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Are air purifying plants a myth?

There are many reasons to have indoor plants in your home, but do they really clean the air? We take a look at some of the speculation about air-purifying plants and whether they can reduce allergies or fight household pollution.

Plants as an Air Purifier

Back in 1989, NASA conducted a study that reported that some plants were excellent at removing toxins and cleansing the air. They knew that the synthetic materials used to construct their testing lab were "off-gasing" alias, spreading low-level chemicals in the air – and that the same chemicals were found in households.

The study then found that along with carbon filters, many indoor plants were really good at removing these toxins. Volatile organic compounds, or "VOC's", such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichlorethylene were either lowered or completely eradicated by your everyday use of the mill's plants. Pretty exciting stuff!

 happy woman reading in a chair in a bright room with large hanging house plants

Results published [19659003] One of the researchers participating in NASA studies was Bill Wolverton, who published his results in a book called "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Potted Plants That Clean Your Home or Office." Suddenly golden pots, lilies, dragon trees, dracaenas, snake plants, mum and gerbera goddesses were green-frog superheroes armed with the ability to remove all three harmful toxins and are highly recommended as an addition to your indoor location. The extensive list of plants gave people a new reason to want them around for their amazing air-purifying ability, and is still a common reason why people buy plants today.

The Problem

It's not that NASA lied or that the study was debunked – these plants are really pretty wonderful at removing toxins; however, they are wonderful to remove them in a completely airtight space like a spaceship or test lab used by NASA. Over the years, plant lovers and article writers have cherry-picked the information without taking into account the very large environmental differences between a spaceship and your home or office. No matter how well your house is built, there is still an influx of fresh air coming and going through the various envelopes of the structure. Your home is breathing, and that's good!

 bright white room with furniture and houseplants

How many plants would you need?

Certainly some of you think you might have enough plants to make it profitable, right … RIGHT?!? Well, there are people who have done the calculation for you and found that you would need about 10 plants per square foot of typical home or office space to reap the benefits of what NASA researchers reported.

Even with the very best VOC-sucking plants in every bend of your home, the air in your house turns completely over once an hour, which means the plants don't get a chance to do their thing. When it comes to adding oxygen to the air, the amount is negligible – yes O2 is added, but it is in such small amounts that bodies do not even notice it.

 bright stylish home space with house plants

Proper plant care is more important

On the flip side, plants can aggravate allergy symptoms if not taken care of. One of the things that can cause allergies to be aggravated is dust collection and mold. Many plant owners forget to dust their foliage, especially during the winter months when plumbing systems send particles into the air. Use a damp towel to collect buildup once a week and gently pull away particles from the stems toward the tips of the leaves. Blossoms usually do not need to be dusted because they do not last that long and would be prone to surface damage.

Also allow your plants to dry out between watering, as excess moisture is a haven for mold and fungal growth. Make sure the soil is dry at the touch and not only on the surface but about an inch deep. Of course, some houseplants have different water needs (succulents want even less water than average, ferns want more), but this is a good rule of thumb for most indoor plants.

 happy family on the couch with houseplants

Other benefits exist!

Keeping plants happy and healthy provides homeowners and office workers with extensive health benefits, even if the air quality does not improve. Some plants may reduce humidity and reduce the risk of mold and mildew.

In addition, many studies have shown that only the presence of plants can eradicate stress and make people feel calmer and happier. Having some nature in your space has proven to have a positive effect on most people by increasing energy levels, increasing overall mood, even supporting cognition and health.

Interior decorators almost always include plants in their design for good reason – the addition of greenery is a cheap and easy way to spread out your home or office decor.

The most important part is, unless you live in a hermetically sealed laboratory or are an astronaut living in space, your indoor plants are not significantly purifying the air around you – but that does not mean that they do not favor you in many other ways. Whether in outer space or here on earth, plants are fantastic companions to have and see, just as they are.

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