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NASA air purifying study debunk

September 1989, NASA.

The Clean Air Study has been published.

Yes, I know.

You probably wouldn’t say NASA would be a go-to for How to household projects, but they’ve had a pretty good DIY reason for it.

Paired with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) in this special research, NASA tried to have a particular goal. To find the perfect and sustainable ways to clean the air in space stations.

This is the arsenal of plants science has found to be excellent for space stations air purifying:

English ivy (Hedera helix)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum elatum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Variegated snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)
Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
Elephant ear philodendron(Philodendron domesticum)
Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Florist’s chrysanthemum(Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Aloe vera (Aloe vera)
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis)
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis Warnekei)
Banana (Musa oriana)

You may have already heard that some of these or plants, in general, are good for making a natural filter for the disgracefully awful air we breathe.

NASA’s study results suggested that, in addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis, certain common indoor plants may also provide a natural way of removing toxic or should I say, cancer-providing agents, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air.

Well, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it? The study further suggested that efficient air cleaning is accomplished with at least one plant per 9.3 m2 of space, BUT (and this is important) it was conducted under sealed space station conditions and research conducted since has shown mixed results in the home or office.

This is important because of several reasons. You kinda know I’m going to ruin the house plant shopping for you now, do you?


Here comes.
Houseplants have little — if any — real value as air purifiers.
Using data from a dozen different studies over the years we can find that for a house or an office above 100 m, you would have to find 580 house plants or five of them per square meter to achieve the purifying effect.

Well, that wouldn’t be such a smart use of space. So, using plants for the sole purpose of air cleaning has been a common misconception for some time. Plants are beautiful and needed and great, but they don’t actually clean indoor air quickly enough to have an effect on the air quality of your home or office environment.

The idea for this myth really took root in NASA’s 1989 study.

The research only got so far as placing a plant in an air-tight chamber smaller than a cubic meter, although the results were absolutely remarkable. Within a day, the authors reported up to 70 percent of the toxic pollutants in the air had been removed by the plants.

But a small sealed chamber is very different from a real indoor environment in a big building. Over time, the NASA study and subsequent research have been largely taken out of context. It’s not NASA’s fault for people being slightly foolish.

In a normal building, the authors argue, stale indoor air is continuously being replaced with fresh air from the outdoors, orders of magnitude faster than the chamber experiments.

It is time to make peace with the thought that our homes are not space stations.

Plants are not able to save us from the harm of global air pollutants. They are big. And they don’t care.


Next time someone tells you not to drama queen the air pollution moment, tell them: Don’t mix science with paranoia.

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