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Houseplants vs. Air Purifiers— Which Cleans the Air Better?

Updated on May 5, 2022 by Joseph D. Nielson

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In 1989, NASA conducted a study looking for a way to produce clean air for astronauts in space. In their research, they found that plants were able to reduce pollutants in the air. Since that study was published, there has been a lot of debate on whether plants are, in fact, capable of effectively purifying the air indoors. Some scientists say it’s a firm no, plants cannot purify the air and should not be used in place of an air purifier. Others, however, support this natural form of air purification. 

One of the biggest concerns against plants’ ability to purify the air is the fact that the NASA study placed plants in a small, enclosed environment to test their ability to purify the air. However, in larger rooms, like an office, living room, or bedroom, there isn’t accurate information to back plants’ ability to purify the air. 

Luckily, there are devices on the market that can effectively purify the air. Air purifiers come in a wide range of styles and sizes and can come with various added features. These devices come in four primary filter types: HEPA Filters, UV Filters, Activated Carbon Filters, and Ionic Generation. Let’s take a closer look at air purifiers and the science behind plants’ potential ability to purify the air.  

Why You Need Something to Purify the Air in Your Home

When most people think of pollutants in the air, they think of the air outside. However, there is a growing concern for the quality of air indoors as well. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air can actually be as much as five times more polluted than the air outside. This is because the air indoors isn’t circulated very much and thus any pollutants or toxins that are in the air can remain there for extended periods of time. 

Especially if you have a respiratory illness such as asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), cystic fibrosis, or if you suffer from allergies, having clean air is very important. Even without a respiratory illness or allergies, having an air purifier can have many benefits. Common indoor air pollutants and toxins include smoke, dust, pet dander, and pollen. Breathing in these pollutants can irritate the lungs and can have serious long-term health implications.

How Air Purifiers Work

Most air purifiers work by sucking in the air from the environment and passing it through a filter to capture toxins and pollutants from the air. The clean and fresh air is then pushed back out of the device and circulated through the room. Some devices can also filter out bacteria and viruses from the air.

Depending on the type of filter used in the device, it may have to be cleaned or replaced regularly to keep the device functioning properly. There are four main types of filters that each work a bit differently to clean the air. 

person putting their finger over the mist from an air purifier

HEPA Filter

HEPA filters are very dense which is why they are effective in removing 99.7 percent of airborne pollutants. Particles including dust, pet dander, pollen, and mould can all be trapped in a HEPA filtered and removed from the air. This is the most popular type of air purifier filter. 

UV Filter

UV Filters use ultraviolet rays to kill bacteria, pathogens and viruses in the air. The polluted air enters the device and passes through a UV lamp which kills the pollutants in the air before pushing the clean air back out. 

Activated Carbon Filter

Activated Carbon Filters are effective at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, formaldehyde and acetone, and natural room scents such as smoke, pet odors and food odors. 

Ionic Generation

Air purifiers that use Ionic Generation don’t actually have a filter in them. Rather, it sends out ions into your home that will attach to any pollutants in the air and cause them to fall to the ground. You can then vacuum or dust the floors to clear the particles. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Houseplants Improve Air Quality?

As most people know, plants produce oxygen by converting carbon dioxide through a process called photosynthesis. According to the aforementioned NASA study, “Plant roots and their associated microorganisms … destroy the pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and the organic chemicals, eventually converting all of these air pollutants into new plant tissue.” Other research has found that the microorganisms that live in the soil of potted plants can also help clean the air. 

While these findings are not invalid, using houseplants for air purification is not the best option. Think about it this way, you probably wouldn’t be dusting house plants if they were completely effective at purifying the air. 

In short, plants can improve air quality, but whether the difference is noticeable and how many plants would be required to reap the benefits still requires further research.

Can Plants Supplement the Need for an Air Purifier? 

Based on where the science currently stands, plants are not a suitable replacement for air purifiers. While they do have the ability to filter out some air pollutants, they cannot absorb all the toxins that float around in our homes. Still, having plants around your home or choosing to decorate a bathroom with plants can add a lot of life to the home. 

What are the Best Indoor Plants for Clean Air?

As we’ve discussed, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of using plants as an air purifier, there are some indoor plants that clean the air to a degree. According to the NASA study, the best air-purifying houseplants are Peace Lillies, English Ivy, Goldon Pothos, Janet Craig, Marginata, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, and Warneckii. Essentially, the bigger the plant and the more leaves it has, the better it will be at purifying the air. 

How Do I Test The Air Quality in My Home?

If you’re not sure whether your home needs an air purifier, consider getting a Air Quality Monitor. These devices can help determine the quality of the air in your home. Some monitors also have a built-in CO2 Plant Mode that can determine if your plants have proper conditions to grow in. 

About Joseph D. Nielson

Former journalist and editor for various press groups, I now dedicate my time to reviewing products for the home and family life. When I get time to myself, I enjoy rock climbing, taking my dirt bike for a rip, and most importantly providing my family with the best home possible!