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Indoor Tropical Plants can Detoxify Air

At least 300 volatile substances found inside many buildings, from detergents, gasoline, oils, plastics, rubber, synthetic fibres, tobacco, smoke, carpet, clothes, foam insulation, furniture, household cleaners, paper goods, dry cleaning, inks, lacquers, creosote, varnishes, adhesives, sealants, paints, partcleboard, plywood, timber treatments, are all potential causes of ailments in humans. Among the common ailments attributed to indoor 'offgassing' are headaches, asthma, unnatural fatigue, conjunctivitis, chemical hypersensitivity syndrome and chronic degenerative conditions.

Since research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, and consume 15kg of air a day compared with 1kg of food, the maintanance of indoor air quality is an important step in avoiding the cumulation of toxins.

Bill Wolverton was asked by Nasa back in 1973 to find a solution to maintaining air quality inside confined spaces such as space pods. He confirmed the common intuition that indoor plants regularly remove pollutants. Photosynthesizing plants and their roots and associated microorganisms act to break down contaminants which are then taken up as nutrients. He discovered that Boston fern, chrysanthemum, dracaena and Ivy were highly effective at removing the formaldhyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from sealed chambers.

Removal of Formaldehyde from Sealed Chambers by Plants
Scientific Name
Common Name
Removal Rate
ug (micrograms)/hr
1. Nephrolepsis Exaltata
2. Chrysanthemum morifolium
3. Gerbera Jarnesonii
4. Phoenix roebelenii
5. Chamaedorea seifritzii
6. Dracanena derenebsis
7. Nephrolepsis obliterata
8. Hedera helix
Boston Fern
Gerbera daisy
Dwarf date palm
Bamboo palm
Janet craig
Kimberly queen fern
English Ivy

Removal of Xylene from Sealed Chambers by Plants
Scientific Name
Common Name
Removal Rate
ug (micrograms)/hr
1. Chrysalidocarpus lutescens
2. Phoenix roebelenii
3. Dieffenbachia carnille
4. Lracana marginata
5. Dieffenbachia maculata
6. Homalomena
7. Nephrolepsis obliterata
8. Draceana deremensis
Areca palm
Dwarf date palm
Dumb cane
Dragon tree
Dumb cane
King of Hearts
Kimberly queen fern

The most commonly available plants on this list are the Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata), Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), and English Ivy (Hedera helix). Since different plants absorb different pollutants, a mix of a minimum of two plants per 100 square feet of floor space in an average home is recommended, but basically, the more the better.

Spider Plant
Areca Palm
Boston Fern


"Tropical Plants Clean up the Air" by David Foster at the 3rd Indoor Air Quality Conference June 1995

"Danger Chemicals get EU all-clear for continued Use" Paul Brown and Andrew Osborn in Brussels, The Guardian

UNIT 5 Study Book Feb 2003 University of East London & Centre for Alternative Technology MSc Architecture