Can We Purify the Air with Plants?

Can we purify the air with plants? Once the pandemic started people began looking for ways to sanitize everything around us. The air is no different. Air purifiers sold out like hotcakes even though data showed that the machines couldn’t purify the air from COVID-19. Just the thought of cleaner air gives us a sense of calmness that we need right now. So, in addition to hearing the soothing hum of our HEPA machines, let’s find out if we can purify the air with plants.

Let’s Look at the Most Common Air Pollutants

Carbon Monoxide (fuel-burning appliances, e.g., gas stoves)

Ozone (cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants)

Lead (burning, incineration, engines such as airplane engines and metal processing plants)

Nitrogen Dioxide (combustion of fossil fuels, e.g., coal, gas and oil)

Particulate Matter (dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets)

Urban forests have the ability to absorb harmful airborne particulate matter, especially PM2.5 particles.

Sulfur Dioxide (burnt matches, fossil fuel combustion, and volcanoes)

Air pollution can cause a myriad of long-term health problems, including asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer. Pollutant exposure can also increase the risks of cardiovascular disease and exacerbate existing lung irritation. Studies have shown that air pollution can even impact mental health, productivity, and income. 

According to the EPA, trees are capable of removing sulfur dioxide from the atmosphere. This polluting gas is absorbed into tree leaves where it is permanently converted into plant nutrition.

Which Plants Purify the Air

We can thank plants for not only helping the air, but they also improve the quality of our soil and water by removing dangerous contaminates. The process is called phytoremediation and after the plant stabilizes the problem it then releases important nutrients into the soil to revitalize it. Mother Nature at her best!

Plants That Remove Carcinogenic Hydrocarbons 

These 5 plants can purify the air from hydrocarbons

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)

Flamingo lily (Anthurium andraeanum)

Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa)

Florist’s Daisy  (Chrysanthemum x morifolium)

Snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) – One of these produces enough oxygen to clean the air in a bedroom.

Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”)

Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)  

Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)

English ivy (Hedera helix)

Types of Carcinogenic Hydrocarbons 

Benzene (organic hydrocarbon from crude oil and gasoline, and relates to blood cancers, e.g., acute myeloid leukemia)

Formaldehyde (smoking, 2nd-hand smoke, building materials, cosmetics and household products)

Trichlorethylene a.k.a TCE (metal cleaning and degreasing, wood finishes, adhesives, paint and stain removers)

Toluene a.k.a. Xylene (hydrocarbon that occurs naturally in petroleum and coal tar, and is a constituent of smoke from most combustion sources)

Ammonia (this nitrogen-hydrogen compound is generated from agriculture and industry) 

While indoor plants are unlikely to make a major difference in cleaning your home’s air, urban forests can have substantial impact on cleaning the air of a community. Although we can’t purify the air from COVID-19, it’s always a good idea to have cleaner air in your home. Filtering pollutants can improve the health of your skin by keeping your pores free of contaminants. 

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Photo credits and thanks go to: Kermen Tutkunova @kermen_photography

Mokkie / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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