If you’re looking to improve the quality of air in your home, potted plants are a good place to start. But not all indoor plants are created equal.
A new study has found that certain varieties actually do more than pump more oxygen into your surroundings – they can also clear the air of harmful chemicals.
The new study, conducted by researchers from the State University of New York, looked specifically for plants that had the ability to absorb volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which are potentially harmful pollutants that can come from paint, furniture, printers, dry-cleaned clothes, and other household products.
“Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them,” said study leader Vadoud Niri.
A high concentration of VOCs can lead to health problems such as dizziness, asthma, or allergies, but get the right plant on your desk or kitchen sideboard, and you could save yourself the trouble of installing extra ventilation.
While there’s nothing new about the practice of using plants to clean air (technically known as biofiltration, or phytoremediation) Niri and his team conducted precise experiments to determine the efficiency and capabilities of five different types of houseplants – the jade plant, spider plant, bromeliad, dracaena, and Caribbean tree cactus.
Each plant was placed in an air-tight chamber with specific concentrations of several types of VOCs. By measuring the air quality over time, the researchers were able to see which did the best job of purifying the air.
The bromeliad plant got a gold star from the team, managing to clean up 80 percent of the pollutants in six of the eight VOCs tested. Others scored highly for certain pollutants: the dracaena absorbed 94 percent of the chemical acetone, used in nail polish remover.
Spider plants, meanwhile, were very fast at removing VOCs, starting work just a few minutes after being placed inside its container.