I have always been a lover of the humble houseplant and if I had it my way, there would be a hanging basket in every room filled with A String of Pearl succulents – however, this would be for the aesthetic benefit, not a respiratory one. There are endless debates on whether or not indoor greenery does purify the air you live in, we compare a few differing opinions to try to demystify the science. 

As an asthmatic, I have become increasingly aware that the modern day polluted air may be having a detrimental effect on my respiratory condition. Having lived in four different student lodgings during my time at university, I have become accustomed to quickly working out if damp is present by how frequently I wake up wheezy. As I live within atop of one of the many Sheffield hills, I would try any method that might see my airways finally open up. 

One suggestion that frequently came up during my nightly searches of the world wide web was various forms of foliage. Many people claim that specific plants are able to cleanse the air of pollutants while yet many others claim that this is a myth. I have attempted to find some clarity amongst the forest of opinions.

Firstly, let us go back to year seven biology. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and water, with sunlight, to produce oxygen and glucose.

This means that the carbon dioxide that we are breathing out should, in theory, be taken in by the plant and replaced with oxygen. At night, this ceases to occur and the process reverses in most plants, when lacking in sunlight.

Arguing against this, Bioadvanced.com, states that some plants still carry out the typical photosynthesis process and should therefore be placed in bedrooms to refresh the air while we sleep. This list includes, orchids, aloe vera, succulents, mother’s tongue and epiphytic bromeliads.

Some scientific research to support this comes from Kansas State University, who found that adding plants to hospital rooms speeds up recovery rates of surgical patients. When compared to patients without plants in their rooms, those with plants requested less pain medication, experienced less fatigue and anxiety and had lower heart rates and blood pressure. They were also generally released from hospital earlier. 

Time Magazine also claim that studies have shown the effects plants can have on reducing stress and making people feel happier. The interview with Stanley Kays, a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, concluded that “there are some real pluses to having plants around,” but he disagreed with claims of plants cleaning the air, stating that “it doesn’t look like plants sitting passively in a house are effective enough to make a major contribution to purifying indoor air.”

The Atlantic published an article titled, “A Popular Benefit of Houseplants Is a Myth”. They spoke to numerous Professors who refuted the claim that houseplants clean the air, one of which was a Portland State University Professor, Elliott Gall. He estimated that, “you would need at least one houseplant for every 20 square feet of floor space to even marginally reduce ground level Ozone”, a pollutant that some have claimed plants can reduce. 

There are so many articles on this topic, each with different claims, that to reach a conclusive answer on whether or not houseplants can help clean the air we breathe is very difficult. I’ve decided to simply enjoy my house plants for their aesthetics and hope that my airways are in some way benefitting from having multiple in my bedroom, if all else fails, it at least improves my Instagram.