How do plants clean the air?

As humans, breathing is something we do without even thinking. Even since you’ve been reading this you will have breathed in and out maybe three or four times. But have you ever considered - 'how do plants clean the air we breathe in?' As part of the school curriculum, students often learn the basics of how plants clean the air ready for us to breathe in as oxygen. This is the process we’ve all come to know as ‘photosynthesis’.

So, how do plants clean the air?

Plants not only have the ability to add colour and life to a home, but they also help to improve the quality and health of the air that we breathe in. As we've all learnt in science lessons, as humans breathe in oxygen, we breathe out carbon dioxide, with plants doing the opposite. Plants clean the air around us by absorbing light, water and toxins, including VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and bioeffluents. These are the products that humans exhale like carbon dioxide and viruses. And how does the plant absorb these products? Through tiny pores on their leaves. This is where the term ‘photosynthesis’ comes into play. When plants absorb carbon dioxide and other ‘nasty’ compounds, chlorophyll in the leaves, a green pigment that traps light energy from the sun, works to break them down. This creates sugars and oxygen as byproducts of the process and releases them back into the air. The larger the leaf, the larger the surface area, which means for a greater amount of purification. 
cross section of a leaf
Leaves ‘eat’ the VOC’s absorbed by moving them down to its roots for the microorganisms that live in them. These microorganisms break down and neutralise these toxins, and these are then used as food for the plant. Although the process may sound relatively simple, this is a very complex process that provides us with the oxygen that we need to live and breathe.

The world’s natural air purifier

Without the natural process of photosynthesis, toxins and VOC’s in the air will build up. This can lead to people experiencing a variety of symptoms such as drowsiness, nausea, headaches and eye and throat irritation. This is why spaces like offices, with little to no greenery, don’t make for healthy work environments. The lack of air filtration not only damages our mental but physical wellbeing too. Sick Building Syndrome’ is the name given to symptoms you can get whilst working in an office environment. This is a widely reported issue that occurs in offices with little ventilation and access to natural light. Employees can experience debilitating symptoms, which in more serious cases can lead to ‘flu-like’ illnesses, allergies and asthma attacks. Staff who experience such symptoms may have to take time off work to recover. This can also lead to a loss in productivity amongst teams. An easy way for companies to improve their air quality is by simply adding indoor plants to their home or office environment. Even an advanced air filtration system doesn’t have the ability to create oxygen, so just adding foliage will help to enhance exposure to purified oxygen and therefore improve staff wellness. Various studies have shown the connection between reductions in stress and improved employee wellbeing when indoor plants are added to the office environment. Not only do they add colour and vibrancy to a dull workspace, but they are also believed to help reduce stress and help with relaxation. What employer wouldn’t want that for their workforce - because relaxed, happy staff equals a focused and productive team. Many businesses are beginning to understand the benefits of introducing plants into their office spaces, not only to help improve physical health, but their mental health too. Plants are proven to deliver substantial return on investment. This includes reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. Of course, adding plants also works as a stunning design feature that will appeal to visitors to your workplace.  We believe plants are one of the ‘forgotten superheroes’ of modern office life, bringing vibrancy and an improved working environment for everyone. At Plant Plan, we collaborate with designers, architects and property managers. We work with teams to create beautiful plant installations, introducing greenery to a variety of business settings. If you’d like to discuss how to integrate plants into your office space, please email us at or call us on 0800 279 3120.  
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