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Plants Clean the Air

little girl playing with a houseplant
October 12, 2016 (Updated: August 3, 2021)
Lily Moran

The air you’re breathing right now is probably doing you harm. I’m not talking about the pollution in our skies. I’m talking about the pollution in your room. Indoor air quality is generally worse than outdoor. It has anywhere from two to five times as many VOCS—volatile organic compounds. Luckily, there’s an extremely easy fix. Thank goodness—because we need it.

The price of the modern world

Virtually everything we make is filled with VOCs—chemicals like formaldehyde, acetone, and toluene. They go into the paint on our walls, the furniture we sit on, the toys our children play with, the cleaners we use on messes, and the carpets beneath our feet.

And because of that, they go into our lungs too. All these products emit these chemicals over time—think of that new car smell. Yes—the one that gives you a headache.

That’s no surprise. The EPA warns that VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, loss of coordination, and damage your liver, kidney, and central nervous system.

They’ve also been shown to cause cancer in animals, and are suspected of doing the same in you.

Simply put, VOCs should come nowhere near your body—much less in it. But, because of our modern, manufactured world, we’re surrounded by them.

Plenty of companies market expensive air filtration systems to rid your house of VOCs. But there’s a much simpler, cheaper way—and, unlike those boxy, noisy, expensive filtration systems, they look good too.

Let Mother Nature cure your air

A new study by a chemist at SUNY Oswego has found that house plants do a miraculous job of cleaning VOCs out of the air you breathe.

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By putting plants into a box full of VOCs, he found they worked their magic in just hours.

A dracaena removed 94% of airborne acetone in only 12 hours. A bromeliad could remove at least 80% of six different VOCs in the same amount of time.

And spider plants work fastest of all. Within one minute, VOC levels started dropping and never stopped.

We still need to perform tests in larger spaces, to see how many plants are necessary to clean whole rooms and houses.

But we don’t need to wait for those results. House plants very clearly have a huge, positive effect on the air we breathe. That’s something we’ve always known—but the benefits are greater than anyone ever suspected.

So if you don’t have any houseplants, go out and get some. If you already have some, get more.

And show them love. There are a number of studies that have found plants respond to sound—with music often bringing the biggest possible benefit. But your voice carries the added bonus of surrounding your plants with concentrated carbon dioxide, the stuff that plants breathe.

Certainly, showing your plants a little love doesn’t hurt anyone, and appears to help them quite a bit. Besides, they deserve some affection. Your simple houseplants are, cheaply and efficiently, making your indoor air safe to breathe again.


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