The phytoremediation of indoor air pollution: a review on the technology development from the potted plant through to functional green wall biofilters

  • P. J. Irga
  • T. J. Pettit
  • F. R. Torpy
review paper


Poor indoor air quality is a health problem of escalating magnitude, as communities become increasingly urbanised and people’s behaviours change, lending to lives spent almost exclusively in indoor environments. The accumulation of, and continued exposure to, indoor air pollution has been shown to result in detrimental health outcomes. Particulate matter penetrating into the building, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) outgassing from synthetic materials and carbon dioxide from human respiration are the main contributors to these indoor air quality concerns. Whilst a range of physiochemical methods have been developed to remove contaminants from indoor air, all methods have high maintenance costs. Despite many years of study and substantial market demand, a well evidenced procedure for indoor air bioremediation for all applications is yet to be developed. This review presents the main aspects of using horticultural biotechnological tools for improving indoor air quality, and explores the history of the technology, from the humble potted plant through to active botanical biofiltration. Regarding the procedure of air purification by potted plants, many researchers and decades of work have confirmed that the plants remove CO2 through photosynthesis, degrade VOCs through the metabolic action of rhizospheric microbes, and can sequester particulate matter through a range of physical mechanisms. These benefits notwithstanding, there are practical barriers reducing the value of potted plants as standalone air cleaning devices. Recent technological advancements have led to the development of active botanical biofilters, or functional green walls, which are becoming increasingly efficient and have the potential for the functional mitigation of indoor air pollutant concentrations.


Biofiltration Indoor air Indoor plants Air pollution Purification 



Our greatest appreciation goes to Kate Barker for her assistance in preparing the figures in this manuscript. Additional recognition goes to Naomi J Paull, Ashely Naomi Jane Douglas, Nic Surawski and Jess Braun for their interest in the research.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group, Faculty of Engineering and Information TechnologyUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia
  2. 2.Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia

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