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I know of the research done by NASA on indoor plants which can clean/reduce certain pollutants in the air. I am very interested in planting such houseplants in my house, as it is sometimes filled with cigarette smoke.

According to the above research, certain plants will filter 3 kinds of pollutants: Benzene, Trichloroethylene and Formaldehyde. However, the smoke produced by tobacco contains more than these elements. So, I'd like some suggestions for indoor plants that are small enough to fit in the house, and have the ability to rid the air of cigarette smoke (references will be nice).

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This is an interesting and very useful question. I have done a quick online search and, besides those you mention, tobacco smoke apparently contains, among others, two substances that are thought to cause cancer, xylene and toluene, and these are absorbed by the plants below (those marked with an asterisk are small ones, suitable for use in apartments, the rest, apart from the Warneck, will grow up to 10 ft indoors):

  • Ivy (Hedera helix)*

  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)

  • Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis Warneckii) [up to 4 ft, but slow-growing]

  • Kimberley Queen Fern (Nephrolepis obliterata)*

  • Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)

  • Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

  • Dendrobium orchid (Dendrobium sp.)*

  • Dumb cane (Camilla) (Dieffenbachia)*

  • Dumb cane exotica (Dieffenbachia*

  • King of hearts (Homalomena walisii)*

  • Moth orchid (Phalenopsis sp.)*

The research carried out by NASA suggests that a minimum of one plant per 100 square feet is required to clean indoor air effectively. Of course, there are other potentially harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke that have yet to be tested on plants; nevertheless, plant lovers who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke, will find these results very valuable.

Plants clean air inside our homes

Air-filtering plants

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To go with "Mancuniensis" answer, I've listed below a few more resources you may wish to leaf through at your leisure:

The report/study mentioned by Kamal Meattle in the above referenced TED talk, can be found here:

or via

Listed below are the 3 plants mentioned in Kamal Meattle's TED talk:

  • The Living Room Plant - Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
  • The Bedroom Plant - Mother-in-law's Tongue (Snake Plant) (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • The Specialist Plant - Money Plant (Golden Pothos) (Epipremnum aureum)
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According to a recent study, effectively in a home environment none of the plants could clean your air in a way that would introduce noticeable air quality changes.

From www.nationalgeographic.com, Which houseplants should you buy to purify air? None of them.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, Waring and his study coauthor reviewed 12 previously published scientific studies that tested 196 plants over the past decade.

The studies, which concluded that a small houseplant could remove a range of toxins, were conducted in labs. Waring says a typical experiment involved placing a plant in a small chamber and subjecting it to gaseous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Experiments ranged in density and time of removal. One showed that in just 24 hours, common household ivies could remove two-thirds of the formaldehyde they were exposed to.

The problem with those experiments, says Waring, is that the densely gaseous chambers in the lab didn’t mimic the typical household or office environment.

Key statements from the NatGeo article:

  1. While plants really have air purifying abilities these are insignificant to the effect of a usual ventilation one would do in their house.

    “Plants, though they do remove VOCs, remove them at such a slow rate that they can’t compete with the air exchange mechanisms already happening in buildings,”

  2. To really have an impact a significant number of plants would be needed. Around 10 plants per square foot. This is around 100 plants per square meter.

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