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Cactuses Are So Trendy, But Do They Filter The Air At All?

Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Image by Marcel / Stocksy
February 23, 2019

We're living in the age of the houseplant. There are many reasons greenery has climbed the ranks of home decor: It's comforting, pretty, and connects us to nature. We can count clean air as another plant perk: An often-referenced study by NASA in 1989 found that plants such as ivy, peace lily, and bamboo effectively filtered chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde from the air of space stations.

One plant that has plenty of aesthetic appeal is the cactus, a member of the succulent family. Browse Instagram and you'll find over 2 million posts tagged #cactus, a Mr. Cacti fan account with nearly 250k followers, and Cactus Magazine, which claims to be "The Most Succulent Collection of Instagram." Cactuses may be all the rage right now, but can they filter the air at all through that spiky exterior?

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The answer, it turns out, is yes.

"This notion that only some plants filter the air, and others don't, is actually outdated," Erin Marino, the director of marketing at The Sill, a popular NYC plant shop, says, explaining that the infamous NASA study didn't tell the whole story.

"When NASA needed a cheap and easy way to filter the air on space stations, they chose the most common houseplants at the time to test (snake plant, English ivy, pothos, etc.)," Marino continues. "When they shared their findings, reporters wrote about the study but misinterpreted it as 'these are the only plants that filter the air' instead of 'all plants filter the air, but these are the only plants NASA had the time and budget to test.'"

Just by the very nature of being alive, houseplants are going to help filter your air.

So there you have it: Just by the very nature of being alive, houseplants are going to help filter your air. Now that that's cleared up, let's take a moment to go over how to care for your cactus friends.

How to care for cactuses.

Cactuses are super-low-maintenance, and they can thrive just about anywhere. Since they're native to dry, harsh terrain, they don't require a ton of water, and they can make do with many different types of light. But despite their harsh exterior, cactuses still need a little TLC every once in a while.

"Because of their resiliency, people often assume that cactuses require no care," says Jeanne Luna of New Orleans–based plant design shop Luna Botanicals. "However, this can cause them to go into dormancy, resulting in a less attractive appearance, and no growth."

If you want your cactus to thrive (and maybe even flower, depending on the species), you should do your best to mimic the desert conditions it came from, and the way you care for it should ebb and flow throughout the year. In the colder winter months, place it somewhere dry and on the colder side, and keep watering to a minimum. Then, in the spring and summer months, bring it out of dormancy by giving it more light and watering once a week or so. If you're lucky, your indoor cactus can live up to 10 years! Nothing prickly about that.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor

Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.