Sure, that potted fern is pretty, but can it really spruce up the air quality in your home? Studies by scientists at NASA, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Georgia and other respected institutions suggest that it can.
Plants are notoriously adept at absorbing gases through pores on the surface of their leaves. It’s this skill that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy to fuel growth.
But scientists studying the air-purification capacities of indoor plants have found that plants can absorb many other gases in addition to carbon dioxide, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Benzene (found in some plastics, fabrics, pesticides and cigarette smoke) and formaldehyde (found in some cosmetics, dish detergent, fabric softener and carpet cleaner) are examples of common indoor VOCs that plants help eliminate.
These VOCs and other indoor air pollutants (such as ozone) have been linked to numerous acute conditions, including asthma and nausea, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory illnesses.
An indoor plant’s ability to remove these harmful compounds from the air is an example of phytoremediation, which is the use of any plant — indoors or out — to mitigate pollution in air, soil or water.
Indoor plants remove pollutants from the air by absorbing these gases through their leaves and roots. The microorganisms that live in the soil of potted plants also play an instrumental role in neutralizing VOCs and other pollutants.
While most leafy plants are adept at purifying indoor air, some of the plants that scientists have found most useful in removing VOCs include Japanese royal ferns, spider plants, Boston ferns, purple waffle plants, English ivy, areca palms, golden pothos, aloe vera, snake plants and peace lilies.