Air Purifiers vs Green Plants…Is One Better Than the Other

Air purifiers are the most common way to clean the air in a room. They work by removing particles from the air that can cause health problems.

Plants purify the air by taking toxins out of it and releasing oxygen back into it. They do this through a process called photosynthesis.

Which is better? Air purifiers or plants? It depends on what you’re looking for and how much space you have available in your home or office.

Air purifiers are more efficient, but they still require upkeep to function properly. Plants don’t require any maintenance (other than watering and fertilization from time to time), but they take up a lot of space and can’t filter out all of the toxins in your home’s environment.

Throughout the years, there have been a lot of debates about mechanical versus natural air filtration.

The debate has focused on whether houseplants can compete with air purifiers in terms of cleaning indoor air.

A 1989 study published by NASA that documented the powerful air purifying abilities of plants sparked the debate between using air purifiers vs household plants.

The study raised a few interesting questions.

Can indoor plants clean the air in your home? How does an air purifier compare to a plant in terms of purifying the air? Do air purifiers even work at all?

Let’s find out…

Our first step will be to explain how air purifiers work to clean the air, then we will discuss plants, and then we will conclude with some tips on how to choose the best option for your home.

Types of filters

HEPA filter

The HEPA filter in an air purifier circulates your home’s air through a dense filter housed inside the machine. By far, the best type of filter is the “True-HEPA”, which removes 99.97% of contaminants down to 0.3 microns in size. Among these particles are mold, dust, pollen, and pet dander.

Activated carbon filter

The Activated Carbon filter in an air purifier is specifically designed to remove airborne odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Besides capturing odor-causing particles such as cigarette smoke and pet odors, the filters capture vapors from cleaning solutions, chemicals, and paints as well.

UV Filters

Air purifiers that use UV light to kill bacteria and viruses in the air help you breathe easier. The machine uses non-lethal radiation to break up bacteria and viruses that pass through it at the molecular level.

Ionic air purifier

In contrast to physical filters, ionic air purifiers use ions to trap floating contaminants in the air rather than physical filters that trap particles. 

As the ions attach, the particles get too heavy to stay in the air, so they fall to the ground. To completely remove the particles, it’s necessary to vacuum them up. Sometimes air purifiers come with a collection plate to catch the falling particles 

The way plants clean the air

Now that we know about the different types of air purifiers, let’s explore the question, “How do plants purify the air?”.”

A houseplant absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air through its leaves. Carbon dioxide is then combined with water and sunlight to produce carbohydrates that plants use to survive. The process, called photosynthesis, releases oxygen (O2) into the air so humans and animals can breathe it.

Besides CO2, plants absorb many other gases, such as acetone, benzene, and formaldehyde. According to a NASA study carried out in 1989, plants are highly effective at cleaning the air indoors.

Hundreds of sources contribute to the production of VOCs in your home, such as household cleaning products, paints, furniture, building materials, and cosmetics.

As you can see, indoor plants are natural filters and can remove pollutants from the air. It is no wonder the air purifier vs indoor plants debate is so controversial.

Not all plants are equal

Unfortunately, plants cannot absorb every type of air pollution. Particles such as dust, allergens, smoke, mold spores, and pet dander fall to the soil and plant surface. If you’ve ever seen a dusty houseplant, you now know why.

Although all plants purify air to some degree, there are some indoor plants that are particularly effective.

According to a NASA study, these plants purify the air the best:

  • ⬥ Warneckii (Dracaena Warneckii)
  • ⬥ English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • ⬥ Janet Craig (Dracaena fragrans)
  • ⬥ Marginata (Dracaena marginata)
  • ⬥ Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • ⬥ English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • ⬥ Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • ⬥ Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum)

You may have noticed that these plants are larger, and many are trailing ivy. Plants with larger surfaces can absorb more contaminants from the air.Plants with larger surfaces can absorb more contaminants from the air.

A caveat

Over-watering plants can lead to mold growth in your home, which can lower the air quality. Fungi such as mold and mildew thrive in moist, warm conditions and can be found inside a plant’s soil.

Keep your plants watered regularly if you want a house full of plants but don’t want to risk exposure to mold. For additional peace of mind, you can get the best air purifier for mold and mildew, which eliminates mold spores from the air. 

Do You Need Many Plants to Purify the Air?

While it’s not possible to know precisely how many plants you’ll need, NASA offers a rule of thumb that can help.

It is recommended to use 15 to 18 plants that have a container diameter between 6 and 8 inches for a 1,800 square foot house.

If we break it down further, this works out to roughly one plant per 100 square feet of floor space.

So, for example, if your bedroom is 12 by 15 feet (180 square feet), then you would need a minimum of two large houseplants to get the best air purification for your room.

Which is Better: An Air Purifier or an Indoor Plant?

So then, which will you choose? Here are some tips to help you decide.

Air purifiers work best for:

  • ⬥ Those who don’t mind using mechanical air filtration
  • ⬥ Those with mild to severe allergies or asthma
  • ⬥ People who want to remove more air contaminants (i.e. dust, allergens, bacteria, mold, pet dander, smoke, etc.) from their homes.)
  • ⬥ Dusty homes or homes with a lot of pet dander
  • ⬥ Those who don’t have a lot of extra space to accommodate many large indoor plants
  • ⬥ People who struggle with keeping plants alive and healthy

Houseplants work best for:

  • ⬥ Those who prefer natural air purification
  • ⬥ Houses that have higher levels of VOCs (e.g. new construction or renovations, new furniture, a lot of cleaning products, etc.).
  • ⬥ Houses that accumulate little dust or pet dander
  • ⬥ Homes with enough room for multiple plants
  • ⬥ A person who is good at growing and maintaining houseplants
  • ⬥ A person who takes extra measures to keep their house free from toxic pollutants (green living)

Keep in mind that there’s no reason you must choose one over the other – you can have both plants and air purifiers, giving you the best of both worlds.

Bottom line, whatever option you choose, everyone in your home will breathe much easier if you use some method of air purification.

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