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Just How Well Do Indoor Plants Clean Air?

peace lilly and bamboo palm
Peace Lily and Bamboo Palm; ‘clean air machines’

It’s common knowledge that plants put oxygen into the air and take pollutants out. But what are the exact pollutants removed? And just how efficient are certain plants at improving office air quality? There is a fine science behind how indoor plants clean air. For clean office air, it’s a good idea to get to know each species. Choosing a plant for indoor plant hire becomes a lot less complex once you know how each plant contributes to office air quality.

First, let’s talk pollutants. NASA has a vested interest in how indoor plants clean air. With an aim to create a breathable atmosphere in space, NASA has provided a handy list of dangerous chemicals, their symptoms, and the plants that can best remove them. Ammonia, xylene, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene all occur in regular domestic items. Cleaning products, plastics, printing inks, adhesives, even facial tissues can contain any combination of the five. They cause irritation to the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, as well as general headaches and nausea. Xylene can even damage the liver and kidney as well as causing heart problems. Formaldehyde can swell the lungs and larynx in extreme cases. Benzene can cause unconsciousness. And Trichloroethylene exposure can lead to vomiting, then drowsiness and a comatose state.

Because of their abundance in household items, it’s hard to find any of these five chemicals alone. And NASA makes clear that the symptoms described above are “associated with short term exposure”. The good news is that in the early 80’s NASA’s Dr. Bill Wolverton compiled a list of the 50 most effective air cleaning species. Together with the rest of the research released by NASA, indoor plant hire is easier and better informed than ever. Here’s just a couple of species endorsed by the research.

Peace Lily

The peace lily acts as a sort of catch-all. The five chemicals we listed above are all part of the peace lily’s pollutants removed. It’s also ranked at number 10 out of 50 on Dr. Wolverton’s list. Because it is a flowering plant, office staff can enjoy a fragrant placement during the peace lily blooming season. Of course, this means the peace lily triggers pollen allergies in affected people. Because of this and its ability to catch all five common indoor pollutants, peace lilies are best placed as individual plants. It’s even known to remove mould spores. It has truly earnt its reputation as a ‘clean air machine’. Its iconic, serene flowers are a welcome bonus for any interior.

Bamboo Palm

The bamboo palm is ranked at a stellar 3 out of 50 on Dr. Wolverton’s list. Pollutants removed from the air include xylene and formaldehyde. Not only is it a boon for clean office air, the bamboo palm has also made its mark as a popular winter plant. It acts as a natural humidifier, meaning those dry winter months need not be so dry. Its palm-like appearance most naturally evokes feelings of warmer climates, so onlookers feel mentally invigorated. When indoor plants clean air they can sometimes bring additional benefits. The bamboo palm is one such plant, and a great plant to help the office through the dry Australian winter which is no doubt coming.

Not all indoor plants clean air equally. Although powerful, each species has its own nuances to consider and take advantage of.