Plants as Air Purifiers
Updated: Sep 24
By James Freeman.
Rather unexpectedly, plants evolved from green algae, which crept out of our vast ancient oceans and fortunately provided us with a breathable atmosphere. This enabled us to grow up big and smart, and then get all industrialised so I could write this.
Since our existence on Earth depends upon a life support system involving an intricate relationship with plants and their associated microorganisms, it seems obvious that when we attempt to isolate ourselves in tightly sealed buildings away from this ecological system, problems will arise. (Think of the last time you got on a Ryan Air flight)
Carpeting, plastics and cleaning agents can emit volatile organic compounds (VOC), leading to conditions like sick building syndrome and building related illness.
But guess what, plants are here to save us from ourselves. They can’t fix Trump, but they can improve our indoor air quality (IAQ). They can even help breakdown and absorb VOC found in our homes and workplaces, such as formaldehyde and benzene. We can also look to plants for help even whilst we sleep.
Here’s just a few examples that I like the look of;
Sansevieria trifasciata (Mother in law's tongue) are great for our bedrooms as they convert our waste carbon dioxide into oxygen at night time, and they’re pretty much indestructible. NASA also tells me they absorb xylene, toluene and formaldehyde.
Dypsis lutescencs (Areca palm), another great plant to improve IAQ. They absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen during the day, due to their day/night cycle being opposite to that of S. trifasciata. Additionally, when correctly watered they can act as a humidifier.
Epipremnum aureum (Devil’s Ivy) is good for oxygen production and particularly good at absorbing formaldehyde.
Improved air quality has been proven to help increase cognitive abilities and who wouldn’t want that. Correctly ventilated buildings will also do this but plants don’t require plugging into the grid. Plants also don’t tend to mimic their mechanical alternatives ugliness.
Now having pointed out a couple of choice plants for serving us well, I am a stickler for getting plants based on their aesthetics and their suitability for your space. If you’re trying to convince your office boss for better IAQ, then go ahead and suggest getting loads of the plants listed, and big ones at that. Plants with more surface area will absorb unwanted molecules from the air faster and more completely than plants with less. The office may end up requiring less energy and the greenery will create happier quick-thinking employees. Check out The COGfx Study for more information.
However, if the plants are for your home, and you don’t live in a polluted metropolis. I would suggest to just buy plants that can make you happy. Most people won’t be able to ‘grow’ more oxygen than the plants down the road are producing already, and open windows/doors can counteract the ability of your house plants air purity work very quickly.
Of course, it’s not all down to the plants either, the microbes in the dirt are doing a great job of absorbing VOC too. There’s one NASA test that cited that a pot of soil alone absorbed as much as a third of what the potted plant could. So, in theory even a fake plant in real soil could help out. Although please do not take that as a suggestion, fake plants are the worst!
Click here to browse our collection of air purifying plants.