Phytoremediation (n.) [ \ ˌfī-tə-ri-ˌmē-dē-ˈā-shən]: the treatment of pollutants or waste (as in contaminated soil or groundwater) by the use of green plants that remove, degrade, or stabilize the undesirable substances (such as toxic metals)
Merriam Webster

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors. Surely this is a quarantine-adjusted statistic, right? Wrong. This number was published far before the days of social distancing. Chances are, the percentage would be even higher now.

The air we breathe indoors is sometimes as bad, if not worse, than the air outside. The pollutants found in the air outside enter properties and then recirculate. This phenomenon is often referenced as a major contributor to “sick building syndrome” and has been shown to be detrimental to our health.

One of the ways to clean the air inside is with the use of indoor plants. But how do plants purify the air and what plants purify the air most effectively? We explore this and more in this article.

Harmful chemicals in the built environment

Many of us are exposed to dangerous chemicals in seemingly innocent environments. Just by sitting in your office, you’re exposed to chemicals introduced to the air you breathe by the new lunchroom paint job or by the furniture in your co-working spaces. Additionally, as businesses begin construction projects to evolve their facilities into more energy-efficient structures, there is often a hidden adverse effect. This new construction can lack sufficient mechanical ventilation to ensure ample airflow, increasing indoor concentrations of some pollutants.

Here are some of the most common chemicals to which we potentially expose ourselves each day: 


  • Used primarily as a solvent for removing grease from metal parts
  • Also an ingredient in many adhesives, paint, lacquers, and paint removers
  • Moderate exposure may cause headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness
  • Liver carcinogen


  • Occurs naturally in low concentrations
  • Often found in building materials such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard and also in many household products 
  • Newer construction can present an increased risk of exposure due to the fresh building materials and improved insulation, which prevents airflow to the outdoors
  • A common component of tobacco smoke (a risk for both smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke) and automobile exhaust
  • Exposure can cause watery eyes, burning in the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, nausea, and skin irritation


  • Highly flammable
  • Natural component of crude oil, gasoline, and tobacco smoke
  • Used to make plastics, rubbers, resins, nylon and synthetic fibers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides
  • Interior glues, paints, detergents and waxes produce higher levels of benzene in indoor air than those in outdoor air
  • Causes cells not to work correctly, primarily affecting the blood
  • Long-term exposure has been tied to leukemia 


  • Flammable
  • One of the top 30 chemicals (by volume) produced in the United States
  • Primarily used as a solvent, cleaning agent, and paint thinner
  • Exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, and throat, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and loss of muscle coordination
  • Long-term exposure can have harmful effects on the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, and nervous system


  • Used in paints, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives, rubber, and in the production of benzene (see above)
  • Elevated levels found in areas with a high volume of vehicle traffic
  • Workplace exposure can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, memory loss, nausea, and loss of appetite 
  • Not proven to be carcinogenic 
  • Moderate to heavy exposure can cause harmful effects in the liver, kidneys, and lungs, along with immune system impairment and cardiac arrhythmia

How many plants are needed to purify the air?

This is hard to say definitively. Of course, at Ambius, our philosophy is the more plants, the better. In interiors where space is scarce, we recommend installing a living green wall to house a lot of plants in a relatively small space. Green plants with large, green leaves are the most efficient air purifiers, as they can absorb more of the surrounding air, naturally removing the pollutants and pumping clean oxygen back out.

Which plants purify the air?

There are many plants that have shown to be successful in removing harmful toxins from the air we breathe. No plant will completely rid the air of any harmful chemicals, but they are certainly valuable soldiers in the fight. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Dwarf date palm
  • Dragon tree
  • Spider plant
  • Sansevieria
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Peace lily
  • Parlor palm
  • Ficus trees
  • Bamboo palm
  • Devil’s ivy
  • Flamingo lily
  • Fittonia
  • English ivy
  • Dracaena

What indoor plants can do for your business

There are numerous benefits to having plants indoors. In addition to their ability to scrub the air clean, there are other ways plants can help your business.

Humans have an instinctive desire to see and be close to nature. In fact, there’s a whole science around it — biophilia. Just seeing greenery and nature can improve overall mental health, creativity and productivity. When we have to be indoors, the best way to have access to nature is to bring it indoors too.

Ambius is your resource for indoor plants

In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits, indoor plants enliven your space with visual appeal. To discover how plants can help you ensure your facility’s dedication to health and wellness, contact your local Ambius office today!