Studies conducted over the last 50 years have proven that plants are a great way to help naturally purify the air in your home or office. They absorb toxins around them through their leaves or roots through a process called “photosynthesis and respiration.”
Photosynthesis is how plants obtain energy from sunlight by converting potentially toxic gases like carbon dioxide into sugar molecules. As a result of this process, they can also remove other harmful toxins such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other toxins and then convert them into oxygen.
We can call them the world’s first all-natural air purifiers.
They can even reduce viruses like Covid and other harmful microbes such as toxic mold in the environment.
Studies by NASA and other researchers have shown that several indoor plant varieties are great at removing pollutants from the atmosphere such as the Areca Palm, Money Plant, Aloe Vera, Spider Plant, Snake Plant, and Rubber plant. Some species such as lemon balm and hyssop can even help as a home remedy to manage symptoms of a cold or the flu. (1)
To see a full list of the different species, please check out our article, “The 20 Best Plants to Help Clean Indoor Air “.
Here is a list of pollutants they help remove from the environment:
* carbon dioxide
* volatile organic compounds (VOC)
* carbonyl, particulate matter
* organic compounds
Thomas Karl, a scientist with the National Science Foundation (NSF), and author of a study on plants’ ability to remove indoor air pollution said, “Plants clean our air to a greater extent than we had realized. They actively consume certain types of air pollution.”
A coauthor of the study, Chhandak Basu of the University of Northern Colorado said;
“Our results show that plants can adjust their metabolism and increase their uptake of atmospheric chemicals as a response to various types of stress. This complex metabolic process within plants has the side effect of cleansing our atmosphere.” (2)
Scientists at the Radioisotopes Laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and his group have published many studies on the use of plants in indoor and outdoor mercury-contaminated settings.
“We have used plants of the bromeliad family and Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) as sentinel species to detect and absorb mercury from the air in shops contaminated by the gold trade in the Amazon.” (3)
Some indoor plants are considered to be natural air filters because they can purify air through absorption, dilution, precipitation, and filtration. (1) This is also known by the term, “Phytoremediation”, which describes the various techniques by which plants clear the environment of pollutants. (4)
The process can be used to clean up oil spills and other hazardous materials, as well as remove toxic chemicals from the soil.
According to the EPA:
Certain plants can remove or break down harmful chemicals from the ground when their roots take in water and nutrients from the contaminated soil, sediment, or groundwater. Plants can help clean up contaminants as deep as their roots can reach using natural processes to:
• Store the contaminants in the roots, stems, or leaves.
• Convert them to less harmful chemicals within the plant or, more commonly, the root zone.
• Convert them to vapors, which are released into the air.
• Sorb (stick) contaminants onto their roots where very small organisms called “microbes” (such as bacteria) that live in the soil break down the sorbed contaminants to less harmful chemicals. The most common method for phytoremediation involves soaking seeds in water (or an acidic solution) for a few weeks before planting them in an area with contaminated soil. (5)
When these seeds sprout, their roots grow into the soil below where they were planted; through photosynthesis, they absorb more of the harmful substance than if there were no plant roots present at all!
High indoor relative humidity (RH) is a factor in the interaction between humans, molds, viruses, and plants. Plants help reduce humidity indoors by absorbing airborne water vapor particles. (6)
Studies have shown that the recommended humidity levels for the most comfort should be between 30 and 60% and 40 to 60% RH helps prevent viral transmission. (7)
Removes Mold Spores
Plants like English ivy have been proven to remove air-borne molds. Tropical plants produce a secretion that can protect their leaves from mildew and mold, which may be a factor in reducing mold spores.
I would assume that since they remove other harmful toxins that they can help reduce mycotoxins as well. I could not find any studies proving this is the case, but it is probably worth the effort to add some plants inside your home or office to see if they help.
Plants have evolved over millions of years to perform these special functions that are so beneficial to humankind.
They are earth’s most amazing natural air purifiers. They clean the air, purify water, and even protect us from disease.
And the best part about this is that the process is completely painless—just take a few minutes out of your day to add some greenery to your space, and you’ll reap all of these benefits in no time.
They’re not magic bullets, and it’s still important to ensure that your home has proper ventilation systems (such as a central HVAC system) in place.
By following these tips, you can minimize respiratory symptoms and lead a healthier life indoors!
Check out our list of “The 20 Best Plants to Help Clean Indoor Air,” and get started on creating a healthier environment for you and your family.
Thanks for reading!
- Doukani et al., 2021; Judžentienė
- National Science Foundation
- Kim et al., 2018; Lee, Hadibarata, and Yuniarto
- Guzzi G, La Porta C. Molecular mechanisms triggered by mercury. Toxicology
- EPA – A Citizen’s Guide to Bioremediation
- Jeong et al., 2008; Pérez-Urrestarazu