Potted plants do not improve indoor air quality: a review and analysis of reported VOC removal efficiencies

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Abstract

Potted plants have demonstrated abilities to remove airborne volatile organic compounds (VOC) in small, sealed chambers over timescales of many hours or days. Claims have subsequently been made suggesting that potted plants may reduce indoor VOC concentrations. These potted plant chamber studies reported outcomes using various metrics, often not directly applicable to contextualizing plants’ impacts on indoor VOC loads. To assess potential impacts, 12 published studies of chamber experiments were reviewed, and 196 experimental results were translated into clean air delivery rates (CADR, m3/h), which is an air cleaner metric that can be normalized by volume to parameterize first-order loss indoors. The distribution of single-plant CADR spanned orders of magnitude, with a median of 0.023 m3/h, necessitating the placement of 10–1000 plants/m2 of a building’s floor space for the combined VOC-removing ability by potted plants to achieve the same removal rate that outdoor-to-indoor air exchange already provides in typical buildings (~1 h−1). Future experiments should shift the focus from potted plants’ (in)abilities to passively clean indoor air, and instead investigate VOC uptake mechanisms, alternative biofiltration technologies, biophilic productivity and well-being benefits, or negative impacts of other plant-sourced emissions, which must be assessed by rigorous field work accounting for important indoor processes.

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Correspondence to Michael S. Waring.

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Cummings, B.E., Waring, M.S. Potted plants do not improve indoor air quality: a review and analysis of reported VOC removal efficiencies. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2019) doi:10.1038/s41370-019-0175-9

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Keywords

  • Empirical/statistical models
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Exposure modeling