It’s no secret that vehicle and industrial emissions negatively impact air quality outdoors. However, when it comes to purifying the air that you breathe at home, don’t forget to think inside the box. While today’s energy-efficient homes are great at reducing heat transfer and lowering energy costs, they also trap in airborne toxins that are produced by synthetic building materials, cleaning supplies, and other chemicals used inside. This is sometimes referred to as Sick Building Syndrome. Indeed, the toxins in your home can be quite harmful, especially to those who may be suffering from asthma or other respiratory conditions. In fact, some cases of indoor air pollution may be far worse than any corresponding outdoor conditions. Fortunately, there is a solution for purifying your indoor space, one that will save money and the environment at the same time – houseplants.
A Special Thanks to NASA
Plants are essential to human life; they convert carbon dioxide into useable oxygen. As a bonus, they also remove dangerous elements from the air. These toxins are either metabolized into harmless byproducts or simply absorbed into a plant’s tissues. It was NASA who first began researching houseplants during the late 1980s in an effort to maintain healthier air for astronauts who were on extended missions in orbit. They found that some botanical species are just as adept at filtering interior spaces as they are at cleaning outside air.
Most common houseplants come from tropical regions where they have adapted to low light under thick canopy ceilings. As a result, these species are expert photosynthisizers and can also absorb some of the most common and toxic airborne pollutants, including:
- Formaldehyde –Released from cleaners and building materials like plywood and foam insulation.
- Benzene –Emitted from paints, oils, and synthetic plastics.
- Trichloroethylene –Found in adhesives, varnishes and paints.
- Toluene –A common byproduct of nail polish and glue.
Seven Effective Houseplants
NASA scientists studied 19 different species over the course of two years. Here are some houseplants that are highly effective at purifying indoor air:
- Weeping fig –Also known as a ficus tree, the Ficus benjamina is a popular evergreen plant that helps rid your home of formaldehyde, toluene, and even xylene. It grows best under bright indirect light, with frequent watering, and at higher temperatures. Unfortunately, it is poisonous to animals, so you want to make sure to place it in an area that your dog or cat cannot access.
- Bamboo palm –As its common name suggests, the Chamaedorea sefritzii is a cross between bamboo and a palm. Due to its bamboo-like stalk, it is sometimes referred to as a bamboo reed plant. This is one of most popular houseplants all over the world. Not only do you get the lavish look of a palm, but you also get that ancient tranquility provided by bamboo. Perhaps this is because it is one of the best species on NASA’s list of formaldehyde-cleansing plants. This makes it a good choice for today’s synthetic-based homes. Try to mimic its natural environment with moist soil and low light.
- Snake plant –The Sansevieria tifasciata is also famously called the mother-in-law plant. This African native is great at absorbing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, and nitrogen oxide. This is a hardy beginner plant that requires little attention. While it grows well under bright light, it can easily adapt to darker corners as well.
- Peace lily –Spathiphyllum includes many species that all share similar features. It is known in Hawaii as the Mauna Loa. This is a highly popular choice due to its beautiful white flowers and dark green foliage. It is highly effective at removing benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. Moreover, it tends to prefer low light and little water, so it’s fairly easy to maintain. The peace lily is moderately toxic, so avoid ingesting the leaves or flowers. More than anything, however, it’s just plain intoxicating.
- English Ivy –The Hera helix is an outdoor vine that has been a vital part of the European landscape for centuries. Its invasive nature can be tamed by keeping it indoors. Here, it helps to remove formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene. As a bonus, it even reduces airborne mold. When it comes to care, it generally grows best under direct light at a constant temperature. Make sure to provide plenty of water in addition to well-drained soil.
- Gerbera daisy –This is one of two species from the NASA study that is not considered a true houseplant; however, the Gerbera jamesonii is the most effective for treating benzene-contaminated air. Many common tobacco products on the market contain significant amounts of benzene. Therefore, smokers may want to consider the hidden benefits of this showy piece; it’s known for its stunning, brightly-colored flowers. Just make sure to give it plenty of direct sunlight.
Maximizing the Air Purification Benefits of Your Plants
When taking advantage of the cleansing power of plants, don’t narrow in on the leaves alone. According to NASA, the root zone is where the action happens. In order to encourage maximum absorption, you need make sure that your soil is exposed to air. It helps to use pots that are at least six inches wide. You can even go one step further by incorporating an activated carbon filter near the plant’s base.
As another general rule of thumb, avoid overwatering these in-home cleansers. Not only does this kill most roots, but it also creates excess moisture, which can lead to further problems like mold. In addition, it is helpful to try to create the dense, low-light conditions that most of these jungle-dwellers prefer.
Ultimately, the more houseplants you have, the cleaner the air in your home. In fact, NASA suggests using one plant for every 100 feet of living space. With all the chemicals, detergents, and synthetics that may be used in your home on a daily basis, don’t you think it is important to keep an eye on those hidden health risks? Why not let nature take some of the responsibility? Get in touch with your local nursery for more tips and suggestions. Ultimately, houseplants are a great way to improve the look of your home and the well being of your family.