The Q&A Archives: Create A Healthy Indoor Environment

Question: We are looking for indoor plants for the classrooms in our school that will help make the indoor air more healthy. Do you have any suggestions?

Leslie Effman for Harris Hill Elementary School

Answer: You might find the following EPA discussion of indoor air pollution interesting, although it does not mention houseplants as a remedial action.

It explains the following about plants:

"Can plants control indoor air pollution?
Recent reports in the media and promotions by the decorative houseplant industry characterize plants as "nature's clean air machine", claiming that National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research shows plants remove indoor air pollutants. While it is true that plants remove carbon dioxide from the air, and the ability of plants to remove certain other pollutants from water is the basis for some pollution control methods, the ability of plants to control indoor air pollution is less well established. Most research to date used small chambers without any air exchange which makes extrapolation to real world environments extremely uncertain. The only available study of the use of plants to control indoor air pollutants in an actual building could not determine any benefit from the use of plants69. As a practical means of pollution control, the plant removal mechanisms appear to be inconsequential compared to common ventilation and air exchange rates. In other words, the ability of plants to actually improve indoor air quality is limited in comparison with provision of adequate ventilation.

While decorative foliage plants may be aesthetically pleasing, it should be noted that overdamp planter soil conditions may actually promote growth of unhealthy microorganisms."

Based on the above information, it would seem any plants will do to help beautify the area but should not be expected to clean the air for you.

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