What is Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)?

Volatile organic compound (VOC) is a harmful substance consists of a large number of organic substances that will volatilise at normal room temperature. It is a major component of indoor air pollution; and exposure to VOC can cause many health issues such as headaches, lethargy, sore eyes and other respiratory diseases such as asthma (Burchett et al, 2001).

Since most VOCs are emitted from common products found in indoor spaces such as paints, lacquers and common offi ce equipments, level of VOCs is often much higher indoors than outdoors. Research shows that indoor air pollution can be 5 to 7 times higher than outdoor levels (Burchett et al, 2001).

How can interior plants help with removing VOCs?

Many studies have shown that plants can signifi cantly reduce indoor air pollution. NASA fi rst published its studies in 1984 demonstrating that plants can help to remove VOCs from sealed indoor environments (Wolverton, n.d.). Later researches confi rmed these fi ndings and also suggested that micro-organisms of the soil might also be involved in removing toxic VOCs (Burchett et al, 2001).

Certain plant species can remove up to 100% of the air-borne VOCs within a 24 hour period. Some of the top performing plants include Howea forsteriana (Kentia palm), Spathiphyllum wallisii var. Petite (Peace Lily) and Dracaena deremensis var (Burchett et al, 2001).

Do plants continue to improve indoor air quality at night time?

The answer is YES according Professor Margaret Burchett, Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Technology, Sydney. “Our extensive experiments conclude that plants not only remain fully operative in removing VOCs in the dark, but can even cope with higher levels of air pollution,” said Burchett.


- Wood, R, Orwell, R, Tarran, J, Burchett, M, 2001, Pot-plants really do clean indoor air, Nursery Papers, NGIA

- Wolverton Environmental Services, Inc, n.d, ‘Indoor Air Pollution’. Retrieved from http://www.wolvertoneenvironmental.com/air.html