Want to Breathe Easier Indoors? Get These Houseplants

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If you’re concerned with the quality of indoor air, you might want to head to a plant nursery. Ask for a bromeliad—the family of tropical plants that includes pineapples.

New research presented at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week finds that in lieu of a ventilation system, houseplants can effectively clean chemicals like ammonia from the air, but some species are better than others.

A team led by chemist Vadoud Niri of the State University of New York at Oswego tested five different common indoor plants in sealed chambers, analyzing how effective they were at scrubbing the air of eight different volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, chemicals that easily become gases. Paint, furniture, cleaning supplies, and other common household objects can emit high quantities of harmful gases like acetone and formaldehyde.

“Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can lead some people to develop sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and can even cause dizziness, asthma, or allergies,” Niri explains in a press release

Plants can absorb many of these chemicals, much as they do carbon dioxide, through their leaves and roots. However, Niri found that certain plants may be more effective for removing particular chemicals than others. The dracaena plant (a family of trees and succulents largely native to Africa) was especially effective at removing acetone from the air, for instance, absorbing 94 percent of the VOC present in the sealed chamber. This would likely make it an especially useful plant in nail salons, as acetone used in nail polish remover can cause headaches and dizziness, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The bromeliad plant, meanwhile, was the best general-usage air purifier, absorbing 80 percent of six of the eight VOCs studied. 

These findings will need to be tested in a larger setting, since the effect may be lessened in a full room rather than a small sealed chamber. However, previous research backs up the hypothesis. A 2009 study found that plants cleansed indoor air of ozone better than in a control chamber. And because plants are so cheap compared to installing new ventilation and air purification systems, more people would likely have access to safer air if these results bear out. But either way, it’s not a bad idea to buy a few plants for your desk and home. At worst, it will make you more productive

If you can’t figure out how to get more plants into your house, check out our tips for greening up any indoor space. 

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