NASA concluded that certain houseplants are highly effective in removing toxic chemicals from the air. In its research to improve air-quality in closed environments, NASA decided:
“Both plant leaves and roots are utilized in removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed buildings. Low levels of chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves alone.”
The chemicals that the houseplants remove are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The VOCs are in the main category of indoor air pollutants; they include toxic chemicals like acetone, benzene, and formaldehyde. Although these chemicals are invisible, they can come out of many things like furniture, printers, or cleaning supplies.
While the indoor air pollution is a hot issue at hand, the leader of the research, Vadoud Niri, commented on the importance of the finding:
“Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them. Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can lead some people to develop sick building syndrome, which reduces productivity and can even cause dizziness, asthma or allergies. We must do something about VOCs in indoor air.”
In the experiment, NASA tried to compare the efficiency of the plants on more than one VOC to see the most effective plant. The five plants used were Jade, Spider plant, Bromeliad, Caribbean tree cactus, and Dracaena. All of the plants were able to remove acetone, but only Dracaena was able to remove and process 94 percent of the chemical. Also, Bromeliad was able to remove 6 of the 8 VOCs with over 80 percent efficiency in 12 hours. Lastly, Jade was a good remover for toluene.
In the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, a reporter asked Niri if the chemicals affected the plants by any means. Niri reminded the reporter and the audience that low-level VOCs won’t cause any harm; yet, the green organisms should also be respected for their immense work.
Here is a video that further explores the research: