Did you know the quality of oxygen you breathe can determine how productive, clearheaded and mentally aware you are?

In the age of technology, offices are becoming more modernized, efficient and updated. While this is wonderful for many reasons, these renovations can also make it easier to trap indoor air pollutants, such as ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde. These chemicals can arise from common items, such as paint, and pollute your workplace atmosphere without any visible warning signs. Growing indoor plants is not only a simple way to detoxify the air in your workplace, but lush indoor greenery can be a beautiful addition to your interior aesthetic. Serious health-related consequences can result from breathing polluted indoor air. Asthma, frequent headaches and digestive issues are a few of the side effects.

Below are common items that can contaminate your workplace environment:

  • Glues and adhesives
  • Paint
  • Chemicals in everyday cleaners
  • Foam insulation materials
  • Pressed-wood products (such as plywood, particle board and medium-density fiberboard)
  • Carpets (especially new carpets)
  • Scented products (such as air fresheners or perfumes)
  • Dust and mold
  • Building chemicals and pesticides

One study found that dust was reduced by up to 20 percent when a variety of plants were placed around the perimeter of a computer lab and small office for one week, according to Washington State University.

Another study, conducted by a research team at Pennsylvania State University, showed the effects common indoor plants had on interior ozone levels. To perform the study, the team released ozone pollution into two separate chambers: one with plants and one without. Ozone found in the earth’s uppermost atmosphere protects our planet from UV rays, but at ground level, ozone is a pollutant and can be hazardous to health. It was discovered that the ozone depletion rates were higher in the chambers containing plant life. This means the plants were aiding in air purification.

Guidelines to Help You Breathe Easy at Work

 It’s not always simple to recognize the source of a respiratory issue, especially when several common causes are invisible. But knowing the potential sources may help pinpoint a problem if one arises. Below are basic workplace guidelines from the American Lung Association regarding clean air maintenance to help you breathe easier.

  • If you suspect a problem with the indoor air quality, let a supervisor or building maintenance staff member know immediately.
  • Ensure your worksite is 100 percent tobacco-free.
  • Always store food properly and dispose of garbage correctly and routinely.
  • Do not use or bring in chemicals that have strong odors or could potentially give off unsafe emissions.
  • Clean up water spills and report leaks straightaway.
  • Always wear protective equipment when needed. Lung health protection may include respirators and other gear, such as gloves, aprons, goggles and face shields. If respirators are a part of the personal protection equipment (PPE) you are given, wear them.
  • Consider swapping out a hazardous material for a nontoxic alternative (for example, switch out a heavy chemical cleaning product for an all-natural one).
  • Keep chemical containers closed when not in use to keep the fumes out of the air.
  • Ensure the air in your office can circulate freely:
    • Keep the vents open at all times. Do not place papers, furniture or equipment in front of or on top of vents.
    • Get regular maintenance inspections of the building’s heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems to confirm they are running properly.

Potential Warning Signs

According to the American Lung Association, “depending on the industry, workers may be at risk from exposure to tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, allergens, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals that build up indoors. Workers may also be exposed to airborne contaminants on the job, such as dusts, welding fumes, gases, solvent vapors and mists.”

The following situations may be considered emergencies:

  • Gas leak
  • Sewage spill
  • Widespread breathing issues
  • Spills of hazardous materials or water flooding onto porous materials
  • Sudden onset of headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness (this may signal carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Diagnosed tuberculosis (an infectious disease that usually infects the lungs, but can attack any part of the body) or legionella (a respiratory disease caused by Legionella bacteria)

If one or more of the above situations has occurred, take action by following these steps:

  1. Let a supervisor and building management representative know there may be a problem. Follow the proper steps to alert them, as you may need to later document the steps you took.
  1. If you experience symptoms, consult your health care provider. Report the symptoms to your company’s health or safety officer. The state or local health department may also need to be informed. Ask the health or safety officer if you should do that yourself.
  1. Work with management as they investigate the problem. The process may be continuous, as the underlying problems may be difficult to identify.

The Plants to Grow for Fresher Air 


The plants listed below are some of the most effective, low-maintenance air purifiers nature provides:

English Ivy

  • Requires partial sunlight
  • Reduces airborne fecal matter, benzene and carcinogens from smoking

Golden Pothos

  • Requires partial sunlight
  • Reduces formaldehyde and carbon monoxide

Boston Fern

  • Prefers high humidity and indirect light
  • Reduces formaldehyde and xylene – a chemical released from car exhaust, paint and cigarettes
  • Functions as a natural air humidifier


  • Comes in more than 40 different varieties that require varying levels of sunlight
  • Reduces trichloroethylene, which can come from solvents and varnishes

Bamboo Palm

  • Thrives in full sun or bright light
  • Reduces benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde
  • Functions as a natural humidifier

Dragon Tree

  • Requires partial sunlight
  • Reduces xylene

Peace Lily

  • Grows best in shady areas
  • Reduces trichloroethylene, benzene, acetone and alcohols in the air

Lady Palm

  • Thrives in indirect sunlight
  • Filters multiple indoor air pollutants

Spider Plant

  • Loves bright light or indirect sunlight
  • Reduces carbon monoxide

Snake Plant

  • Prefers drier conditions and partial sunlight
  • Reduces formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene
  • Absorbs carbon dioxide during the day and releases oxygen at night

Aloe Vera

  • Requires partial sunlight
  • Reduces formaldehyde

Areca Palm

  • Needs partial sunlight
  • Rated by NASA as having the eighth highest removal rate of formaldehyde
  • Acts as a natural humidifier by restoring oxygen and moisture to dry winter air levels

Rubber Plant

  • Grows best in indirect sunlight
  • Reduces formaldehyde, benzene and ammonia