Can Houseplants Improve Indoor Air Quality?


Asthma attacks can be triggered by a number of irritants that could be lurking in your home, including cigarette smoke, mold, dust, and animal dander and saliva. Some research suggests that having plants indoors may improve indoor air.

In 1989, NASA set out to determine whether plants could detoxify the air in its space stations and, by extension, in energy-efficient buildings with little outside ventilation. Numerous plants were found to remove formaldehyde, benzene, and other air pollutants in a sealed experimental chamber. Most effective were the common spider plant and golden pothos. More recently, a study found that the spider plant, golden pothos, and mother-in-law’s tongue (snake plant) reduced ozone concentrations in a simulated indoor environment.

It’s unclear, however, whether these benefits apply in real-world situations—and the EPA says there’s no solid evidence that a “reasonable amount” of houseplants would be enough to remove a significant level of pollutants. More efficient may be genetically modified plants: Researchers at the University of Washington have created a version of golden pothos that removes benzene and chloroform from the air better than the unmodified plant; the plant is now being further modified to remove more formaldehyde.

Bottom line: If you enjoy having plants around and they don’t cause allergic reactions or harm your pets or children (some are poisonous), they can enhance not only the aesthetics of your home but also possibly your health.