Houseplants can help pull allergens and carcinogens out of the air in your home.

The plants you bring inside do more for your home than simply beautify the space. They also help make it healthier. House plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out clean oxygen, but they are also cleaning the air of other common household pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde.

Benzene can enter household air through cleaning products, paint thinners and tobacco smoke.  While benzene usually dissipates quickly in the air, levels of the toxin are usually higher inside than outside. Formaldehyde commonly enters home air through manufactured wood products. It has been shown to be a cancer causing agent. .

The problem starts with our energy efficient homes according to Park University Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Patricia Ryberg.

“When you get energy efficient windows, they are good at keeping the cold and hot air out, but also trapping air inside,” Ryberg says.

The exhaust on an HVAC system is usually not effective enough to get all the toxic allergens out of the air. When they do not escape, you breathe them in.

 “It gets into our cells and can damage our cells. The plant can actually take (the pollutant) and put it in a place where it won’t damage plant cells,” Ryberg says.

A plant can store those chemicals as long as it is alive.

It is helpful to think of the household as having an atmosphere. Adding plants puts another thing into the home ecosystem to pull bad things out and put good things back in.

The best choices for pollutant fighters are leafy plants with a lot of surface area. Those with long thin leaves have a lot of space for breathing on both sides. Cacti can be a good option as well because they have a thick stem to store a lot of toxins.

For households with pets, it is important to make sure any new houseplants are not toxic to animals.

If you want to add some color to your home, consider a Barberton daisy (a type of Gerbera daisy) or a potted florist’s chrysanthemum. Both sprout from dark green leafy plants and could reduce benzene and formaldehyde from the air by 50% or more.

English Ivy

This leafy vine seems to be the best all-around remover of common household toxins, including those associated with paint thinners and varnishes. It can be harmful if eaten by pets.

Boston Fern

This traditionally good house plant does not need a lot of bright sunlight to thrive. It is also very leafy and dark green which means it is breathing in a lot of air.

Bamboo Palm

With green stalks and lots of small thin leaves, this plant can grow quite tall and provide a lot of air cleaning potential. It is easy to care for and is not toxic to pets.

Aloe Vera

The thick stem of this plant gives it a lot of space to store toxins taken from the air. It also provides a natural way to help heal burns and chapped hands.