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Plants Clean the Air

Plants act as a natural air purification system by filtering out airborne contaminants, pumping out oxygen to revitalize the air, and regulating humidity levels.

The average person spends over 90% of their time indoors surrounded by indoor air pollution. This can have an adverse effect on building occupants, causing a condition known as “Sick Building Syndrome” – learn more here. The good news is plants, along with updated HVAC systems, can mitigate or even reverse these negative effects. 

Living walls have a tremendous ability to clean the air because they have such a large concentration of plants and density of foliage. Even a small living wall, around 10’x10’ in size, can have anywhere from 500-1,000 plants depending on the system. Larger living wall installations can have over 5,000 plants! That’s a lot of plants working 24 hours per day to filter the air. 

A great deal of research has been done on plants’ ability to improve air quality. The most famous research was done by Dr. William Wolverton, NASA’s principal investigator into air quality on space stations in the 1970’s. Dr. Wolverton found that chemicals, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves. He also noted that VOCs, TCE, benzene, toluene, xylene, and numerous other toxic chemicals can be removed by the roots of the plant or via the microorganisms living around the roots. His final report, “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement”, can be found here.

More recent work was performed by the Plants and Indoor Environmental Quality Group at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. In 2014 they found, among other benefits, that plants significantly reduced indoor air pollution, stating that indoor plants are a vital building installation element for improving indoor air quality. The group predicts that plants will become standard building technology.

While these aforementioned studies are a great place to start to learn more about how plants clean the air, resources such as Green Plants for Green Buildings can help you stay up to date on the latest developments regarding the benefits of plants for indoor spaces.

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