Do Snake Plants Actually Purify Air?

If you're searching for an easy-to-maintain and beautiful houseplant, look no further than the snake plant. This greenery is one of the most popular choices because it has a unique look and thrives off neglect, meaning you don't need to worry about maintenance.

Another benefit of this species is that many believe it works to purify the air by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and formaldehyde, which can come from things like paint, flooring, composite wood, cleaning products, and smoke and cannot be removed by a filter. These toxins can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and, worst cases, cancer or other debilitating illnesses. Some believe that adding snake plants and other species around your home can reduce these toxins because they filter the air by converting it into breathable oxygen. While studies have proved this belief, others have pointed out counterarguments that make deciding if snake plants can purify air a bit more complicated than it may seem at first glance.

The research is divided

Much of the belief around snake plants reducing VOCs comes from a 1989 study called the NASA Clean Air Study, which found that plants can reduce these toxins in tightly sealed environments that replicated spacecraft. These findings were then widely applied to buildings like homes and offices. Dr. B.C. Wolverton, the principal investigator in the NASA study, published a book called "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office." The snake plant was one of the species listed. Another 2004 study published in Water, Air, & Soil Pollution showed that houseplants could remove benzene from a space within a day. 

At the same time, more recent research shows that findings are a bit more complicated than previous studies. For example, a 2014 review study published by Environmental Science and Pollution Research found that while plants can purify the air in controlled laboratories with only a limited amount of VOCs, there's not enough research to prove they can do the same in offices or spaces with countless VOCs. Another 2019 review study by the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology came to a similar conclusion. It said that instead of adding more plants to our buildings, we should reduce the number of VOCs in our environment.

Are snake plants actually purifiers?

When combining all the research findings, it's fair to conclude that, while snake plants do purify the air, they don't do so drastically, as some believe. The important factor to consider about the NASA Clean Air Study is that it was conducted in a controlled environment with fewer VOCs than most homes have today and no airflow from windows or doors. The researchers performed this study in a controlled area because the findings were primarily used to benefit those traveling to space, which is not for the average person.

Therefore, while snake plants are purifiers, they won't create a huge difference in your home's air quality. To reap the purifying benefits of plants, you would need to add countless amounts of greenery to your home, which would not only reduce the amount of space you have but could also come with other negative side effects, such as extra humidity. Therefore, if you want to purify your air, opening your windows, turning on your fans, or cleaning well may be better options.