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Human beings naturally love beauty and anything aesthetic. Plants give us beautiful surroundings to behold. That is why you will find beautiful flowers, plants, shrubs, and grass in many homes. Apart from the aesthetic benefit, most people keep plants with the intent that they will help improve air quality. In fact, most houseplant sellers even market their products using this idea of air purification.
The question is, do plants improve air quality, and if they do, can all plants purify the air? In the past, some NASA experiments revealed that plants would improve the quality of air. However, research done by scientists has refuted this, proving that plants actually do little in the purification of the air. This means that even those plants that are assumed to improve air quality do so little on this purported role.
In this article, we will look into details the scientists’ findings on plants concerning air purification, and other related questions. Keep reading to learn more.
The Origin of the Popular Idea about Plants and Air Purification
When you search through the internet, most home décor and houseplants sites are selling the idea of trees improving the quality of air. It is not only home décor sites that say this; most of us have grown knowing this.
All this came up after NASA scientists did a research in the late 1980s, which aimed to see if certain plants could get rid of volatile organic compounds from the air inside buildings. VOC is a type of air pollutant that can come about from tobacco smoke, petrol, and household products like paint, detergents, and adhesives. Most scents would be considered as VOCs, and most people would try natural ventilation techniques such as opening windows to get rid of them.
However, natural ventilation would not apply in closed spaces such as space station, and that is where NASA came in to try other means, giving birth to the idea of using plants.
The NASA researchers used popular plants such as snake plant, pothos, lily, and gerbera daisy. The VOCs tested in the experiment included formaldehyde, and benzene, among others. Carbon was also added to the potting soil.
The results indeed proved that plants in conjunction with the carbon activated in the soil could actually get rid of the VOCs tested. Although not all the VOCs were removed, the research concluded that plants could play an active role of improving the quality of the air by removing a reasonable amount of VOCs.
Plants and Air Purification in Real Life
Moving away from the experiments, scientists set out to find out if NASA findings could actually work in real life at home or in the offices.
The NASA findings would be discredited for several reasons as seen below.
- First, the NASA tests were done in labs in airtight chambers the size of a box. This does not translate to real life conditions because we live in large spaces that are not sealed or airtight.
- Second, in real life, there are so many VOCs in the air than what was tested in the lab. Additionally, the concentration will keep changing whenever a VOC-emitting subject comes into play.
- Also, given that buildings are ventilated using doors and windows, there is a lot of indoor-outdoor exchange of air going on. Therefore, it would be said that VOC removal is due to ventilation and not the plants per say.
Given the above circumstances, scientists have discredited the ability of plants to purify the air, claiming that for plants to come close to actually purifying the air, you would have to plant around 10 to 1000 plants in every square meter of the room.
Well, this could be too much of green and you wouldn’t even have enough space to accommodate all these plants.
So, what then if plants are doing little in improving air quality
First, when planting any kind of plant, do not go in with the mentality that it will purify the air. Surely, you can think of all other benefits apart from this.
For instance, plants knock out stress and anxiety by calming down the sympathetic nervous system. This could result to the development of a happy mood.
Additionally, spending time with nature can improve your moods and boost your energy levels. Apart from this, houseplants have been known to change indoor micro biome, and as a result increasing micro-biome amounts, which potentially prevents the settling of harmful bacteria in the air in your house.
This means that the plants in your home are not sitting there passively just taking your space. Given the natural beauty of plants, you can have as much as you can in your home. Only, do not count on them for air quality improvement because they will do so little on that.
What can cause air impurities in a room?
If you have ever been in a room filled with air impurities, you may have felt the stuffiness and then a spasm of relief when the door or window was opened.
Air impurities can come up from many sources including cooking, chemical cleaners, carpet and furniture coatings, paint etc. All these can be dealt with once you open any ventilation and allow indoor and outdoor air exchange, or use mechanical ventilation.
What is the most effective way of removing air pollution?
Many people may tell you that plants will help improve the quality of air. However, this has only proven to be a myth. Experts say that the effective way to remove air pollution is to remove the source.