Do house plants clean the air? Scientists debunk the NASA-endorsed myth

There are a lot of claims made, but do house plants clean the air? The experts have revealed the answer

Do house plants clean the air in a home office
(Image credit: Alamy)

We've all heard the claims but do house plants clean the air? Certainly, plants do have air-cleaning qualities and absorb chemicals such as carbon dioxide through their leaves. However, while that is true, researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia, US, have found that house plants don’t actually improve air quality by any great measure. 

They analyzed 12 research studies, including the NASA Clean Air Study of 1989, and found that these experiments were undertaken in labs and did not represent a typical home where natural air flows from outside, through a room, and back out again. 

To remove toxins, you would need at least 10 plants per square foot. This might be an attractive aim for many of us when it comes to our indoor garden ideas, but unfortunately it's not that realistic for the majority of house plant parents. This number would amount to an indoor forest! 

Woman working surrounded by houseplants

(Image credit: Getty)

It's important also to note that this does not mean that the best indoor plants aren't extremely beneficial to our health. Many other studies agree that house plants have an array of positive effects, as they impact our physical and mental health.

Not only do plants improve our mood and reduce stress levels, research by Exeter University in the UK made an interesting discovery. This will be of particular interest to those of us working from home, parents trying to homeschool their kids, or even just those of us who struggle to focus on our daily tasks...


While the answer to the question 'do house plants clean the air' may not show any significant improvement in your air quality, research at Exeter University in the UK has discovered that house plants can increase our productivity by 15 per cent. 

The study put the improvement down to the presence of the plants making people more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work. This is great news for those of us who are working from home more regularly, perhaps surrounding our desks with greenery will make our workspace a more calming and efficient place to be! Like we needed an excuse to boost our indoor plant ideas!


  1. Miniature cacti look great on a home office desk – perfect for those who like clean, contemporary living spaces. 
  2. Snake plants survive with minimal watering – perfect for the forgetful among us! They’re usually quite large in size so sit them on a large tabletop or desk.
  3. If the name Peace Lily isn’t calming enough then the plant certainly will be. This plant doesn’t need a lot of light but will need watering regularly. But too damp and it won’t flourish.
Teresa Conway
Deputy Editor

Teresa has worked as an Editor on a number of gardening magazines for three years now. So she is lucky enough to see and write about gardening across all sizes, budgets and abilities. She recently moved into her first home and the garden is a real project! Currently she is relishing planning her own design and planting schemes. What she is most passionate about when it comes to gardening are the positive effects it has on our mental health to grow and care for plants, as well as being great for the environment too and help provide food and shelter for wildlife.