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Plant Science: House Plants Efficiently Filter Out Indoor Pollutants

New research shows that some house plants are more effective than others in cleaning the air of houses and offices.

The advantages of plants for our overall health, especially when it comes to clean air, have been proven over and over again. In office spaces they are not only the best source of oxygen but they are also known for reducing stress and lifting the mood.

We also know that plants and trees in cities are an important counterpart for the pollution caused by motor vehicles. But indoor pollution, created by so called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), is also something to be concerned of, and plants are the cheapest and best help against it. VOCs are compounds as acetone, benzene and formaldehyde that are emitted as gases and can cause short- and long-term health effects when inhaled. They can come from paints, furniture, copiers and printers, cleaning supplies and even dry-cleaned clothes.

“Buildings, whether new or old, can contain high levels of VOCs, sometimes so high that you can even smell them,” says Vadoud Niri, Ph.D., leader of the study. “Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can lead some people to develop sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and can even cause dizziness, asthma or allergies,” Niri says. “We must do something about VOCs in indoor air.”

At the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) researchers presented their findings concerning the effects of several plants on VOCs. In their study they exposed five common house plants to eight different VOCs in a sealed chamber. The tested plants were: Jade Plant (Crassula ovata), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), Bromeliad (Guzmania lingulata), Carribean Tree Cactus (Consolea falcata) and Dracaena.

The researchers found out that that certain plants were better at absorbing specific compounds. For example, all five plants could remove acetone — the pungent chemical that is abundant at nail salons — from the air, but the dracaena plant took up the most, around 94 percent of the chemical.

“Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations,” Niri says. “To illustrate, the bromeliad plant was very good at removing six out of eight studied VOCs — it was able to take up more than 80 percent of each of those compounds — over the twelve-hour sampling period. So it could be a good plant around in the household or workplace.”

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