A Breath of Fresh Air. How Plants Clean our Air

Yesterday, in Monterrey, Mexico, where a few of us Earth Mamas live and work, the overall Real Time Air Quality Index  was reading at 289 (pm10) or in other terms, as indicated on the website, VERY UNHEALTHY!

This air quality reading fits into the second highest category of this index and on the higher end of that range where health warnings are of emergency conditions. See the chart below taken from the Air Quality Index website:

The air quality issue has been persistent in Monterrey, Mexico and the surrounding cities that make up the Metropolitan area of Monterrey with a population of  approx. 4.5 million people.  Yes, it is a huge city, but there are comparable cities that do not have these same issues.  What are the causes of these surges in pollution?

Monterrey is well known as an industrial city and it doesn’t seem to try and hide it.  There are factories and open pit limestone mines nestled amongst communities where people live, work and play. This of course, is a major contributor to the problem but some say the amount of cars on the road are even a bigger issue.

This article found on the website of Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL) says the following about the pollution caused by vehicles in Monterrey:

“In the Metropolitan Area of Monterrey (MAM) in the State of Nuevo Leon in Mexico, there are currently more than 2 million vehicles, which is causing a serious deterioration in the air quality, but apparently its inhabitants are not aware of the fact. Traditionally, the industry has been blamed as the main cause of environmental pollution, and although in fact it helps, today one of the main causes of air pollution in the MAM is the indiscriminate use of cars. Worldwide, motor vehicles are the main cause of air pollution in big cities”.

Another article written by Daniel Lamadrid titled “I breathe the most polluted air in Latin America!” shares a similar report on excess of vehicular pollution.  He attributes it to the sheer number of car ownership per person. Below is a graphic taken from Daniel’s article comparing amount of vehicles in San Pedro (a city within the MAM) to other major cities worldwide.  

We can say without a doubt that Monterrey and the surrounding cities have major issues to combat when it comes to air pollution. It seems like a daunting task and hopeless to us everyday citizens fearing that the air we and our children breath could harm us. But what can we do? This quote is taken from Daniel’s article as a solution to the issue:

“Ecologists insist that Monterrey is in urgent need of 1 million trees in order to compensate for the environmental damage it has willingly caused over the past few years.”

Yes, this is a great solution and something for the municipalities and hard working local organizations like Reforestacion Extrema are working towards. Are there any small changes we can do today to help alleviate the pressures of this pollution? Is there anything we can personally take control of for our health and the health of our families?


Beautiful houseplants can actually improve your air and the aesthetics of your home.

Yes, houseplants can make a huge difference in the microclimates of our homes.

It may feel like we are always in traffic or always at work but if we think of it, the majority of our time is spent in our homes. This is where we can take control and take small steps that can improve our overall quality of life.  Whether you live in a city where pollution is looming or you want to eliminate those unseen toxins from cleaning products, housing materials etc., you can do this by filling our homes with plants. They not only filter these toxins but emit fresh oxygen to help us breathe easy.

There’s a Ted talk called How to Grow Fresh Air by Kamal Meattle, who beat his allergies caused by the pollution of Delhi, India by placing three types of plants in his house. The three plants he used in his study are: the snake plant, the areca palm and pothos (money plant), each contributed to either filtering of toxins such formaldehyde and other volatile compounds from the air or simply converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into breathable Oxygen (O2).  He found it really worked! His allergies had improved greatly and he was feeling much better living in one of the most polluted cities in the world.

He then scaled it to an office building and found the plants significantly improved the air quality and overall health of employees who work in this building in the middle of Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Here are some of the findings from the study based on employees that work in the office building. They found that they had:

  • 52% less eye irritation
  • 34% lower incidence of respiratory issues
  • 24% fewer headaches
  • 9% less asthma

What amazing results this study had on the overall health of the employees and Meattle also pointed out in an National Geographic article that another bonus to having these plants was that his building uses one fifth as much energy per square meter as the average office building in India. At least 10 percent of its energy savings is due to plants! Incredible!

Kamal Meattle, Pharphur Business Center

It’s hard not to mention this next study when talking about plants and the incredible role they play in cleaning our air. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration or as everyone know it, NASA, conducted a Clear Air study to try a find ways to purify the air in their space stations. This study came up with a list of the most effective plants to use to filter certain common toxins found indoors such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia. All of these common toxins have been linked to health issues such as headaches, eye irritation, sore throats and dizziness. Love The Garden made a great infographic describing where these toxins come from and which plants can be used to help filter them from our air.

Here is another nice visual of these air purifying plants from the NASA study and for a little more info on those findings go to Mashrita Nature Cloud.

NASA Air Purifier Plants

After finding these two studies, the one in Delhi where air pollution is amongst the worst in the world and the one by NASA, it is clear that the answer to my pollution problem is plants. I may live in a city where cars rule the road and factories work 24/7 but I now feel I can take back control here in my own home.

This is great news!

I’m really looking forward to filling up my house with the plants suggested in these studies. Not only will my air be much cleaner but my house will be much greener!

What are your favourite plants?

Share tips on keeping then alive so they can work their magic.


Find more info here!


Air Quality Index: https://waqi.info/

UNAL Report on Air Quality in Monterrey, Mx:


Article by Daniel Lamadrid; I Breathe The Most Polluted Air in Latin America:


Ted Talk by Kamal Meattle:How To Grow Your own Fresh Air:

Nayional Geographic Article on Kamal Meattle: Can Plants Really Clean Indias Air:


NASA Clean AIr Study: Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement:https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf

29 Best Air Purifying Plants:


Fun Facts: NASA Guide on Air Filtering Plants:


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