idea!
And if you want to detoxify the air the natural way using house plants, it helps to know which ones are the most effective at filtering pollution.
You could follow the Paharpur plan, using only three species of easy-care plants that NASA found to be highly effective at removing toxins: Areca palm, money plant, and Sansevieria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue).
The only problem is, two of these species – Sansevieria and money plant (golden pothos) are toxic to dogs and cats. You can check this by searching the ASPCA guide to toxic and non-toxic plants. (3)
Two of these species are known to be toxic to pets.
When searching the toxic plant guide, you can type in either the common name or the scientific name.
Here’s where things gets tricky.
When choosing a houseplant, you have to be careful to use the actual scientific name of the plant, rather than the popular name, especially if you want to protect your pets.
Scientific names are given in Latin and usually have two parts: genus (capitalized) and species. Sometimes a specific variety of the species is also listed in quote marks, like this: Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta “Bostoniensis”).
Hint: If the genus name for two plants is the same, but the species or variety is different, both plants are likely to have about the same level of toxicity.
Golden pothos or money plant?
For example, in the Paharpur building, they use a plant they call money plant. The scientific name is Epipremnum aureum but it has several nicknames. Many people call it golden pothos, or Devil’s ivy.
Another type of money plant is an entirely different species, called Pachira aquatica, which is NOT poisonous to pets. This plant has a braided stem and looks like a miniature tree.
Though I couldn’t find it on the ASPCA toxic plants list, one of their publications says, “Pachira aquatica is not poisonous to pets. However, even non-toxic plants can produce minor stomach upset if ingested. Therefore, it’s still a good idea to discourage your kitties from munching away on your Pachira plant.”(4)
NASA air-cleaning plant lists
Through the 1980s, NASA continued to research the best plants to filter air pollution, and ended up publishing a few different reports – so don’t be confused if you see slightly different lists online.
In 1990, one of the original NASA plant researchers, Dr. B.C. Wolverton, later published a book, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office.
In one of its earliest reports, NASA chose the Areca palm as the top house plant to purify indoor air. It’s also one of the plants used in the New Delhi office building – and it is safe for pets.
According to NASA, the Areca Palm is good at filtering out formaldehyde and xylene, which are the two main air pollutants found in homes (see my article on Why and How to Reduce Formaldehyde Levels in your Home.
Warning: Not all types of palms are pet safe and many different species of plants may look like a palm but are not really palms – like dracaena plants, which are very toxic to pets.
However, making sure your plants are pet-safe is more important than just choosing the plants recommended by NASA for purifying air. Almost any plant will have some ability to filter toxins from the air.
I’ve done some digging and come up with my own list of air-purifying house plants that are safe for cats and dogs.
I also made a list of plants that may be recommended by NASA, but are toxic to pets (note that more house plants ARE toxic to pets so it pays to select your plants carefully). For your convenience, I’ve added Amazon links to the pet-safe plant names in case you can’t find them locally:
Pet-safe plants that clean the air
Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
Baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Dwarf or Pygmy date palm (Phoenix species)
Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Prayer plant (Calathea insignis)
Lady palm (Rhapis species)
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta “Bostoniensis”)
Peperomia (Peperomia species)
Golden (Lucky) bamboo (Philostachys aurea)
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
Moth orchid (Phalenopsis species)
Air-cleaning plants that are toxic to pets
Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta, zamia species)
Golden pothos (Epepremnum aureum)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema crispum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum species)
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Corn Plant (Dracena fragrans)
Schefflera (Brassia actinophylla)
Rubber plant (Ficus robusta)
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Dracena (Dracena species)
Dumb cane (Diffenbachia species)
Heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium)
Cut-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa)
Croton (Codiaeum variegatum pictum)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Aloe vera (Aloe barbandensis)
Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)
Dragon tree (Dracena marginata)
Wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens)
For more information and quick tips on how to remove harmful toxins from every room in your home, download my free ebook Checklist: 10 Simple Things you can do TODAY to make your Home Less Toxic.
Copyright © 2018 Holly B. Martin
(1) Wolverton, B.C. How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office
Note: According to the ASPCA, “be advised that the consumption of any plant material may cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upset for dogs and cats….If you believe that your animal is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, or if you have any further questions regarding the information contained in this database, contact either your local veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435.”