Houseplants could reduce formaldehyde, finds BBC show

BBC TV programme Trust Me, I'm a Doctor has teamed up with Professor Alasdair Lewis and his team at the University of York to measure the levels of these chemicals in homes, finding that indoor plants could play a role in reducing the levels of formaldehyde.

They recruited six households in York, who all live in similar modern homes with similar outdoor air quality and placed an air sampler in each house for five days to tell us which homes had the highest amounts of chemicals, and what those chemicals were.

Each household kept a diary of what household products they used over the five day period and how often they used them.

They also tested for formaldehyde in three of the six households.

Lab studies show that for every two molecules of limonene released in the air, one molecule of formaldehyde is formed. Formaldehyde is a known secondary product of fragrance chemicals when they react in the air. It is a carcinogen (a cancer-causing chemical) and can cause skin irritation and respiratory symptoms.

The programme said research suggests that houseplants could possibly have powerful chemical-absorbing properties but this research has predominantly been carried out in the lab, with some evidence that it could work in an office. It has not been carried out in the home.

They placed four houseplants in each of the volunteer families’ houses for four weeks, then took new air samples at the end of the experiment to see whether the plants had any effect on the indoor air pollution in each home.

The plants were: Chlorophytum(Spider plant), Dracaena (Dragon tree), Scindapsus (Golden Pothos), Hedera helix (English Ivy).

The results showed instead of the plants reducing the levels of fragrance chemicals in the homes - the limonene actually increased but the most likely explanation was because it was November there were lots of candles and fewer open windows.

Since limonene reacts in the air to make formaldehyde, the programme expected the formaldehyde to rise as well. But levels of formaldehyde actually fell in all three of the homes measured (in contrast to the rising limonene), while the plants were in there.

They concluded: "The results of our very small experiment suggest that the plants could have played a role in reducing the levels of formaldehyde in our families’ homes."

One study in 2010 tested 86 species of plant for their effectiveness in absorbing formaldehyde, and found 9 to be excellent absorbers:

  • Osmunda japonica (Japanese royal fern)
  • Selaginella tamariscina
  • Davallia mariesii (squirrel’s foot fern)
  • Polypodium formosanum (grub fern)
  • Psidium guajava (common guava)
  • Lavandula spp (lavender)
  • Pteris dispar
  • Pteris multifida (spider fern)
  • Pelagonium spp. (geranium)

Other studies have looked at a wider range of chemicals, and house plant species which have excellent all-round absorbing ability seem to be:

  • Hemigraphis alternate
  • Hedera helix (English ivy)


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

Pots and containers

Pots and containers

Superior propagation products can justify extra expenditure by providing precise cell fill, optimum root development and healthy plugs, writes Sally Drury.

Business Planning - Inflationary pressures

Business Planning - Inflationary pressures

How can horticulture businesses respond to Brexit-fuelled inflation? Neville Stein outlines the options.

Garden centre profile: Mappleborough Green Garden Centre

Garden centre profile: Mappleborough Green Garden Centre

Phase two of the redevelopment of the former Badger Nurseries has delivered rapid and impressive results, Matthew Appleby discovers.

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Garden retail Top 100 GARDEN CENTRES

Our exclusive ranking of garden centre performance by annual turnover. NEW: 2016 listing just published

Garden Centre Prices

GARDEN CENTRE PRICES w/e 21 September 2016
GARDEN CENTRE PRICES w/e 24 August 2016

Pest & Disease Tracker bulletin 

The latest pest and disease alerts, how to treat them, plus EAMU updates, sent direct to your inbox.

Sign up here