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These 5 Houseplants Are Good At Fighting Indoor Air Pollution

Aug 26, 2016 11:56 PM EDT
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Indoor plants are more than just household decorations. Scientists found that certain plant varieties could remove some harmful compounds and reduce air pollutants.
(Photo : JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons)

Indoor plants do more than just brightening up a dreary room; they could actually clean up the air we breathe.

Researchers at the American Chemical Society found that certain house plants could fight indoor air pollutants, specifically volatile organic compounds (VOCs), suggesting that choosing the right plant for the home could help make indoor air cleaner and safer.

Most indoor spaces contain VOCs, such as acetone, benzene and formaldehyde, often coming from paints, furniture, copiers and printers, cleaning supplies and even dry-cleaned clothes, and these compounds could cause serious health problems. When inhaled, VOCs can lead to sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and cause dizziness, asthma or allergies, the researchers said.

A common solution is to install ventilation systems that cycle in the air from outside, as well as other methods like adsorption, condensation and chemical reactions.

But Vadoud Niri, Ph.D., lead author of the study, suggested a cheaper alternative to fighting VOCs: indoor plants. Plants remove chemicals from indoor air through a process called biofiltration or phytoremediation. Apart from carbon dioxide, plants can also take up gases like benzene, toluene and other VOCs.

In 1984, NASA conducted studies on plants and found that leaves and roots are capable of absorbing airborne compounds. But Niri wanted to compare the efficiency of simultaneous removal of several VOCs by different plants. So the research team tested five common houseplants in a sealed chamber containing specific concentrations of several VOCs. The houseplants include jade plant, spider plant, bromeliad, Caribbean tree cactus and dracaena.

They found that certain plants were better at absorbing specific compounds. For instance, all five plant varieties could absorb acetone from the air, but dracaena could absorb more at around 94 percent. The researchers also said that the bromeliad is a good houseplant for homes and offices, as it absorbed six out of the eight studied VOCs, and took up over 80 percent of each of the compounds over the 12-hour sampling period.

"Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations," Niri said in a statement.

According to Viri, the next step is to test these plants in a real room and not just a sealed chamber.

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