05 September 2019

Indoor Plants and the NASA Air Quality Study


05 September 2019


The indoor plant trend is on the rise and we are seeing people donning their homes and offices with more plants than ever. 

Indoor plants might be on trend, improve aesthetics, and even improve a general feeling of well-being, but did you know they are also effective in improving the indoor air quality of your building? 

In fact, they are so good at it that back in 1989 NASA conducted a study on how indoor plants can improve the air quality of their space stations, looking at which indoor plants are most effective when it came to cleaning air.

How plants improve air quality

We are all taught at a young age that trees are important because they produce oxygen for us to breathe. What we aren’t taught is all the other amazing benefits plants can have on our air quality. Plants not only have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they also improve the air quality by removing harmful chemicals and toxins in our air.  

Some indoor plants have the ability to eliminate Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the indoor air. VOCs are toxic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene. These toxins are emitted by our everyday household items such as furniture, carpets, common appliances and aerosols. By adding plants to your home or office, you can lessen the amount of toxins present in the air. 

Plants are also natural humidifiers and can account for 10% of the moisture in the air we breathe. Large leaf plants release more moisture, whilst plants such as succulents and cacti, release very little. This can be an easy way to keep your building humidity in check.

What is sick building syndrome (SBS)? 

Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to describe a building in which people experience health and comfort effects that seem to be directly linked to the amount of time spent in the building. 

SBS is directly related to chemical contaminants from indoors such as VOCs, outside contaminants such as outdoor air pollution that can come from exhaust fumes, carbon emissions etc., poor ventilation, and biological contaminants such as bacteria, molds or pollen. 

Symptoms that occupants can experience as a result of SBS include headaches, irritated eyes and nose bleeds dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, itchy skin, dry coughs and even sensitivity to odors. Most of these symptoms reduce after leaving the building, but there have been cases of neurological issues continuing for longer periods of time.

The best indoor plants for improving air quality 

Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)

The Peace Lily is a popular indoor plant choice for two reasons. Firstly, it is super easy to care for (even for those without a green thumb). It is able to survive and remain healthy with little water and low light, requiring little attention. Secondly, the NASA study revealed it was revealed as one of the most efficient at removing VOCs in buildings.

Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant)

According to NASA, the Snake Plant (or Mother In-law’s tongue as it is also known) is one of the more effective houseplants for improving air quality and has the ability to absorb toxins in the air, including nitrogen oxide, xylene, formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.

Also easy to care for, these beauties will live in low light and require little watering as they prefer a warmer climate. Often deemed the best air-quality starter plant, it is our recommendation for anyone who is looking at getting into the indoor plant game.

The Snake Plant is also known to convert large amounts of CO2 to oxygen at night, a quality that only a few indoor plants hold, so it is a great plant to have in your bedroom for great air quality and to improve sleep.

Dracaena reflexa (Red-Edged Dracaena)

The Red-Edged Dracaena is another popular indoor plant choice again for its easy care and good aesthetics. In terms of air quality, the Red-Edged Dracaena is one of the most effective plants when it comes to removing formaldehyde from you home. It also removes other VOCs such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and xylene.

Other health benefits to having plants indoors 

A recent Harvard study found that when it came to what people most valued in their workplace,  the most common answer was better air quality and more access to natural light. 

It is no wonder that better air quality results in higher productivity. Having a plant in your home or office can result in reduced stress and fatigue, enhancing productivity.

As well as keeping you awake and alert during the day, indoor plants can also help you sleep. Studies have shown that some plant fragrances, such as jasmine or lavender, can encourage a more restful nights sleep. Plants such as the Snake Plant also boost oxygen output during the night time which help improve air quality while you are sleeping, creating a better atmosphere for you to snooze in. 

Improved mental health has also been linked to the presence of plants in the home and workplace. Plants increase positivity and make us feel more secure and relaxed. Improved air quality has now also been linked with improved mental health, making plants a double whammy for mental health. 

NASA’s research conducted in 1989 established the effects of indoor plants on air quality. Thirty years on and the indoor plant trend is at its peak. Indoor plants are an easy and attractive way to improve the air quality in our homes and workplaces. Not only does improve air quality, reduce the symptoms of sick building syndrome and look great, they also provide benefits to our health and wellbeing.


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