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Want Cleaner Air? This Houseplant Filters It 30 Times Better Than Others

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This supercharged houseplant system boosts a Marble Queen Pothos to clean air and an unusually high clip.

David lives in Brooklyn where he's spent more than a decade covering all things edible, including meal kit services, food subscriptions, kitchen tools and cooking tips. Before, during and after earning his BA from Northeastern, he toiled in nearly every aspect of the food business, including as a line cook in Rhode Island where he once made a steak sandwich for Lamar Odom. Right now he's likely somewhere stress-testing a blender or the best way to cook bacon. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.

Expertise Kitchen tools | Appliances | Food science | Subscriptions | Meal kits

Houseplants naturally cleanse the air in our homes and no common houseplant is better equipped to do so than a Marble Queen or Golden Pothos. But even so, you'll likely need dozens of plants to make even the smallest dent in poor air quality. 

A new plant-powered air purification system launched last month by biotech startup Neoplants uses microbiome science to supercharge the Queen Marble Pothos, accelerating the plant's ability to clean air by up to 30 times the normal rate. The Neo Px leans on bioengineering and a proprietary microbiome solution that is added to the plant's soil. This modification helps the Pothos remove cancer-causing volatile organic compounds far faster than a typical plant and supercharge it to better filter air.

vial of powder and beaker to mix power drops

Power drops are mixed in a provided beaker using water and a proprietary powder, then added to soil to supercharge a common household plant.

David Watsky/CNET

I got a chance to meet with Neoplant's French cofounders, Lionel Mora and Patrick Torbey, about the Neo Px and the broader goals of their biotech project. Torbey, who holds a doctorate in genomic engineering, explained that this is the first time this particular scientific process has been implemented in an at-home system to boost phytoremediation, the process by which plants clean air and combat household air pollutants. Neoplant's claims are backed by this peer-reviewed study (PDF) conducted alongside IMT, a French university. The technology builds on a major breakthrough made by researchers at the University of Washinton in 2018.

inside of self-watering being lifted out of base

The self-watering planter needs to be filled only every two or three weeks.

David Watsky/CNET

The Neo Px doesn't remove the same particles as a HEPA air purifier, so it's not a one-to-one replacement for those machines, Mora, the company's CEO, explained. Instead, the plant-powered system is made up of a minimalist self-watering planter and proprietary power drop solution -- a powder mixed with water -- which, when added to soil, increases the natural capture and removal of VOCs such as benzene, toluene and xylene.

person testing gas stove holding a device

A 2022 study showed that natural gas stoves can leak harmful amounts of benzene, a chemical that the Neo Px purports to cleanse from air 30 times better than most plants.

Brett Tyron

That trio of harmful chemicals, often referred to as "BTX" for short, are emitted from common household items, including furniture, nail polish, paint, plastic packaging and household cleaners.

If benzene sounds familiar, that's because two recent studies showed natural gas stoves leak harmful amounts of benzene when not in use and that the chemical may be responsible for causing childhood asthma and other health complications. When the Neo Px microbiome captures benzene, it breaks it down into carbon sources like amino acids and sugars which are then used to feed the plant itself.

The Neo Px may not be as proficient at removing solid particles including smoke and dust from the air such as electronic air purifiers, but unlike those models, the Neo Px system requires no electricity, makes no noise and is always "on."

purifier on table

The new plant-powered Neo Px is not meant to be one-to-one replacement for air purifiers. 

Screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

The plant used in the startup's first Neo Px air purification system is a Marble Queen Pothos, but Torbey told me they are working on a genetically modified plant for the next iteration that could have the potential to clean air at an even higher clip.

While Mora and Torbey would not comment on specifics, they hinted that this technology could be used on a wider scale to help combat wider atmospheric pollution and some of the most acute human health issues related to and stemming from climate change and global warming.

The Neo Px microbiome purification system is available now on Neoplant's website. It costs $119 and includes six months of power drops. To function at full strength, the soil requires refill drops to be added every three months. Refill drops cost $39, or $13 per month.

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