January 10, 2021

Indoor air quality is a concern for many homes today. Modern furnishings and materials are responsible for up to 90% of the contaminants. But how can you manage your indoor air quality? In this article, we compare plants and air purification systems.

Can Plants Clean the Air?

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of some of the 1970s trends. One such trend is the use of houseplants to purify the air. Using plants may seem like a great idea since they accentuate your interior design choices. Gardening is also a healthy hobby that can be fulfilling for many homeowners.

Unfortunately, the idea that plants can capture toxins and allergens from the air is hardly true. Several studies have already debunked the myth. When compared to home purification systems, their ability to clean the air is negligible.

Plants can get rid of toxins but at such a low rate that they cannot compete with conventional purification systems. The surface area of a plant’s leaf is too small to take in significant quantities of air. You will need 10 of them for every square foot. That translates to about 5,000 plants for a five by five-foot space.

Why the Confusion?

The reason the myth is so prevalent is that the claims usually rely on old studies. Research by NASA from 30 years ago indicates that plants can indeed remove some pollutants like VOCs.

The level of Volatile Organic Compounds indoors can be up to two to five times the concentration outdoors. VOCs can cause respiratory problems as well as eye and nose irritation after a short duration of exposure. Unfortunately, they cannot be removed by your average electrostatic purifier.

That is why studies showing some plant’s ability to remove VOCs have generated so much interest. However, the NASA study was done in a lab, where the experiment does not match your indoor environment.

Why Plants Are Impractical for Air Purification

Plants may seem like an economical option for addressing indoor air quality concerns in your home. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen and humidity. That is in contrast to a home purification system that consumes considerable amounts of energy to remove toxins.

But there are several reasons why plants are impractical. Unlike in a hermetically sealed lab environment, your home allows air to get in from the outdoors. The incoming airflow will introduce new pollutants as soon as the plant completes its purification cycle.

The rate at which the houseplant can remove pollutants in your home is too slow to be useful. Since you’ll need at least 10 plants per square foot, you’ll be effectively turning the room into a garden. Even then, the capacity to purify is marginal in comparison to a purification system.

Additionally, houseplants cannot remove pollutants that a basic air purifier will capture. For example, pet dander, allergens and dust will only settle on the plan’s leaf, unlike the VOCs it can process.

Plants also require a lot of upkeep. You’ll need to water, weed and prune them every now and then. That translates to more resources and time spent on indoor gardening. The amount of care the houseplant will require will depend on the species. Some houseplants require a consistent interior temperature, which may consume the energy you’re trying to save.

The Challenges of Removing Volatile Organic Compounds

VOCs are a group of toxic compounds found in skincare products, paints and adhesives. You could have a significant concentration of VOCs if you’ve done some renovation work recently. The toxin gases could also be coming from vehicle traffic from a road close to your home.

One problem with VOCs is that electrostatic and HEPA filters cannot capture the toxins. Even though HEPA filters can stop particles as small as 0.3 micrometers, they still won’t capture VOCs. Gases are even smaller than that and will require a specialized air purifier.

Another challenge is that the source of VOCs may continue releasing the toxic gases indefinitely. How much they continue to introduce contaminants will depend on the material. Some of the VOCs, such as those from paint, will emit toxins after six months. But other items in your home like the particulate board or MDF can continue releasing the gas for two decades.

Therefore, you must locate the pollutant before you think of installing a filtration system. An indoor air quality monitor can help track hazardous contaminants in your home. Removing the material that releases VOCs is the best first step to take to make your home safe from toxins.

Activated Carbon Filter Versus Plants for VOCs

Although plants can filter VOCs, their capacity is marginal and impractical. Also, a regular filtration system cannot capture the toxic gas due to the small size of the particles. So how can you eliminate volatile organic compounds from your home?

One of the most effective solutions is to use activated carbon filters. Activated carbon has minute pores with a low volume. The structure of its molecules allows for a large surface area that can capture different types of compounds.

The filter works by adsorption, where molecules from a fluid adhere to the surface of activated charcoal. Some studies show that it can capture between 60 and 80% of gaseous toxins. One of its applications is to control hazardous nuclear waste.

Air Purifiers and Managing Indoor Air Quality

Many types of pollutants can pose a risk to your home. They include particulate matter, ozone, radon, Asbestos and biological contaminants. You should understand the type of contaminant you are dealing with before you take any remedial steps.

You should also note that indoor air quality issues can create more complicated problems if not resolved on time. For example, high levels of humidity can cause biological contaminants to thrive in your home. Vapor combined with warmth can encourage a bacterial or mold spore infestation.

Understanding the nature of the pollution will help you determine the best course of action to take. For instance, species like the Jade Plant can humidify the room. But the extra moisture may be destructive if humidity levels are already high in the building.

The EPA suggests improving ventilation in the interior to address indoor air quality concerns. When the air from the outdoors gets into your home, it dilutes harmful toxins. Enclosed spaces allow for particulate matter and VOCs to accumulate.

Unfortunately, plants cannot remove significant amounts of pollutants, especially where there is ventilation. It is also much harder to determine the plants you’ll need to remove pollutants in a given space.

Another approach to indoor air quality is to use monitors to detect contaminants in your home. The process is much more verifiable and scientific. Plants can enhance aesthetics and complement other air purification systems. You can talk to Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating ‘s certified technicians for effective air quality solutions in Hanover.

The condition of your ductwork and AC system can have an impact on your indoor air quality. Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating ‘s BBB-accredited service has a team of experienced professionals who can install whole-home humidifiers. We offer installation services for cooling and heating systems. Our team can also provide dependable custom ductwork and metal fabrication solutions.

If you need dependable indoor air quality solutions you can rely on, consult Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating ‘s team in Hanover today.

company icon