Get Some Fresh Air

Get Some Fresh AirDo you ever find yourself or your co-workers sneezing uncontrollably, complaining of air filters long overdue for a change? Want an easy, sustainable solution? Invest in an office plant.

Indoor plants reduce air pollutants and provide more oxygen for you. Since the 1970s, retired NASA scientist B.C. Wolverton, now founder of Wolverton Environmental Services, Inc., has studied the effectiveness of indoor plants at cleaning the air by absorbing potentially harmful gases, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide.

Wolverton published his most notable findings in How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office. Some plants that made the list include bamboo palms, Chinese evergreens, English ivy, dracaena, peace lilies, philodendrons, spider plants, and pothos. Read more information on the NASA-sponsored research.

So how do you decide which plant will work best for your workspace? Here are some guidelines:

  1. Measure the amount of space allowed for your plant.
  2. Determine the amount of care you will be able to give your plant.
  3. Determine the conditions of your space (amount of sunlight, average temperature).
  4. Determine your plant budget.
  5. Choose a plant(s) specific to your needs and space conditions.
  6. Purchase your plant(s) from a local nursery or farmers market.

If you find your plant options overwhelming, here are general characteristics to keep in mind:

  • Plants with larger leaves can absorb more light so they do not need as much as plants with smaller leaves.
  • Plants that require little maintenance, especially less watering, are ideal for those days when you’re not in the office.
  • Avoid plants that need humidity — offices tend to be dry.
  • Avoid flowering plants in case of co-worker allergies.

To make it easy for you, UMB Go Green has provided a table of some of the most effective air-purifying plants:






Green Effect


Areca palm

Bright sunlight


72 degrees

150 cm

Natural humidifier-removes ammonia, xylene, and formaldehyde


Bamboo palm

Bright indirect light


65 to 80 degrees

5 to 7 feet

Neutralizes common airborne hazards, benzene*

Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras

Boston fern

Moderate to bright

Moderate to heavy

60 to 75 degrees

5 feet

Natural humidifier — removes benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene

Central America

Chinese evergreen

Low to moderate


Minimum 60 degrees

1 to 3 feet

Removes airborne toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde

Southeast Asia

"Janet Craig" dracaena



75 degrees

2 feet

Removes trichlorethylene and formaldehyde*

Tropical East Africa

English ivy

Low to bright


50 to 70 degrees

6 to 12 inches

Eliminates mold, removes benzene, formaldehyde, and chemicals released by synthetic materials*

Europe, West Asia, North Africa

Peace lily

Low to bright fluorescent lights


Minimum 60 degrees

30 to 60 cm

Removes indoor toxins that may cause cancer*

Central America


Fluorescent lights


60 to 72 degrees

1 to 10 feet

Removes formaldehyde*


Golden pothos

Low to bright


 Minimum 55 degrees

6 to 10 feet

Removes benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene*

Solomon Islands

Rubber plant

Low to moderate


65 to 80 degrees

6 to 10 feet

Best for reducing air pollution (toxic if eaten)

India and Malaysia

Spider plant



72 degrees

6 to 12 inches

Removes xylene and formaldehyde*


*Included in B.C. Wolverton’s list of air-purifying houseplants

Now all you need is a location to pick up your new plant. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office provides a list of Maryland nurseries.

For more information on choosing the right office plant, visit one of the following resources:

Did you know the University has a Green Office Program? UMB Go Green provides you with additional tips on how you can reduce energy use and make your office a more sustainable place to work.

— Tracy Gnadinger

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