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  • Writer's pictureArcht. Ilmi Dissanayake

The Shocking Truth about Indoor Plants that Purify Air at Home!

Are you buying a lot of indoor plants believing that they can protect you from air pollution?

A lot of blogs and videos all over the internet are giving long lists of plants claiming that they can purify your indoor air. But can they really do that? Read until the end to find out the truth.

Most of these articles point out to a NASA clean air study done in 1989, more than 30 years ago. They put plants in chambers just over two feet wide and long and filled with various toxic gases.

Yes, this study showed that plants could cut down VOCs in small airtight containers. But the real question is, “How effective is it?”

The problem is that you cannot directly apply this research outcome to your home, concluding that “indoor plants can improve air quality of your home”.


Because the buildings behave in a very different manner than airtight boxes.

What’s the myth?

Plants do purify the air, but at a very, very slow rate. A lot of research has found out that the effectiveness of plants in cleaning the indoor air is very small. To reduce air pollutants enough to improve the indoor air quality, you would need around 10 plants per square foot.

This means, for a 500 square feet apartment, you would need 5000 plants to effectively clean the air. This means living in a small forest.

Clearly a couple of indoor plants cannot compete with the efficiency mechanical air purifying system. After placing a few plants on your desk, in the living and the pantry, you cannot expect them to clean the air for you.

If you do, you will still be breathing polluted air.

Believing this can even make things worse, because then you wouldn’t be taking necessary action to make sure your indoor air is clean. This can lead you to live in a home breathing polluted air most of your life.

What’s wrong with the air anyway?

Your home has the potential to have bad air quality, even if you live in a clean neighbourhood far from the city.

But how?

Indoor air pollution comes from many sources from within your home.

Indoor combustion that happens from cooking and the fireplace, produce particulate matter. They are small particles of solid and liquid droplets that make you sick if you are exposed to them.

The other one is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). They are substances that release vapours at room temperature. The VOC sources are both artificial and organic, which is from inside your home.

The artificial VOCs come from unhealthy building materials such as:

  • formaldehyde emitting glues

  • finishes

  • solvent-based paints

  • sealants

  • adhesives

  • carpets

  • cleaning products

The organic VOCs simply come from mould growing inside the house which can be as toxic as some hazardous manufactured chemicals.

This polluted air affects your body depending on the substance and in general they can affect any organ of your body.

The common symptoms of exposure to particulate matter and VOCs are:

  • Rashes

  • Headaches

  • Eye irritation

  • Chronic cough

  • Chronic sinus infection

  • Joint and muscle pain

  • Memory loss

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Decreased mental acuity

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of vigour

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • Chemical sensitivities

This is only a brief on how bad this can affect your health. The exposure to the air pollution is more significant than you may think because an average person spends 80% - 90% of their time indoors.

So, isn’t it good to keep indoor plants?

I’m not saying that plants are bad for you. They give you so many psychological benefits like reducing anxiety and stress, improving mental recovery from stress and fatigue, boost your productivity and they simply have the power to make you happy.

What I’m saying is you cannot put a plant on your desk and expect the poor plant to save you from air pollution. It is not the most efficient thing to expect from an indoor plant inside a home.

What’s the solution?

The most effective and obvious way to reduce indoor air pollution is to;

1. Remove the sources and

2. Design the building in a way that it gets proper ventilation and prevent mould growth.

If you think your current indoor environment is polluted, you can use an air purifier as a quick and temporary fix, because they are more effective and efficient than indoor plants.

The person who’s designing and the ones who are maintaining your home have a greater impact on your health than your doctor, who would be treating the symptoms and not their cause.

Be mindful that if you don’t want a house that will make you sick, good air quality is only one part of the equation.


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