Can Indoor Plants Purify Air?

Along with pets, some nice plants really brighten a homestead. You may have heard that houseplants can also improve air quality. But is it really true?

Well, maybe. Some supporting evidence comes from NASA, which was wondering if living greenery could help clean the air aboard a space station. A 1989 NASA experiment found that plants can scrub out volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and benzene. Later research showed that soil microorganisms in potted plants also play a part in cleaning indoor air. Bill Wolverton, a former NASA research scientist who conducted that 1989 study, is a proponent. Although he says it’s impossible to guess how many plants would be needed to clean a room, he usually recommends at least two “good sized” plants per 100 square feet of interior space. “The Boston fern is one of the most effective plants for removing airborne pollutants, but it is often difficult to grow indoors,” he says. “I usually recommend the golden pothos as my first choice, since it is a popular plant and easy to grow.”

On the other hand, Luz Claudio, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says “There are no definitive studies to show that having indoor plants can significantly increase the air quality in the home to improve health in a measurable way.” She has reviewed the research on the air-quality benefits of indoor plants and has concluded there’s no question that plants are capable of removing chemical toxins from the air “under laboratory conditions.” But a real-world environment is completely different, and here the science is much less definitive. Stanley Kays, a professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Georgia, coauthored a 2009 study on the air-cleaning powers of 28 different indoor plants. While many of those plants could remove toxins from the air, “moving from a sealed container to a more open environment changes the dynamics tremendously.” Home air can completely exchange with outside air in as little as an hour, which means normal circulation is far more effective in removing pollutants. Plus plants in laboratory studies grow in ideal conditions.

Fortunately for those who like their greenery, air quality is only part of the equation. Studies have shown house plants provide a number of health benefits: they can reduce stress and also make people feel happier. Research shows spending time around nature has a positive effect on mood and energy levels.

So by all means continue to cultivate your indoor plants. Just consider any air-quality benefits they might provide to be a little bonus.

Taken from “You Asked: Can Indoor Plants Really Purify the Air?” by Markham Heid from January 17, 2018 (

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