Plants as Indoor Natural Air Purifiers
December 27, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
In its study of the effects of plants on interior air quality and sick air syndrome, NASA pointed out that “if man is to move into closed environments, he must take along nature’s life support system.”
Green Flow, recipient of the James Dyson International Design Award, is a desktop air purifier that plugs in via USB to your computer. It claims to clean the air using Tillandsia Usneiodes, or air plants, as the filter.
Air Purifiers Feature Award-Winning Design
A number of designers have produced indoor air purifiers utilizing plants. One of these, the Andrea, which we wrote about last year, claims to “harness the power of nature to create clean air for your family.” The Andrea is beautifully designed, has won numerous awards, and been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art. But do these air purifiers perform any better than simply placing the same plants inside your space?
Consumer Reports reported that its test on the Andrea indicated that it did not help remove dust, pollen, or smoke. Their report claimed that Andrea’s manufacturers misrepresented a study cited on the their website, which included a prototype of a purifier using a potted plant in a 16×12 ft. test chamber with 10-foot ceilings. In that space, explained Jianshun S. Zhang, Ph.D., professor and director of energy and indoor environmental systems at Syracuse University, and the lead author of the Andrea study, “it would take four Andrea-type purifiers to have a significant effect on formaldehyde, a common VOC. The potted-plant purifier we tested in that study actually did not perform well,” he added. “They are misrepresenting my study.”
O2 by Tian Lingruel. Photo from Yanko Design.
Another plant air filter system, The O2 by Tian Lingruel, employs a tray on which one places a plant pot to supposedly accelerate the photosynthesis process thereby increasing the amount of oxygen in the air.
Even if the air purifying portion is no better than the potted plant alone, the O2 system will help the forgetful as it monitors water absorption, alerting users when the plant requires watering.
Using only sunlight and plants to purify the air, the Aura, by Ben McGinley, doesn’t contain any fans, pumps, filters or require any electricity.
Plants grow in a removable inner pot that directs airflow around the roots, a key filtration area. The stacking pot system moves air naturally while sunlight heats the air within the chamber, forcing it upward.
Luo Cong Ying’s O2 Releasing Air Cleaner (below) relies on similar principles of artificial photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and water from the air into oxygen.
Singapore designer, Sherly Gunawan, was also inspired by research like the NASA study, in her development of GreenAir, another prototype for an indoor air purifier utilizing plants. GreenAir’s fan, using a solar panel as the energy source, pulls air to the root area proporting to enable larger amounts of contaminants to be purified in a shorter amount of time. The air purifier, like Lingruel’s O2 System, also contains a self watering mechanism, this one using a nylon thread as an extension of the root.
Best 12 Indoor Plants for Purifing Air
The NASA study suggested that 12 common indoor plants may provide a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air, helping neutralize the effects of sick building syndrome. The plants cited were:
1. Bamboo Palm (chamaedorea seifrizii)
2. Chinese Evergreen (aglaonema modestum)
Photo: Tidy’s Flowers
3. English Ivy (hedera helix)
4. Gerbera Daisy (gerbera jamesonii)
Photo: Guide to Houseplants
5. Janet Craig (dracaena deremensis ‘janet craig’)
6. Marginata (dracaena marginata)
7. Mass Cane/Corn Cane (dracaena massengeana)
8. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (sansevieria laurentii)
Photo: Wallace Garden Center
9. Peace Lily (spathiphyllum ‘mauna loa’)
10. Pot Mum (chrysanthemum morifolium)
NASA Study Conclusions
“Low-light houseplants, along with activated carbon plant filters,” the NASA study concluded, “have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air in energy-efficient buildings. The plant root-soil zone appears to be the most effective area for removing volatile organic chemicals.”
What’s Your Take?
We’d like to know what you think: do these gadgets enhance the process or can we purify indoor air just as well with houseplants alone?