There are questions every shopper ponders when strolling through their local plant store:

Will I kill this plant?

Will it be fussy and uncontrollable?

Will it purify my air?

While we can’t answer the first two for you (sorry), we can answer the last, which is a resounding no. Indoor plants will not purify your air.

Where did the myth come from?

The idea dates back to 1989 when NASA published the Clean Air Study, looking for ways to clean the air inside space stations. Indoor air quality researcher Bill Wolverton placed various plant species in sealed chambers, added volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), and measured their presence 24 hours later. The study found between 10% — 70% of VOC’s were removed and concluded that indoor plants can purify the air. Now, researchers have discovered this is not necessarily the case.

The study is not a complete lie — the plants did remove the compounds. The extrapolation of these results to the air in your living room is where the problem lies. The NASA study was done in a controlled environment in small, sealed chambers where the compounds were not able to escape. These conditions differ greatly from the larger, airy spaces in our homes.

Researchers Bryan Cummings and Michael Waring, recognizing this problem, repeated the study in real indoor environments and found no improvement in indoor air quality. They claim you would need between 10 and 1000 plants per square meter to match the airflow from an open window. As much as we love houseplants, thousands may be overdoing it.

Why they’re great anyway

Indoor plants may not purify your air, but that doesn’t mean you should shun them altogether. These benefits of indoor plants will have you running back to the store to add another friend to your collection:

  • Indoor plants are good for your mental health and can relieve stress
  • Indoor plants increase productivity and memory retention
  • Indoor plants improve interior design
  • Caring for indoor plants provides a sense of accomplishment

Sadly, with a few plants in the corner, your air won’t be any cleaner. However, you will be happier, and more productive, in a well-designed room, with a sense of accomplishment, surrounded by low-effort friends. We think that’s enough of a reason.


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