Improving Air Quality With Indoor Plants

by Rachel Laurendeau on July 6, 2012

Indoor air quality has become a concern in North America over the past few decades mainly due to the fact that, in order to conserve energy resources, most homes and office buildings are very efficiently sealed, thus trapping all of the indoor air inside. This doesn’t sound like it should be a problem but the main issue is that gases emitted by synthetic materials (off-gasses) are a major source of indoor air pollution and can cause serious health threats. Since we spend so much time indoors, it’s important to find ways to improve our indoor air quality.

Formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide are the most common harmful airborne chemicals that are found in the average home or office. Of course, having a well-maintained HVAC system is paramount in ensuring indoor air quality. Ventilation (the V in HVAC) changes or replaces the air in your home with outdoor air which improves its quality.

A non-mechanical, DIY way to help improve your indoor air quality is to add air cleaning plants to your home. NASA researched ways to clean the air in space stations and their findings were published in the 1990s. Here is a short summary:

Which plants are best at cleaning the air?
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta)
English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’)
Kimberly Queen Fern (Nephrolepis obliterata)
Florist’s Mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’ (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla)
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’)

How many plants?
For an 1800 square-foot house, the NASA study recommends using 15-18 good-sized houseplants in 6 inch or 8 inch pots. The more healthy and vigorous the plants, the better they will be at cleaning the air.

Where to place them?
Ideally, you want to place the plants in areas where you spend several hours each day sleeping, watching TV, working or playing. According to the Toronto Botanical Garden, plants placed within these areas can add humidity, remove bioeffluents and chemical toxins and suppress airborne microbes. Plant-filled rooms contained 50 to 60% fewer airborne molds and bacteria than plant-less rooms.

Word of caution
Some of the above plants have poisonous parts if ingested. If you have pets or young children it is important to be aware of this before bringing plants into the home.

To find out more about using plants to clean the air in your home, talk to a local horticulturist or botanist. To ensure that your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is working at its peek, talk to your HVAC contractor.

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