Conservation | Can plants improve indoor air quality?

With all the rain and winter weather, I’ve been turning to my house plants for cheer. There are many reasons to love indoor plants. Not only are they beautiful, they’re linked to stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, and an improved state of mind. Can they also purify indoor air?

Like all plants, house plants absorb CO2 and release oxygen via photosynthesis. In the 1970s spider plants and a number of other plants were thought to purify indoor air and were all the rage. Do you remember Biosphere 2? In that sealed ecological world, participants hoped plants and microbes would create oxygen and remove CO2 and other contaminants … but it didn’t turn out quite they way they expected.

The jury is still out on whether house plants can purify indoor air. Due to small study sizes, it’s hard to apply the results to the typical home. Though employing plants offers a simple and cost-effective approach to reduce the concentration of volatile organic compounds, the purification rate is slow and you would need a lot of plants to make a difference, like 680 plants in a typical house!

Generally, indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air according to the EPA. This is because pollutants can become trapped and concentrated indoors where ventilation may be poor and if there are indoor sources.

The bottom line is that you need a lot of plants to purify indoor air. The best approach to keep pollutants out of your home is to increase ventilation when possible.

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