Do Indoor Plants Really Purify the Air?

Do Indoor Plants Really Purify the Air?

Do Indoor Plants Really Purify the Air?


  • A 1989 NASA study found that indoor plants can effectively remove toxins from the air.
  • Recent evidence suggests that the more houseplants you have, the more effective toxin removal will be.
  • Keep reading if you want to know how plants improve air quality, which ones do it best, and how to optimize the air-purifying effects of indoor plants. 

There’s a rumor going around that indoor plants don’t actually purify the air.

That claim isn’t totally true, but it’s based on research that helps us better understand the way plants work. Indoor plants absolutely can improve the air quality in your home or office, but the effectiveness of that benefit depends largely on you. Here’s what you need to know.


A NASA Study Found that Indoor Plants Remove Toxins from the Air

In 1989, a team of NASA researchers led by Bill Wolverton released a study finding that indoor plants could remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be toxic to humans but are frequently found inside of our workplaces and homes 

Most plant detoxification work is done in the soil. Microbes and the plant roots absorb the toxins and neutralize them, making the air cleaner and safer to breathe. The study found that the following houseplants were able to reduce the concentration of VOCs, making them the best indoor plants for air purification:

More recent evidence suggests that older research failed to account for the type of airflow typical in a non-laboratory setting. A 2015 study determined that a building would need to hold hundreds of plants to achieve the same effect created by just a few plants in a sealed lab. So if someone tries to rain on your plant parade, tell them to stay in their lane or send you more plants!


4 Tips for Using Indoor Plants to Improve Air Quality

Indoor plants absolutely can remove toxins from the air but placing one plant in the corner of your office is not going to do the trick. Here are three ways you can optimize the amazing air purifying benefits of indoor plants:

  1. Get lots of houseplants, including big, leafy floor plants. When it comes to indoor plants and air purification, the more the merrier and the bigger the better. Wolverton recommends two large plants per 100 square feet. If you’re living in an 800 square foot apartment, that’s about 16 mid to large-sized plants.
  2. Practice organic gardening. If you’re using planters, fertilizers, and pesticides hopped up on inorganic chemical ingredients, you may be counteracting your houseplants’ air purification. Choose organic potting mix as your growing medium and stay away from plastic planters. Both beautiful and toxic free, ceramic pots make safe and elegant containers for your houseplants.


  1. Place your plants close to the light. Photosynthesis is not only essential to plant survival, but it plays an important role in a plant’s ability to detoxify the air. The more exposure to light your plant can get, the better it will be able to photosynthesize, and the more effective it will be at cleansing the air.
  2. Increase air circulation in your pots. In an unpublished 2006 study, Wolverton (the same scientist who authored the 1989 NASA research) found that improving airflow to a plant’s root system could enhance its purification effects. Wolverton used a planter with an air filter and potting mix containing activated carbon and expanded clay pebbles. The resulting improved air flow enabled the plants to reduce formaldehyde levels in a contaminated trailer from 0.18 ppm to 0.03 ppm.

What air-purifying plants do you have in your home or office space? Let us know in the comments below and connect with us on Instagram and Facebook for your weekly plant fix!

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