While much has been written about plants being able to purify the air from harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and volatile organic compounds (based on an oft-cited 1989 NASA study), that study has also been debunked as having no significant correlation to the air quality of your home (for one, it was conducted in two foot by two foot sealed chambers).
While plants may not rid your home of VOCs, they will add oxygen, potentially reduce stress, and decrease airborne dust by drawing the particles to their surfaces. According to blogger and horticulturist Toni Colgrove, “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. Some of the effects are because the leaves slow down the air movement…Some…are due to crinkled or hairy leaves physically filtering dust from the air as it moves across the surface of the leaf.”
The top dust-collecting plants
It could be said that all plants are dust collectors, and honestly, we couldn’t argue that point. However, certain plants are ideal for this job, as they provide more surface area on which to trap dust. Now, will they absorb that dust through some amazing scientific process? Unfortunately, no. You’ll still need to dust them occasionally, to make sure they get enough light to photosynthesize properly, and you know, stay alive.
But here for your breathing pleasure, is a list of the top indoor houseplants that reduce airborne dust:
- Rubber plant
- Pygmy date palm tree
- English ivy
- Spider plant
- ZZ plant
- Dripping guanyin
- Bamboo palm
- Peace lily
- Ferns (though some are notoriously hard to keep alive)
Colgrove adds, “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.” (And remember to dust them every couple of months — here’s how.)
Even better? Get a self-cleaning plant
Did you know there are actually plants that effectively dust themselves? This is due to a phenomenon known as the “lotus effect” or “ultra-hydrophobicity” first observed by German botanist Wilhelm Barthlott on the leaves of the lotus flower. As Wikipedia (fairly) succinctly puts it, this when “dirt particles are picked up by water droplets due to the micro- and nanoscopic architecture on the surface, which minimizes the droplet’s adhesion to that surface.”
Put more simply, though, certain leaves have microscopically tiny spikes that create a bumpy, rough surface that repels water. When water touches that leaf, instead of soaking into the microscopic grooves, it rolls off the surface of the leaf, taking dirt and dust with it. (This process also serves as a layer of protection against disease-causing pathogens.) Other plants with this property include: violet, aloe, lantana, taro, and Indian canna.
Whether you choose (airborne) dust-reducing or self-cleaning, both provide benefits that make trying to keep them alive worth it.