Do Plants Really Purify Your Air?

When checking out the assortment of pretty houseplants on display at our favorite nursery or home improvement store, many people pause to wonder whether adding a little more greenery to the living spaice would be a good idea. After all, houseplants are known for reducing stress and anxiety, boosting productivity and creativity, and even purifying the air we breathe, per Healthline, right? Well, sort of.

NASA researchers conducted studies in the 1980s which showed that indoor houseplants are remarkably effective at reducing indoor air pollution. This includes the carbon dioxide we exhale, as well as cancer-causing volatile organic compounds (VOC's) such as formaldehyde and benzene, which are emitted largely by household items and cleaners.

The results were both confirmed and challenged by later studies. While the results of the original study aren't disputed, other scientists caution against applying them too directly to the average home environment. The NASA study was conducted in a small, airtight space – very different from the environment of most American homes, which are both larger, and well-equipped with efficient air exchange and circulation systems.

Indoor plants offer many benefits

Stanley Kays, a professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Georgia, co-authored a 2009 study on the air-purifying qualities of 28 different houseplants. While they did in fact clean the air, he emphasizes that there are other, more significant factors at play.

"There's a phenomenal amount of air coming in and going out in most houses," Kays explained, (via TIME). "From what I've seen, in most instances air exchange with the exterior has a far greater effect on indoor air quality than plants."

That doesn't mean we should love our houseplants less, though. The air-purifying effect may be minimal, but it's still something. And the other benefits of indoor plants – cheering us up and lowering our stress levels – are plenty reason to keep them around. Ariel Ries, an employee at Tula Plants and Design – a small houseplant shop in Greenpoint with a vibrant Instagram presence and a profusion of leaves on every available horizontal surface, adds, "Bringing plants in, bringing greenery in — it's about having something near you that's alive, that you're caring for, that brings you joy and happiness," (via Allure).