Using plants to Clean Indoor Air pollutants

Newly constructed or tightly sealed buildings, which were built with heating and cooling efficiency in mind, are prime candidates for the so-called "sick building syndrome". Tenants can experience respiratory irritations, coughing, sore throats and difficulty breathing. Headaches and frequent illness have also been reported in "sick buildings".

Toxins in such buildings originate from several sources:
New buildings or recently remodelled buildings are prone to emitting indoor toxins. New paint, carpets, furniture, newly stained or sealed wood and plastic surfaces release large amounts of chemicals into the interior environment. Copiers, inks and some cleaning products also release fumes, all of which can be detected for up to one year in the indoor air.

The idea of using plants as indoor air-fresheners and cleaners came from a NASA-researcher, Dr. B.C. Wolerton. In his experiments he found that certain plants can significantly decrease the concentration of some toxic materials such as formaldehyde, benzene and carbon-monoxide.

The major office pollutants are:

Tests found that most ornamental indoor plants can help clean the air of at least one type of the above pollutants. Certain indoor plants have the ability to remove all three of the most common toxins, although most plants are not able to remove high levels of these materials.
Roots of the plants proved to play the most important role in cleaning and decomposing these pollutants. Certain indoor plants, like Philodendron and Chlorophytum stood out with their efficiency. Further results of the research are shown below.

Plants capable of cleaning air of damaging formaldehyde


% of decomposition

Aloe (Aloe barbadensis) 90
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) 86
Philodendron species 76
Corn Plant (Dracaena fragans) 70
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) 67
Nephthytis ( Syngonium podophyllum) 67
Soil (control) 33

Results for breaking down benzene


% of decomposition
English Ivy ( Hedera helix) 90
Peace Lily (Spatiphyllum) 80
Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) 79
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis) 78
Golden Pothos (Epiperum aureus) 73
Soil (control) 20

Results for breaking down trichloroethylene


% of decomposition
Peace Lily ( Spathiphyllum) 23
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis) 20
Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) 13
English Ivy (Hedera helix) 11
Soil (control) 9

Only 19 species were examined during the research, but it is probable that most of indoor plants can clean the air of a room and the species mentioned above are especially recommended.
Place at least one ornamental indoor plant per 100 square feet of office space. Select large leafy plants and mix plant species to combat the full range of toxins.


Sources of airborne Pollution Plant solutions

Foam Insulation
Plywood or Particle Board
Paper Products

Corn Plant (Dracaena fragans massangeana)
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Philodendron species
Bamboo palm (Chamaedora siefrizii)
Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aures)
Potted Mum (Chrysanthemum)

Tobacco Smoke
Petroleum Products
Synthetic Fibers
Inks & Dyes
Rubber Products

Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis)
Potted Mum (Chrysanthemum)
Gerbera Daisy
Ribbon Plant (Dracaena warneckei)
English Ivy (Hedera helix species)
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum species)
Dry Cleaning
Inks & Dyes
Lacquers & Paints
Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
Potted Mum (Chrysanthemum)
Peace Lily (Spathifyllum species)
Gerbera Daisy
Ribbon Plant (Dracaena warneckei)