Plants Improve Indoor Air Quality
It has long been heralded as fact, but do plants really clean our air?
Air Purifying Plants
Primary school science lessons taught us the basics of photosynthesis and how plants breathe in the exact opposite way to ourselves – converting carbon dioxide in the air into fresh oxygen. This mechanism acts as the perfect ying to our yang balancing the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in our homes and offices.
However, a process not many of us were taught in school is phytoremediation where living plants are used to clean soil, air and water contaminated with hazardous substances. It has been proposed as a cost-effective solution to improve environments, both indoor and out, due to plants ability to bioacculumate chemcials.
Since the 1960’s, researchers have been investigating the effects that living in confined spaces can have on our physical health. Anything from furniture paint to cleaning detergents in your home can give off harmful toxins called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that can have damaging effects on the air quality in your house. This in turn may impact your breathing, sleep quality and induce other allergy-related symptoms, also known as “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS).
It had long been heralded that houseplants were an effective way to eliminate VOC’s. More recent scientific findings have concluded that plants on their own would not be enough to eliminate these harmful pollutants. However, the combination of both air purifiers and indoor plants have been shown to be effective methods to clean indoor air, add oxygen back into the air and balance humidity levels (something air purifiers cannot do alone).
A prominent study conducted by NASA in 1989 found that placing “low-light requiring houseplants” in energy-efficient buildings can help improve indoor air quality “by removing trace organic pollutants from the air”.
Another study by The University of Technology in Sydney in 2014, after conducting laboratory testing on over 17 species of plants, found that “any green shoot, with adequate light, will remove CO2 (photosynthesis/sugar manufacture) and release equal amounts of O2”. You’re getting twice as much refreshment!
In 2019, Drexel University, Pennsylvania conducted a review of many previous studies investigating plants effectiveness at removing air pollutants and concluded “it would take between 100 and 1,000 plants per square meter of floor space to compete with the air cleaning capacity of a building’s air handling system or even just a couple open windows in a house”.
Plants aren’t as effective at removing VOC’s as once claimed. If you are worried about these, perhaps look to buy an air purifier. Use indoor plants in combination with these to improve oxygen levels in your home, boost productivity, improve your mental health and lower dust levels by regulating humidity levels.
Air Purifying Plants
Sometimes keeping mold at bay in your home, especially if you live in an older house, can seem like a constant battle. English Ivy is a great plant to add to your arsenal. According to research conducted by Kenneth Kim, MD of Allergy, Asthma & Respiratory Care Medical Centre in Long Beach, California, "airborne mold spores have been linked to a variety of serious illnesses, English ivy could reduce indoor mold counts". The findings from their research showed that keeping English Ivy in your home can purify up to 94% of airborne mold particles in the air.
Also known as, “mother in-laws’ tongue”, snake plants are perfect for your bedroom and one of the more common choices for its air-purifying properties. Known to help remove toxins such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene and xylene, it’s likely that you’re going to need more than one plant. Ideally, you will need at least 7 at waist level for optimum air-purification. Widely considered to be one of the easier plants to care for, you don’t have to water them too often, and can actually grow healthier if you let its soil dry out between watering.