A recent study from the University of Georgia shows that some decorative indoor plants have the power to effectively remove all harmful volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from the air. VOCs are chemicals such as benzene, xylene and octane. These are known to cause cancer and other health problems — disease which the World Health Organization reports kill more than 1.6 million people each year. 

If that doesn’t alarm you, consider this: VOCs are emitted by paint, varnishes, adhesives, furnishings, clothing, solvents, building materials, tap water and more. People spend 90 percent or more of their time inside. Indoor air has been reported to be as much as 12 times more polluted than outdoor air in some areas. 

Stanley J. Kays of the Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia, was the lead researcher on this study published in HortScience. As Kay explained, “The VOCs tested in this study can adversely affect indoor air quality and have a potential to seriously compromise the health of exposed individuals.” Kay’s team tested 28 common indoor plants for their “phytoremediation," or their ability to remove five volatile indoor pollutants. 

This study concluded that simply introducing plants into indoor spaces has the potential to significantly improve the quality of indoor air. And further, they improve our psychological health by reducing stress and boosting task performance.

And what are the plants to you want to consider? The purple waffle plant, English ivy and the asparagus fern are cited in the study as high-performing plants. If you have allergies, then an English ivy will work well. After 12 hours in a room, it can remove up to 78 percent of airborne mold and 94 percent of airborne feces. 

Other resources also point out the good qualities of houseplants. The Areca Palm is considered an efficient air humidifier, as this plant releases large amounts of water into the air while removing chemical toxins. A six-foot palm apparently lets loose up to one liter of water a day. 

Further, the Gerbera daisy is one of the most effective plants in removing Trichloroethylene concentrations from the air. Trichloroethylene is a “commercial product that has a wide variety of industrial uses. It is used in some printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives.”

The Peace Lily is great for removing benzene concentrations in the air. Benzene is a commonly used solvent found in gasoline, inks, oils, paint, plastic and rubber. It is also used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals and dyes. 

And finally, the common green spider plant is one of the top plants to remove concentrations of formaldehyde in the air. And why is this good? Formaldehyde can be found throughout your house — it's in foam insulation, particle board or pressed-wood products, not to mention that grocery bags, waxed paper, facial tissue and paper towels, are all treated with formaldehyde resins.

MNN homepage photo: rsaraiva/iStockPhoto 

Can houseplants save your life?
Study shows ornamental indoor plants can effectively remove harmful chemicals from indoor air.