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Do Houseplants Improve Air Quality?

For those with a green thumb, houseplants are the total package: beauty and functionality. Plant tags and wives tales have told us that some plants purify the air, but is that the truth?

Simple Science

In any middle school science class, you’ll hear about photosynthesis and how plants and trees produce oxygen and remove toxic carbon dioxide from the air. Flowers and trees “respirate” using a process opposite of what we do. With every breath, we breathe in oxygen and send it to every tissue and cell before breathing out a new chemical called carbon dioxide.

How It Works

Plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with more oxygen for us. It’s a symbiotic relationship that neither organism can survive without. It’s simple science that’s easy to understand, and it makes perfect sense that houseplants would improve the air quality in our homes.

However, there isn’t just carbon dioxide in our air. There are countless chemicals that come from materials and outdoor pollutants like benzene from petroleum and trichloroethylene from adhesives. Can plants really clear these toxins from the air?

Myth: Busted

Studies published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology found that plants remove toxins at an extremely slow rate that doesn’t impact air quality as much as we’d like. Older research from labs and even NASA tested air purification in densely polluted laboratories that do not mimic the average home. Because of this, the exchange rate between plants and toxins is not enough to make much of a difference in the long run.

What ARE the Benefits?

This new study found that the health benefits of houseplants have more to do with our mental health than our respiratory health. Green is a calming color, and plants soften the room to make the atmosphere seem fresher and cozier.

Unless you have a whole ecosystem of plants in your home, a pothos here, and a philodendron there won’t make much of a difference. That said, there’s no harm in collecting houseplants. Maintaining them can be a very rewarding hobby that adds beauty and life to your home.