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Plants That Clean Indoor Air, Which Ones to Choose

Plants clean indoor air

If you have an electric air purifier in your home or office, it’s time to consider pulling the plug. Did you know there are plants that clean indoor air? Here’s how they do it and which plants to choose.


How plants clean indoor air
It all started back in the 1970s with the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA), when experts identified more than 100 volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that were being released from inside the Skylab spacecraft. This fact caused them to realize that indoor air pollutants could be hazardous to the health of astronauts and anyone who was in an enclosed environment.

Lots of research ensued, and in 1984 NASA published studies on the use of indoor plants that could remove VOCs from sealed test chambers. They then constructed a building to further test their findings, and they discovered that plants had the ability to significant improve indoor air quality.

How do plants clean the air? According to Dr. Wolverton, who conducted more than 30 years of research on toxic chemicals and the use of plants, the leaves of plants absorb certain organic chemicals and destroy them via a natural process called metabolic breakdown.

As plants release water from their leaves, they draw air (oxygen) down into their roots, which utilize the air and toxins it may contain as a source of energy. In fact, the longer a plant is exposed to certain chemicals, the better it becomes at resisting it. Thus the plant thrives while cleaning the air.

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The healthiest way to live with your plants is to use organic soil and clay pots. These two steps can minimize any toxic substances emitted from the soil and plant containers.

Which plants clean the air?
A number of plants, some of them closely related, have been shown to improve indoor air quality and remove toxins from indoor air environments.

  • Areca palm: removes xylene and toluene (found in gasoline fumes)
  • Bamboo palm: removes benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene (a chlorinated hydrocarbon used in cleaning solvents)
  • Boston fern: removes various toxins, especially formaldehyde
  • Dracaena Janet Graig: removes trichloroethylene
  • Dwarf date palm: removes various toxins, especially xylene
  • Ficus alii: this is a fairly new hybrid that helps remove toxins
  • Lady palm: a species of fan palm, it is cultivated in China and popular in the United States; improves indoor air quality
  • Peace lily: removes various alcohols, acetone (cleaning solvent found in nail polish remover and paint thinner), benzene (a cancer-causing chemical found in cigarette smoke, gasoline fumes), formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene

Two additional plants (along with the areca palm) have been advocated by researcher Kamal Meattle, who explains their value as cleansing indoor plants in a TED talk:

  • Mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata): also known as a snake plant, it can remove formaldehyde and other toxins
  • Pothos plant: shown to remove xylene, formaldehyde, and benzene

All of these plants are commonly found in nurseries and garden shops and require minimum to moderate amounts of care. If you want a natural way to clean the air at home or in your office and support your health, these plants are an excellent choice.

Oyabu T et al. Purification characteristics of golden pothos for atmospheric gasoline. International Journal of Phytoremediation 2003; 5(3): 267-76
TED Talks: Kamal Meattle on how to grow your own fresh air
Wolverton Environmental

Image: Wikimedia Commons