We take a look at a recent study on common houseplants and their ability to help clean air by filtering some frequently-found VOCs from the air you breathe.
We learn in elementary-school science class how vital plants are to our ecosystem, particularly because they convert carbon dioxide back into breathable air. But Vadoud Niri, an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York in Oswego, believes that the right combination of plants can also help prevent “sick building syndrome” — the dizziness, asthma, and allergies that come with breathing in ubiquitous VOCs in high concentrations. His findings, presented this summer, measure the efficacy of certain common houseplants at removing eight top VOCs.
The research team placed five varieties of houseplant (jade plant, spider plant, bromeliad, Caribbean tree cactus, and dracaena) in sealed chambers. They then added eight VOCs — including acetone, benzene, and formaldehyde — into the chambers, and measured concentrations after a 12-hour period. All five plants greatly reduced acetone, the chemical in nail-polish remover and other household items like printer ink; the dracaena plant did the best, capturing up to 94 percent of acetone in the air. However, the bromeliad plant was the top overall performer, reducing concentrations of six of the VOCs tested by up to 80 percent.
Niri’s findings build on the ongoing study of biofiltration (that is, the use of plants to remove chemicals), but further research is needed to assess plants’ efficacy in real-world environments like homes, offices, and salons. Smartly selected houseplants may help manage VOCs in the home to a point; at the very least, they’re an affordable — and aesthetically pleasing — addition to any air purification or ventilation system already in place.