Beyond The Basics

The Many Benefits of Houseplants

...Even Though They Won't Purify Your Air.

Keeping and caring for plants brings us joy, and that’s really all the reason we need to keep them around. But do you ever wonder about other potential benefits? Even if just to have some talking points when your friends and family start questioning your ever-increasing plant count? We got you! We'll cover a wide range of benefits for your mental and physical wellbeing.

Sadly, there's one widely circulated benefit for which we need to...ahem...clear the air. 💨 You have probably heard that plants can purify your air. And while it’s true that plants have the capacity to scrub pollutants or contaminants from the air, the reality is truly negligible. Unless you have a literal room full of plants in perfect lab conditions, you won't be receiving the air purifying benefits of plants.

But just because houseplants aren’t the magical, all-natural solution to cleaning your air doesn’t mean they don’t have other equally amazing (and perhaps even more impressive) qualities that can enrich your life! 🙌 

The Benefits of Houseplants

Okay, so we promised you some talking points you can share with your concerned roommate or partner whenever you bring home a new plant. Let's dive in!

Plants Relieve Stress

You read that right! Plants can actually provide stress relief. While they won’t instantly erase your stress or replace therapy, they can certainly help. When you’re stressed out and take some time to go outside, do you typically feel better?

You may already know that a walk in nature, or just getting some fresh air and vitamin D can bring a bit of relief.

Well, in this case, you can bring some of that natural relief indoors. 

Indeed, a study from 2015 compared the difference between caring for a plant and a computer task. It specifically looked at what task had a more positive impact on stress levels. And spoiler-alert (or not): those working with the plant felt more soothed, comfortable, AND had lower diastolic blood pressure. While the other group experienced a spike in heart rate and blood pressure even though they were accustomed to doing computer-based work in their daily lives. 🥴

Connecting with nature even in small doses can help reduce our stress levels, whether that's repotting a plant, taking time to check up on their needs, or simply enjoying how your plants look in your home. 

Plants Can Sharpen Your Attention

So now we know our houseplants can help us feel more relaxed. Perhaps not that shocking. But what if we told you they could also boost your attention span? 

Another small study observed people who were completing attention-demanding tasks - one with plants in their vicinity, the other without. The group that was around plants performed better than the group without plants right off the bat. And they got progressively better! 🤓

Obviously, no one should rely on their plants as a replacement for putting in the necessary time and hard work to study for an exam or prepare a work presentation. But, for what it’s worth, your plants are on your side and may even make that time and hard work a little more efficient. We’ll take it! 

Plants Can Increase Productivity

Building on that improved attention span, plants have also been shown to boost overall productivity in several studies. It’s a surprisingly significant boost, too. A study done in 2014 found that “enriching a ‘lean’ office with plants could increase productivity by 15%”. 

Not only did it increase productivity, but it also made employees happier with their workspace in general. 

Why? Well, as plant lovers, we know plants make us happy. However, the study had a more profound theory: employees become more involved in work physically, cognitively, and emotionally because of greenery.

Think about it from this perspective—if you enter an entirely work-focused office space and the only things around directly relate to working and doing work, it may be a little…well…bleak. On the other hand, an office space that has a few plants around feels more welcoming, vibrant, and enriching. 

It's a win-win for everyone. You get to enjoy work a little more and surely your employer won't mind if you're getting that work done just a little faster. 

Plants Are Basically Therapy

Okay, we may be overstating this one, but hear us out! While plants won’t replace actual therapy, they are proven to be an effective way to improve a person’s outlook when used in tandem with therapy, meditation, exercise, and other practices for mental health. 

Indeed, houseplants have been cropping up as a more and more common extension of therapy. This approach (it’s called horticultural therapy) has actually been around for a while, although it generally involved gardening outdoors. But the same benefits can extend to an indoor garden. 

Caring for plants is pretty straightforward when you break it down to the basics.

It requires your full attention in the moment, but it's also an innately repetitive task.

Allowing yourself to get lost in the ritual of caring for plants can become quite meditative if you're open to it. 🧘

Not to mention, the feedback loop of seeing a plant thrive as you care for it, can be immensely rewarding for our sense of control and the feeling of having a quantifiable impact. And even if you end up killing that plant, there's still the therapeutic benefit of learning to let go!

Plants Can Promote Recovery

While you may know it's commonplace to send flowers or plants to someone in the hospital, you might not know that this is more than just a nice gesture! Studies have shown that plants can help promote recovery. When plants are in a patient’s room, the patient often reports less pain, has a higher satisfaction with their visit, and stays hospitalized for a shorter amount of time. A visit to the hospital is never easy and while plants certainly aren't miracle workers, any little bit can help!

The Air Purifying Myth 

We've established that plants have all types of health benefits, but you’ll notice a very popular one is missing from our list.

Unfortunately, we can't go so far as to claim that plants can purify the air of your home. 

Even though this idea has essentially reached the status of "common knowledge" and many plant descriptions will include tantalizing talk of air purification capabilities, the truth is: a capability doesn't guarantee a result. While there is certainly quantifiable proof showing that plants remove pollutants from the air, it’s extremely hard to get this effect in your home. Unless, of course, your house is absolutely brimming with plants and you live in lab-like conditions. We know it’s a little disappointing at first, but we feel it's better to be aware of these limitations so we can focus on what our plants can actually do for us! 

NASA Studies

So where did this idea of plants as all-natural air-purifying wonders originate? Well, it all goes back to a study NASA did back in the eighties. Understandably, NASA had a keen interest in keeping the air inside contained spaces clean, and why not try to do this without extensive additional systems or equipment? Plants certainly seemed like a compelling solution. So they set out to prove their theory. 🚀

We won't bore you with the nitty-gritty, but let's take a quick look at how this study was performed if only to get a better idea of why it's so difficult to translate NASA's results to our homes.

First, they brought in a selection of plants from a local nursery and ran a series of experiments over the course of two years. They placed air-borne pollutants inside a small Plexiglas chamber and monitored to see if and how much the plants could remove those pollutants in 24 hours. The plants were positioned at the top of the chamber, and a small fan in the chamber pushed air up into the soil from below.  In addition, between tests, the plants were kept in a greenhouse in optimum conditions.

In the end, NASA was able to identify some plants that were extremely effective in removing chemicals from the air. They found that a Golden Pothos was able to clean a high concentration of Benzene and Trichloroethylene to almost a non-existent level within the chamber. They found a few other plants that could remove over 50% concentration from the chamber as well. Each plant they tested had different results depending on the chemicals tested, but generally, the conclusion was the same: plants could be used to purify air if the space was properly designed and the plants were properly maintained.

Replicating Those Results

So, yes, technically, it’s true that plants are air-purifying, according to NASA. Plants can certainly remove harmful substances from the air and purify the air. However, to replicate the results, we would need to have a plant in our home about every 30 inches (the size of that chamber) and in perfect condition. Plus, every plant we owned would need to have air-purifying qualities. 

While it would be kind of amazing to have a plant every 30 inches in our home, it’s frankly not realistic.

Where would we walk, sit...live? 

Not only is the quantity of plants an issue here, but our homes also aren’t fully “sealed” as a spaceship would be. Which, to be honest, lucky us! We can simply open up a few windows to get fresh air in and contaminated air out! Of course, outdoor air isn't guaranteed to be "pure", but it's better to keep air moving if you're worried about the pollutants built up inside your house. Also, if you have a ventilation system, the typical air exchange rate of once per hour is already above and beyond what the maximum amount plants could ever do. 

In addition, part of NASA's findings included that most of the purifying happened in the soil and root system of the plant, and the leaves actually didn’t make much of a difference! Meaning you would need to maximize the exposure of soil to air in order to reap the best results. Not something most of us think about when selecting or potting our plants. 

So, to recap, there are plants that have air-purifying capabilities. However, they would need to be in perfect condition and placed all over your home for you to see any meaningful benefits. So, if you still want to use this as an excuse to buy more plants, go for it. It’s technically accurate, just don’t hold your breath waiting for the air quality to improve! 😉

Reap the Benefits

It doesn't take much (like zero resistance) to convince us that we need more plants in our home, but it also doesn't hurt to have a handy list of reasons to support the cause. I mean, it sure is nice when the things we want are actually good for us! 🤪

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