Do Houseplants Help With Dust? Really? Science Research Discovers…

It is widespread knowledge that plants help filter the air from toxins, but do they help control other airborne pollutants like particulate matter, aka, dust?

Do Houseplants remove dust from the air?  Several controlled studies have been done to test the idea that houseplants control dust.  Yes, houseplants have been proven to reduce dust. Surprisingly, it does not matter if the plants are real, or artificial for dust control. Scientific experiments have been done to test the effectiveness of houseplants.

How do houseplants do this?  Does it matter what houseplant you choose? Yes, there is a big difference in which type of houseplant you choose and its effectiveness in dust removal.  (References to the published studies below)

Dust reductionHow effective are houseplants in removing dust from the air?

Houseplants do remove dust particles from the air by means of trapping them on the surface of their leaves.  Plants that have crinkled and/or hairy leaves remove more dust than smooth or strappy leaves. Even smooth leaves do remove some dust. 

 Some of the effects are because the leaves slow down the air movement, and heavier dust drops out of the air.  Similar to the effect of a snow fence for drifts, or a slow section in a water stream deposits its silt.

Some of the effects are due to crinkled or hairy leaves physically filtering dust from the air as it moves across the surface of the leaf.

The studies I have seen show dust removal from the air from the physics of the plant leaves, not that they are taking the dust in and using or transforming in any way through biological or chemical means.  

This also brings up a very interesting point about artificial plants.  Do they also control dust? I was surprised to find out, yes. Just as effective.

The effect is more effective with air that is moving than stagnant.  Which makes sense, because any filter is more effective with air moving through it rather than not.  (To a point, of course, I am not talking about indoor wind storms here!)

“…interior plants are still less effective in removing particles compared to an air-cleaning device… Thus, the use of artificial or live foliage should be considered as a supporting measure for removal of airborne particles indoors rather than as the main control measure.” Indoor and Built Environment,Volume: 27 issue: 1, page(s): 121-128,Article first published online: September 22, 2016; Issue published: January 1, 2018

What houseplants have been proven to reduce dust indoors?

Any houseplant, surprisingly artificial house plants as well, help remove dust from the air.  The top houseplants are ferns, ivy, palms, and spider plants. This is due to the large amount of surface area to trap dust.  Do not use this list to exclude any plant from your home or office, any plant you enjoy will trap dust. Just the plants that have a larger amount of surface area total (not just large leaves) will trap the greater amount of dust. 

What happens to the dust plants remove from the air?

This is the important bit here.  What happens to that dust? Have you heard of dust collectors?  Yes, you guessed it, it stays trapped on the leaves. Whether real or artificial, plants do trap and HOLD that dust.  Now it is up to us to take the trapped dust and take it out of the area.  

So yes, now you need to dust those plants, and please do not simply shake or blow the plant.  That puts the dust right back into the air!  

Try wiping down with a microfiber cloth or other dusting cloth (not feather duster) that traps and holds that dust to it.  Or if feasible, take your dusty plant (this works best with artificial plants I find) to a space, like outdoors, and give them a shake and hose off.  Leaving that filtered out, trapped dust outside, and then bring the plant back inside.

Ted Talk – This is a very interesting Ted talk given by Kamal Meattle about indoor air quality and plants study in New Delhi, India

What plants were in the NASA indoor houseplant study?

Striped Dracaena Dracaena deremensis “‘Warneckei'”
Chinese EvergreenAglaonema modestum
English IvyHedera helix
FicusFicus benjamina
Bamboo PalmChamaedorea seifritzii
Gerbera DaisyGerbera jamesonii
DracaenaDracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’
Corn PlantDranaena fragrans  massangeana
Madagascar Dragon TreeDracaena marginata
Snake PlantSansevieria laurentii
Peace lilySpathiphyllum
MumChrysanthemum morifolium ‘Mauna Loa’

Here is the link to the actual original NASA study most articles on houseplants and indoor air quality are referencing. It is shorter and clearer than expected. Do give it a look!

Best plants for the bedroom.

I know you have heard about not putting plants in the bedroom because they release carbon dioxide at night.  Stop right there. Yes, they do, HOWEVER, they release substantially less carbon dioxide than a pet or another person, so unless you are going to ban those companions from your bedroom, do not ban plants.  

All of the plants also RELEASE oxygen all day as well.  Does your pet or spouse? Just saying 🙂

That being said, there is a super easy-care houseplant that also releases oxygen at night.  What could be better? This is the Sanseveria, or snake plant, or mother-in-law’s tongue, I know, awful common names.  Don’t hold it against the plant, it’s not its fault.

Sanseveria can tolerate low light levels (remember ALL living plants need some light, no light, no life), and demands that it is allowed to dry out between waterings.  I have neglected to water for a month before without any issues. Now let me inject a disclaimer here, it depends on your temperature, humidity, size of the plant, the size of the container, the volume of potting soil, ingredients in that potting soil…, check for watering needs, but do not be surprised if watering is not needed. 

The soil should be at a point that you can not feel any moisture in it, water thoroughly and deeply, then LEAVE it alone until it needs water again.

How many plants do you need to filter the air?

Regular potted plants have been quoted as anything from 1 plant per 100 square feet up to 1 plant per 1 square foot.  That is quite the variance! What the determining factors of note that need to be considered are:

-Does the space already have ventilation, or is it a sealed environment?  NASA studies were based on sealed environments for space travel. Homes and offices have ventilation, by design or by leakage, with outside air which dilutes the effectiveness of air filtering of the plants. 

Imagine sweeping your concrete patio outdoors versus sweeping your indoor floor. Yes, you clean the patio floor, but moments after you are done, more dust has infiltrated and settled on your patio… Whereas your indoor floor, will stay clean longer because of reduced introduced contaminants. (Unless you have kids, then this analogy does not work at all! Imagine no one walking on either space….then the analogy holds).

-Are you discussing traditional potted plants or ones that use an active fan to maximize soil/root contact with the air?  NASA studies found the micro-organisms, which only grow with the plant roots, are major players in removing VOCs and toxins from the air.

After answering those questions, then you can start to compare apples to apples and find your best answer.

In closed, sealed environments in which soil/root with air exposure is maximized, the 1 plant per 100 square feet is accurate.

In a typical household or office with standard potted plants, the 1 plant per 1 square foot number is accurate.

In conclusion.  Plants are great for your health.  They DO remove VOCs from your air.  However, in typical environments, do not rely on them as your sole means of cleaning VOCs from your air. 



Toni has a bachelor degree in Plant & Soil Science, has lived, gardened and growing all over the US, in Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, coastal North Carolina and Virginia. She has been sharing her knowledge through writing, one on one consulting and talking to anyone who wants to listen at social gatherings everywhere : )

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