New Study Says Indoor Plants Don't Really Purify Air. But Why You Should Still Keep Them

November 19, 2019

Indoor plants in Morocco

I am a proud plant mom. When we moved to Colorado, my partner was complaining because his leg-room was taken up by all of my plants, and my motto is “there’s always space for one more!” We all love our plants: they brighten up our home or office, they make us happy, give us a sense of responsibility, and until now, they purified our air. 

Thanks to various studies, we have long been all under the impression that plants filtered out VOCs, volatile organic compounds from the air. Per the EPA, VOCs are “emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids […], include a variety of chemicals, some of which have short- and long-term adverse health effects.” A few sources of VOCs include aerosol sprays, paint, varnishes, home cleaners and disinfectants, air fresheners, etc. We all already know that breathing in these toxins every day does not do our health any favors. When studies started popping up, claiming that plants can filter out VOCs, everyone suddenly became indoor gardeners, and for good reasons. 

Unfortunately, a new meta-study published in Nature journal sheds some light on the application of these earlier studies in our homes. Brian Cummings and Michael Waring reviewed 12 published studies that spanned over 30 years to determine their findings. The researchers found that the studies mentioned above all had a setup that can’t be translated to our homes. The experiments had a potted plant inside of a glass chamber that then had a single VOC injected into it. The plant did absorb and filter the VOC over time; however, our homes aren’t in glass chambers with only one toxin. Don’t give up on your plants, though! Cummings and Waring did find that indoor plants still reduced the number of toxins in the air over time. The researchers concluded that it would take between 10 and 1,000 plants per square meter to purify the air at the same rate as a standard air conditioner. Although this sounds like the lush urban jungle of my dreams, it might be time to invest in a good air purifier. 


Although our regular AC system filters our air, we often don’t change them out enough, and the filters don’t catch all of the pollutants in the atmosphere of our homes. For reference, less expensive fiberglass filters should be changed every 30 days, and higher-end pleated filters should be changed every six months. I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I admit that I don’t even know what kind of filter I have in my home, which means I probably don’t change it nearly often enough. Luckily I’ve done the legwork and found great air filters that promise to filter out VOCs as well as other common pollutants. These are an investment, but definitely, a smart one when our and our families’ health hangs in the balance. Molekule, Dyson, and Blue Air all promise to filter out these detrimental toxins out of our home’s air. Do your own research, and let me know if the comments below if you currently use any of these filters or what you think of them if you purchase one!Potted Plants in a Nursery

Although our little leafy families might not be making the difference in air quality, we thought there are other benefits to keeping them in our homes. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology linked the presence of plants in our spaces with reduced stress. The same study also showed a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure in plant owners. Another study led by Marlon Nieuwenhuis found that offices with plants in the space saw a 15% increase in productivity in workers. Plants bring so much joy into our lives, whether indoor or outdoor. It is because of plants that we have air we can breathe. Keep those urban jungles thriving!

Also by Iga: New Study Says Offshore Wind Farms Can Power The Entire World With Clean Energy

Here’s How Adaptogens Healed Me—& 7 Remarkable Ones For Your Wellness Journey

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Photo: Orlova Maria on Unsplash; Iga Kazmierczak

Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website


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