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Do Plants Really Purify Your Home’s Indoor Air?

assorted houseplants on desk

Research has shown that keeping houseplants in your home or around the office can have multiple benefits, such as reducing stress, increasing productivity, and even sharpening your concentration and attention span. However, claims that plants purify indoor air have been challenged by recent studies.

It turns out that plants’ effect on indoor air quality is a bit more nuanced than was once thought.

But What About That NASA Study on Plants and Indoor Air Quality?

In 1989, NASA conducted a study to help find ways to purify the air inside space stations. There are some key factors to consider when evaluating this study:

  • The test involved three types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) but did not include other indoor air pollutants, such as dust, mold spores, and germs.
  • The tests were conducted in chambers of two sizes: 30x30x30 inches and 30x30x65 inches—controlled environments but considerably smaller than the average indoor space.
  • In those small, enclosed environments, the plants demonstrated an ability to remove the 3 tested VOCs.
  • A possible idea was then to combine plants with an activated carbon filter. The carbon filter’s job would be to absorb pollutants like VOCs, smoke, pathogens, and radon so that the plant roots and “their associated microorganisms” could destroy the pollutants (or absorb them, in the case of radon).

The researchers involved decades ago were aware that plants on their own would not have the ability necessary to provide “high-caliber” air purification. However, this study has given many people the wrong impression about houseplants for years, as the factors above are not widely known.

What Do New Studies Say About Plants and Indoor Air Quality?

The latest research, published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, has discovered a flaw in some of the plant studies conducted over the past three decades: those studies did not factor in that VOCs persistently off-gas into buildings, rather than entering occasionally.

The researchers concluded that you can significantly improve an indoor area’s air quality by opening the window or using specialized equipment when windows aren’t an option. To provide the same level of air purification with plants, the researchers calculated that you would need between 10 to 1,000 plants for every 10.7 square feet of floor space. Talk about an urban jungle!

So How Do I Effectively Purify My Indoor Air?

One of the best things you can do for your home is routinely open your windows. This allows your home to vent out built-up concentrations of VOCs, dust, mold spores, and byproducts from combustion appliances. It also helps to consistently use your kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans to suck out the moisture from these humid areas so that you can prevent mold problems.

For advanced air purification, you may want to consider specialized equipment, as mentioned in the study, such as a HEPA filter, UV light system, or air scrubber. Many homeowners find success with products like the HALO air scrubber, a whole-home air purification system that works with a home’s existing HVAC system. The air scrubber produces hydrogen peroxide molecules, which travel throughout the home and eliminate bacteria, mold spores, and viruses.

So should you throw out your houseplants? Absolutely not, especially if they help boost your mood! Just know that expecting them to purify your indoor air is a little beyond their capabilities.

For state-of-the-art indoor air quality solutions in Austin, contact the experts at 1st Home & Commercial Services: (512) 957-2992.

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