a formaldehyde molecule

Indoor Plants Clean Up Indoor Air Pollution & Improve Air Quality

Cyclamen plant in an office

House plants can improve air quality & reduce indoor air pollution.

Plants look great and make us feel relaxed and productive — but can they also improve our health? Like living filters, house plants can clean up indoor air pollution.

What is indoor air pollution?

Some indoor air pollution is obvious, like cigarette smoke or fuel fumes. It’s not too difficult to eliminate those from your home or office. Other indoor pollutants are harder to identify and get rid of.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) include chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene. Exposure to these chemicals can cause all kinds of health problems, and they’re all around us. They’re present in the plastics, solvents, and cleaning supplies that fill our homes and offices. Obviously you’re not going to eat soap and plastic, but to get them into your body, you don’t need to: molecules of these chemicals evaporate at room temperature and fill the air. VOCs can build up in buildings with poor ventilation, leading to something called Sick Building Syndrome.

Are plants an indoor air pollution solution?

According to research from NASA, yes! NASA began investigating natural ways to clean up water and air in the 1970s. They discovered that filling a stuffy room with green plants can reduce the amount of VOCs in the air. Subsequent experiments support these findings.

Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that nothing beats proper ventilation, and we wholeheartedly agree. No one should rely on house plants alone to clean large amounts of indoor air pollutants. However, the evidence strongly suggests that house plants can provide some extra help, especially when additional ventilation is not possible, like in an office where the window doesn’t open.

a formaldehyde molecule

A formaldehyde molecule. Formaldehyde may be present in the air inside homes and offices.

How do plants improve indoor air quality?

If you think back to biology class, you may remember that plants take in carbon dioxide and let out oxygen. This function is very important to animals like us, since we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

But that’s not all plants do. Working in concert with the microbes that are naturally present in potting soil, indoor plants can remove toxic compounds from the air. The leaves of the plant emit water vapor, which drives air down around the soil and roots of the plant. The micro-organisms in the soil can then “eat” the chemicals in the air and convert them into nutrients for the plant. In this way, chemicals that hurt humans can help plants.

Because it’s important for air to hit the soil below the plant, you should remove the leaves at the bottom of the plant to expose as much soil as possible to the air.

The ten best indoor plants for air quality

In all likelihood, any green plant will help eliminate indoor air pollution. Here are ten plants that have been tested and verified:

These plants all require minimal light to grow, making them ideal for indoor environments. NASA recommends 15-18 house plants in an 1,800-square-foot area. A few plants can make a big impact in a small office.

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