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Can Indoor Plants Really Purify the Air in a Room?

  Indoor plants are a great addition to any home, but it appears that we shouldn't trust our beautiful plants to clean the air in our homes. Recent research tested indoor plants' ability to purify the air indoors. It turns out that one would need to have an unrealistically big number of plants to make a difference in the air quality in a room.

Plants Don’t Purify the Air Nearly as Much as One Would Expect

The ability of plants to absorb air pollutants and enrich the air indoors with oxygen is largely unfounded. As one of the researchers who studied this topic, Richard Corsi, Ph.D., a professor of engineering and computer science at Portland State University, stated to the Insider, "Plants remove minuscule amounts of pollution from indoor air."  To understand why, we must learn what is responsible for the bulk of air pollution indoors.
Plants and Clean Air indoor plnts
Indoor air pollution is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are microscopic particles emitted from many items we have at home: the paints and lacquers on our furniture, cleaning supplies, printers, craft materials, glues, and even permanent markers.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the concentration of these compounds is up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. A person inhaling VOCs can experience both immediate and long-term adverse effects, namely:
  • Irritation in the nose, eyes, and throat
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • In rare cases, damage to the central nervous system and the organs.
Corsi says that plants are largely ineffective at absorbing VOCs. According to a 2019 study, one would require around 1,000 plants to reduce the number of VOCs in a medium-sized room by half. So, you’d pretty much need to grow an indoor forest to see any marked results.
 

What about Carbon Dioxide?

Another way plants are said to purify the air is by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and turning it into oxygen using photosynthesis. But even this positive effect is only marginal, according to research, and can only be observed in tightly sealed places like a submarine or a spaceship, and certainly not an average home.
Plants and Clean Air woman chooses a plant
In addition, you must also understand that plants don’t just absorb CO2, they also produce it. During the day, plants absorb sunlight and CO2 and produce oxygen, but at night, when sunlight is unavailable, plants switch from photosynthesis to respiration, better known as breathing.
Just like animals and humans, plants absorb oxygen and give off CO2 when they switch to respiration. In fact, your plants may be doing very little photosynthesis in general, especially if the plants are not near a window. “The amount of light in many parts of a house is often just barely sufficient for photosynthesis,” states Stanley Kays, a professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Georgia.
The bottom line is, no matter how much we want to believe it, the idea that our beloved plants can help us purify the air in our homes is a mere myth. According to Luz Claudio, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “There are no definitive studies to show that having indoor plants can significantly increase the air quality in the home to improve health in a measurable way.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should get rid of your plants at all, but you should be aware of the fact that they will not make a difference in air quality. But what will, then?

Realistic Ways to Purify the Air in a Home

Plants and Clean Air plants near a window

The good news is, far better ways to purify the air indoors than an indoor garden do exist, and they’re simple. So, if you’d like the air in your home to feel fresher and less stuffy, follow these tips:

  • Open the windows. As we mentioned above, outdoor air contains a lot less VOCs than indoor air, so it’s a good idea to air out the house from time to time, especially if your home is not in an industrial area. Needless to say, those who suffer from seasonal allergies are better off avoiding this method in the spring.
     
  • Make sure your home is ventilated while cleaning. Cleaning products are one of the main sources of VOCs in a home, especially aerosols. That’s why you should always crack the window and open the doors whenever you’re cleaning, especially in small rooms like the bathroom or the toilet.
     
  • Get an air purifier. Air purifiers come in a great variety and are available both online and at home supply stores. These machines are equipped with filters that rid your home of both VOCs and common allergens, so they’re especially useful for those with sensitive respiratory systems.

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