Can Certain Plants Actually Purify the Air in Your Home?
Houseplants have been hyped for decades for their ability to purify the air. But is it really true? The short (and more confusing) answer: yes and no. A 1989 study by NASA found that common houseplants can improve air quality by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene and formaldehyde, from a sealed chamber. But an EPA review noted that because the sample size was limited, the results don't translate well to the real world: To achieve the same pollutant removal rate as in the test chamber, you’d need 680 plants in a 1,500-square-foot home!
Yet there's definitely some truth behind the theory that plants can remove hazardous substances from our homes. “All plants ‘clean’ the air to some extent as they take in air through their stomata,” says Linda Chalker-Scott, PhD, professor and extension urban horticulturalist with Washington State University. “However, there are no miracle plants. Plants vary by species when their stomata are open and if they can use the contaminants in the air.”
More recent research found that the level of VOCs reduced is influenced by the plant species, light intensity, and VOC concentration, too, so we're not sure what plants would work best and in what type of environment, for example. And plants also release other compounds, which may or may not be considered contaminants, says Chalker-Scott.
That being said, there’s actually a ton of research that says plants are good for us in other ways. They can boost mental health, may improve sleep, reduce blood pressure, and help us feel less isolated. “While plants may metabolize certain pollutants in the air, whether they will improve air quality is unclear,” says Chalker-Scott. “Air purification, in my opinion, is a minor benefit. But their color, shape and smell create a peaceful environment.”
So, while we aren’t exactly sure how well houseplants purify the air, they do provide plenty of other benefits, including making us happier and our homes feel more cozy and welcoming. With that kind of evidence, why not add plants to every room? Here are our easy-care favorites, many of which were touted in the NASA study as air purifying plants:
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