Just open a window! Air-purifying house plants are a potty idea

World

Just open a window! Air-purifying house plants are a potty idea

Wild misinterpretation of a Nasa experiment means you’re pointlessly populating your lounge with foliage

Sarah Knapton

Since Nasa published a paper in 1989 claiming that houseplants can soak up pollutants, people have increasingly invested in greenery to clean their air. But analysis suggests it could take more than 1,000 plants per square metre to gain a benefit any greater than simply opening a couple of windows.

The problem lies in the fact that Nasa conducted its tests in sealed containers that do not mimic the conditions in most people’s homes or offices. The space agency was primarily concerned about keeping the air fresh for astronauts in biospheres or space stations, and helping to combat “sick building syndrome” which had become a problem due to the super-insulated and energy-efficient offices of the late 1970s.

Nasa found that plants such as English ivy, bamboo, gerbera and peace lilies could remove benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene; even today, garden centres recommend the plants for their air-cleaning properties...

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