Do Indoor Plants Purify the Air?

Do Indoor Plants Purify the Air?

Your indoor plants aren't just a feast for the eyes; they’re a breath of fresh air, literally! If you’ve ever wondered whether houseplants really improve the air quality in your home, how many you’d need to purify your bedroom air, or which plants are best at pulling toxins from the air in your home…then buckle up plant friends, I’m about to answer those questions and more!
Do Plants Purify Our Air? on an image of a room vingette with plants and a sofa

Do indoor plants improve indoor air quality?

Well, yes. And no. It’s complicated! Most of the information found on the internet about the ability of plants to filer toxins from our air originally stems from a NASA study published in 1989. They found plants filter air pretty efficiently…under the specific, controlled, and closed environment of their test.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to our homes. Unless you’re reading this blog post from some future time and living on a space station! There are a lot of reasons our home environments will have a different result from the NASA tests.

Our homes are not a closed environment. Unless you’re an engineer, you probably don’t know (I didn’t) that there are some complex formulas and processes that control the quality of air in your home. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers set ventilation standards for most indoor spaces and this will usually have far more of an impact on air quality than your houseplants.

The plants in lab tests are grown in ideal conditions, so their planty processes will perform at optimal levels. But in our homes, plants are typically not in ideal growing conditions, so their ability to scrub our air is hampered.

A third factor is the quantity of plants in the space. Translating small, contained lab spaces to a larger living environment just doesn’t work. The American Lung Association says, “As a reviewer from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explained in a 1992 memo on the NASA study, ‘to achieve the same pollutant removal rate reached in the NASA chamber study’ would require having ‘680 plants in a typical house.’” And some newer research says that the number of plants needed would be far higher than that.

From a plant collector’s perspective, 680 or even 1,000 plants in a home aren’t actually out of the realm of possibility, but the average plant parent wouldn’t have enough plants to make an appreciable difference. Newer studies show that you'd need way more plants than could fit in even the most devoted (or obsessed) collector's home.

So, while yes, plants can filter toxins from the air, there are other ways to more dramatically affect the air quality in your home.

Unless, of course, you’re looking for justification for buying thousands of new plants. In that case, far be it from me to stop your jungle fever! And they certainly will add to the health of your air.

How do plants purify the air and what toxins do they remove?

Plants affect air quality in several ways. They purify air through absorption, dilution, precipitation, and filtration. Through respiration and photosynthesis, plants clean the air by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. But, carbon dioxide isn’t the only harmful stuff plants can get rid of! Plants can clean other pollutants like volatile organic components (VOC), carbonyl, particulate matter, organic compounds, nitrates, sulfates, ammonia, calcium, ozone, and carbonate from the air as well.

Are plants better than air purifiers?

Nope. Plants are amazing and have plenty of benefits, but don’t plan on using them instead of an air purifier. Think about any air cleaning your plants provide as a bonus.

Which plant purifies the air the most?

Plenty of websitesl list air purifying plants and the specific toxins they remove. Boston fern, snake plant, and peace lily are often listed among the best air cleaners. But, considering the information I’ve already shared, this question really doesn’t matter.

Buy the plants you love, give them the best growing conditions you can, and consider any air cleaning benefit you receive as a gift.

Do indoor plants help with carbon monoxide?

Yes, they can help. Some plants, like spider plant, peace lily, and golden pothos, have been shown to remove carbon monoxide from the air. But, as previously mentioned, not enough to make an appreciable difference.

How long does it take for plants to clean the air?

This question is too vague to answer clearly without knowing specific room details and, again, is pretty much irrelevant based on the information above. But it is fascinating that they do it at all.

All that to say…

Plants are awesome and are are incredibly healthy for us to have in our homes and businesses. But unfortunately, they’re not going to impact your air quality significantly. Air quality experts from Drexel University say that while plants remove air pollutants from indoor spaces, they do so at such a slow rate—and it would take so many of them—that the effects are negligible.

Consider that green myth officially busted. Bummer. Try not to be disappointed. Your plants do so many other things for you! Tell them you love them anyway!

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