I live in a semi-urban area, where most surrounding houses use charcoal or black coal to heat them. Since my flat is on the top floor (2nd), the outside chimneys are not that much above my roof and, in consequence, during the few months of winter, depending on the wind I'll get an unpleasant smell of burned coal in my apartment.

So, how to get rid of it?

The obvious answer is to close all gravitational ventilation inside the flat, which is what I do at the moment and which is cumbersome and not a permanent solution as the gravitational ventilation needs to be turned on at least periodically.

I was thinking about buying lots of plants. In the vain of this TED presentation and blog post: http://mattnt.com/2010/08/15/air-filtration/

The question is - what kind of plant/plants would deal with this problem most efficiently?

Or maybe there is a better solution?

  • 1
    +1 for great question. I think people jump to mechanical solutions or otherwise over engineer the solution when the answer is far simpler. That's usually how DIY is supposed to be, simple and effective.
    – allindal
    Mar 7 '11 at 19:13
  • Thanks! The solution with plants is good, but you have to remember that you need lots of them, so sometimes some active ventilation/filtration might be better. Mar 26 '11 at 15:41

In terms of plant answers, mother in law tongue is one of 15 plants recommended by NASA for air purification. Plus this plant releases oxygen at night as well as during that daytime(good plant to keep near your bed). I have this plant in my dorm room, works wonders.

Additionally this site will give a basic outline of a few others that work well.

In case you need more evidence, this is a CAM plant which means the plant separates the two photosynthesis pathways and performs all light dependent reactions during the day and stores the products up for use at night when the light dependent reactions take place, called Calvin's cycle. Ergo, this plant is awesome.

*Verdict, get some mother in law tongue plants, they look good, NASA proven, they can take some neglect, and they don't rack up your electric bill.


You might try an electric air filtration machine - basically a fan that blows your air through a filter of some sort (e.g. activated carbon) and absorbs odors. These can be quite good at removing odors from the air. There may be a way to hook a filter into the existing ventilation loop also.


I can't answer the bit about plants, but based on work I've done constructing clean rooms (not professional, just for hobby stuff), I'd consider building a positive pressure system.

Basically, what you do is select one opening (eg, window, vent, etc.), and place a fan drawing air in through a filter. In your case, you'd want to draw it in from the least contaminated area, which might be through the plants, or from an interior door (eg, if it's an apartment building with an interior hallway, from the main door).

You need a high volume of air coming in; basically, you want enough air being pushed into the room that it's going out any other opening, so you won't have any air coming in that's not going through the filter.

The only problem with this is that there's a continuous cost (electricity from running the fan), as compared to just plants. And you can't have too large of openings (eg, no windows open), or it won't work.

  • This is a good solution, although as you've indicated, it requires continuous running (which produces both humming and cost). Mar 8 '11 at 8:23

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