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House plants don’t improve indoor air quality, experts find

Researchers say they can boost a space aesthetically, but there are no health benefits

Photo (c) petrenkod - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Drexel University is dispelling a popular myth about potted plants: they aren’t improving air quality. 

According to the researchers, many previous studies have touted plants for their natural ability to boost air quality. But upon closer inspection, this isn’t actually the case. The team says that consumers who are looking for better air quality should look for more ventilation options instead. 

“This has been a common misconception for some time,” said researcher Michael Waring, PhD. “Plants are great, but they don’t actually clean indoor air quickly enough to have an effect on the air quality of your home or office environment.” 

Understanding what plants do 

The researchers analyzed 30 years worth of research to discover first where this myth about plants purifying the air originated, and then they set out to prove it wrong. 

Waring says that consumers can trace this myth back to NASA. An experiment conducted by the organization back in the late 1980s found that potted plants were capable of clearing the air of dangerous chemicals. However, according to Waring and his team, the conditions of these experiments weren’t similar to those of typical homes or offices, as they were conducted in completely sealed environments. 

To put this hypothesis to the test, the researchers went back into these experiments and used the clean air delivery rate (CADR) to determine if potted plants were really doing what previous researchers believed they were. 

“The CADR is a standard metric used for scientific study of the impacts of air purifiers on indoor environments, but many of the researchers conducting these studies were not looking at them from an environmental engineering perspective and did not understand how building air exchange rates interplay with the plants to affect indoor air quality,” said Waring. 

More ventilation can make your indoor air cleaner

Ultimately, the researchers learned that potted plants were not capable of ridding the air of impurities, unless consumers were interested in using them in extreme excess. Instead, consumers should look for more options for ventilation, as clean air from an open door or window can improve the air quality in a much more efficient way. 

“This is certainly an example of how scientific findings can be misleading or misinterpreted over time,” said Waring. “But it’s also a great example of how scientific research should continually reexamine and question findings to get closer to the ground truth of understanding what’s actually happening around us.” 

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