Living Wall Success Series – Part 1: Plants Clean The Air

There is no doubt that Living Green Walls are a hot design trend. Architects, Interior Designers, Building Owners & Managers, Construction Professionals and Plantscapers are all scrambling to educate themselves in order to capture business in this growing market niche. There is an abundance of information out there and my goal with the “Living Wall Success Series” is to sort through the clutter, eliminate the noise and get down to the details that matter. The Living Wall Success Series aims to be an informative, concise, unbiased and reliable source of information for you to effectively market, sell, install and maintain living walls.


Part 1: Plants Clean the Air

Plants act as a natural air purification system by filtering out airborne contaminants, pumping out oxygen to revitalize the air and even regulating humidity levels.

The average person spends over 90% of their time indoors surrounded by indoor air pollution and this can have a terrible effect on building occupants, see Sick Building Syndrome. The good news is that plants, along with better HVAC systems, can mitigate or even reverse these negative side effects.

In fact, living walls have an enormous ability to clean the air because they have such a large concentration of plants and density of foliage. Even a small living wall only 10’x10′ in size can have anywhere from 500-1,000 plants, depending on the system. Larger living wall installations can have over 5,000 plants. That’s a lot of plants working 24 hours a day to filter the air.

A great deal of research has been done on plants’ ability to filter the air. My goal isn’t to bore you with the scientific details of each study, but there are a few important pieces of research that you should definitely be familiar with.

The most famous research was done by Dr. William Wolverton, NASA’s principal investigator researching air quality on space stations in the 1970’s. Dr. Wolverton found that chemicals such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves. He also noted that VOCs, TCE, benzene, toluene, xylene and numerous other toxic chemicals can be removed by the roots of plant (or by the microorganisms living around the roots). Visit Dr. Wolverton’s website to learn more about his work. Here is a link to his final report, published in 1989, titled “Interior Landscape Plants For Indoor Air Pollution Abatement.” The NASA Clean Air Study Wikipedia Page also includes some useful information and links to other helpful sources.

You should also be familiar with the more recent work done by the Plants and Indoor Environmental Quality Group at The University of Technology Sydney in Australia. Their research found, among other benefits, that plants significantly reduced indoor air pollution. Furthermore, they stated that indoor plants are a vital building installation element for improving indoor air quality and they predict that plants will become standard building technology. Visit the Group’s webpage to learn more or check out their “Indoor Plants Work” summary report published in 2014.

These two research studies are by no means the only data supporting the basic tenant that plants revitalize the air and filter out pollution. For example, a group of scientists at the University of Georgia published research in the August 2009 issue of HortSci confirming that plants significantly improve indoor air quality and they speculated that plants’ ability to filter the air could have a tremendous positive impact on the ornamental industry by increasing customer demand and volume of sales. An Internet search for “plants clean the air” and similar phrases turns up a host of additional publications from universities, health centers, research centers, Non-Government Organizations and other scientists confirming or expanding upon the pioneering research done by Dr. Wolverton.

Of course, new research is always being done and you should keep in touch with industry groups such as Green Plants For Green Buildings to stay on top of the latest developments.

Stay tuned for Living Wall Success Series – Part 2: Plants Make People Feel Good

Eric Westerduin is a co-founder of Suite Plants, a manufacturer of living wall systems. Eric is a registered Green Plants For Green Buildings trainer and presents the accredited Advanced Living Walls continuing education course to architects & interior designers across North America. Eric earned his Bachelor's degree from Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. To learn more about Eric or Suite Plants please visit

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