How Much Oxygen Does a Snake Plant Produce?

How Much Oxygen Does a Snake Plant Produce?

Have you ever wondered if a few indoor plants, like the snake plant could produce enough oxygen to sustain human life in an enclosed space? With indoor air quality being an increasing concern, it’s reasonable to ask if some strategically placed houseplants could effectively act as natural air purifiers. Well, according to a frequently cited NASA study, the humble yet powerful snake plant may be able to produce enough oxygen to keep you alive if locked in a sealed room! Read on to learn the facts behind this captivating claim.

With potent air-purifying capabilities and the ability to release copious amounts of oxygen at night, the unassuming snake plant has developed quite a reputation as a potential life-saver. While the idea of sitting in a sealed room surrounded by just a handful of snake plants may sound far-fetched, there are some scientifically proven benefits to having these plants in your indoor environment. Understanding the key findings and limitations of the NASA research can help clarify what sansevieria is realistically able to contribute in terms of oxygen production and air purification in indoor spaces.

How Did the Idea of Snake Plants Producing Enough Oxygen for Humans Get Started?

SNake Plant

The notion that a few potted snake plants could sustain human life in an enclosed room originates from a NASA study conducted in the late 1980s. While frequently taken out of context, the research provides valuable insights into how certain houseplants can positively impact indoor air quality by absorbing harmful pollutants. Let’s take a closer look at the key findings and how they apply to real-world indoor environments.

What Exactly Did the NASA Study on Indoor Plants Find?

In the 1980s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America performed a two-year Clean Air Study to investigate ways to improve indoor air quality for sealed space stations and buildings. The researchers tested the abilities of several common houseplants to remove benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from sealed test chambers.

One of the most effective plants was the snake plant, which was able to remove 4 of 5 benzene and trichloroethylene from the air in a 24-hour period. For reference, benzene is a known carcinogen found in paints, plastics, and more. The snake plant also removed 3 of 7 formaldehyde over 24 hours. Formaldehyde is another carcinogen found in things like plywood and foam insulation.

What Were the Limits of the Clean Air Study?

While the NASA study demonstrated the air-purifying capacity of certain plants, it’s important to recognize that the research was limited to sealed laboratory chambers of just 12 square feet. The plants were also the only means of removing pollutants from these small spaces.

Real indoor environments are more complex, with varying volumes of air exchange and many other factors that dilute and remove contaminants. So, definitively concluding that a few potted plants could produce enough oxygen to sustain human life in a typical sealed room is not scientifically supported.

What Was the Goal of the NASA Indoor Plant Study?

It’s vital to understand that NASA researchers were focused on using plants to remove trace levels of synthetic pollutants from sealed test chambers. They were not studying whether houseplants could generate enough oxygen to support human breathing.

The snake plant’s impressive abilities to help cleanse indoor air of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene seems to have evolved into the oxygen-related myth over the decades as the research was cited and reinterpreted.

Can the Snake Plant Purify Indoor Air in Real-World Spaces?

While we can’t rely solely on a couple snake plants to produce enough oxygen to live, it is certainly true that the snake plant is extremely effective at removing indoor air pollutants. So having a few sansevieria around your home or office can absolutely help improve indoor air quality.

How Many Snake Plants Are Needed for Optimum Air Purification?

In their book How to Grow Fresh Air, NASA recommends 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants for a typical 1,800 square foot home. Their list of top air-purifying plants includes the snake plant along with varieties like English ivy, spider plants, philodendrons, and dracaena.

Following these NASA guidelines can help cleanse your indoor air of toxins like formaldehyde released from building materials. And combining different species creates a more well-rounded plant collection to help filter out a wider range of pollutants.

Why is the Snake Plant So Effective for Indoor Air Purification?

The snake plant has a number of properties that make it exceptionally skilled at absorbing air pollutants. First, it’s a hardy succulent with thick, waxy leaves that allows it to thrive with minimal watering and makes it highly efficient at processing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

Sansevieria also has large surface areas on its stiff, pointed leaves that come into contact with more surrounding air. This wide exposure equips the snake plant to more effectively extract larger volumes of benzene, formaldehyde and other toxins floating around indoor spaces.

Do Snake Plants Produce Oxygen at Night?

Interestingly, snake plants do the bulk of their oxygen production at night rather than during the day. Most plants primarily release carbon dioxide at night during respiration as they process the food they generated through photosynthesis during the day.

In contrast, sansevieria produces measurable oxygen at night because of a unique type of photosynthesis using an enzyme called crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). This allows the snake plant to close its stomata during the day to retain water while opening them at night to collect carbon dioxide needed for photosynthesis.

Can Snake Plants Really Produce Enough Oxygen for a Person?

While most credible experts contest the idea that a few potted snake plants could sustain human life in a completely sealed room, some sources estimate that 6-8 sansevieria plants could produce enough oxygen for one person.

However, this claim involves significant assumptions and variables that are important to consider:

  • The volume of the space would need to be quite small, likely the size of a modest bathroom or large walk-in closet. Oxygen needs greatly increase with larger room size and additional people.
  • There could be no additional consumption of oxygen through activities like burning fuels or exercising which also increase human respiration.
  • The plants would need to be large, mature sansevieria plants to have enough leaf surface area for sufficient air purification and oxygen release.
  • External oxygen supplies would be needed as back up since oxygen levels would likely fluctuate based on the snake plants’ growth cycles and seasonal dormancy.

So while intriguing, the idea of relying solely on a few potted snake plants for all of your oxygen needs remains highly impractical for real-world scenarios.

What Other Kinds of Houseplants Purify Indoor Air?

In addition to snake plants, some other excellent air-purifying plants recommended by NASA include:

  • Spider plants – Effective at removing carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.
  • Philodendrons – Great for formaldehyde removal. Philodendron is also one of the best plants for removing xylene and toluene.
  • Golden pothos – Removes significant amounts of benzene and formaldehyde.
  • Red-edged dracaena – Excellent remover of trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene.
  • English ivy – Has been shown to effectively reduce airborne mold and fecal particles. Also absorbs benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

Should You Get an Air Purifier or Indoor Plants?

Portable air purifiers with activated carbon filters can efficiently remove airborne toxins in confined spaces. But plants have the added benefits of also increasing oxygen levels and providing natural humidity.

Combining several snake, philodendron, and pothos plants with an air purifier provides a comprehensive approach to maximizing indoor air quality in your home.

The Takeaways on Snake Plants and Oxygen Production

  • While early NASA research demonstrated that certain houseplants like snake plants can eliminate harmful pollutants from indoor air, the studies involved small sealed chambers and cannot be conclusively extrapolated to normal living spaces.
  • Snake plants are extremely effective air purifiers, capable of significantly reducing levels of harmful benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene through soil and leaf absorption.
  • Following NASA recommendations to have 15-18 good sized air-purifying plants can greatly improve air quality in a typical home or office.
  • Snake plants produce the majority of their oxygen at night through a special type of photosynthesis.
  • Having a few large snake plants in your indoor environment can absolutely help clean the air, but cannot realistically provide enough oxygen to sustain human life in a typical sealed room on their own.

So while the snake plant is definitely an air-purifying superstar, it’s best to temper expectations of these humble plants being able to completely replace our external oxygen sources! Focus instead on adding their natural air-cleansing capabilities to your indoor spaces.

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