When it comes to indoor air quality, plants may literally be a breath of fresh air. However, not all plants are equally effective at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air inside. Research into air purifying indoor plants like the Golden Pothos (pictured) has yielded several top species that are especially good at absorbing VOCs with their leaves and roots.
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NASA’s landmark 1989 research on air purifying indoor plants focused on three common chemicals – benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. Vadoud Niri’s 2016 research on plant VOC uptake at the State University of New York at Oswego examined the effectiveness of several popular species of air purifying plants at removing eight compounds: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, p-xylene, o-xylene, acetone, dichloromethane (methylene chloride) and trichloromethane (chloroform).
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Exposing the plants to several VOCs at once brings the research a step closer to a typical office environment where multiple VOCs would be present.
The best indoor plants that clean the air, according to research by Niri and others, include:
Bromeliad (Guzmania lingulata)
This tropical plant removed at least 80% of six of the eight compounds Niri tested from the air in its 76-liter test chamber. It also placed fifth of 50 houseplants studied by retired NASA scientist B.C. “Bill” Wolverton.
Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis)
Also known as Warneckei, Dracaena deremensis removed 50% of formaldehyde, 52% of benzene and 10% of trichloroethylene from a chamber over a 24-hour period in NASA’s pioneering 1989 study. It also outperformed all four other plants in Niri’s study by removing 94% of the acetone from the air in its chamber.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Niri rated this plant as “lightning fast,” noting that the concentration of VOCs immediately began to go down in the spider plant’s test chamber as soon as the plant was placed inside.
Jade Plant (Crassula argentea)
Jade scored highest for removing toluene from the air in Niri’s lab tests.
Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aureus)
NASA’s research saw the Golden Pothos paired with an activated carbon filter system. Together, they excelled in two-hour test periods examining how well they removed benzene and trichloroethylene from test chambers. The low concentration test saw benzene levels drop from just short of 0.25 parts per million (ppm) to barely detectable levels, while trichloroethylene started at about 0.15 ppm and similarly ended near zero.
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NASA observed similar results with the high concentration chamber. A concentration of 35 ppm trichloroethylene and 37 ppm benzene dropped to between 0 and 1 ppm over the same two-hour span.
Simply put, if you're looking to improve the IAQ of your building, consider adding a spalsh of greenery like these 5 plants to the office aesthetics.
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