I have caught myself sounding like my own mother did when I was a child as I shoo my children outside to play basketball or ride their bikes with the words, “You need some fresh air.” The trees and plants surrounding our homes as well as the fresh breezes that help maintain outdoor air quality are indeed important to our health.
Due to the airtight nature of many of our modern homes and offices, we are better able at keeping our homes at a comfortable temperature all year round. But did you know that we are harboring indoor pollutants as well?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollutant levels could be as much as two to five times higher than outdoor pollution levels. Since many Americans spend most of their time inside, indoor air quality can have a big impact on our everyday lives.
Many common indoor pollutants can lead to increased risk of asthma, allergies or general overall ill health. Luckily, there is something you can place in your home – or place more of – to improve the air quality there. They are not only cost-efficient, but they will add to the beauty of your home.
They are houseplants.
The results of a study by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) showed that many common indoor plants absorb potentially harmful gases and clean the air inside buildings and dwellings. The two-year study, directed by Bill Wolverton, an environmental engineer and research scientist, placed plants in sealed chambers in the presence of specific chemicals. The research findings are so compelling, in fact, that living plants will be sent into space as part of future space station missions.
Many common houseplants not only produce fresh oxygen for our homes but can be helpful in filtering or removing toxins from indoor air, including the three main culprits: formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. These chemicals can cause eye irritation, cold symptoms, headaches and difficulty in breathing.
Formaldehyde is found in particle board, pressed wood products and some forms of foam insulation. Some household paper products, such as paper towels, waxed paper and facial tissues include the chemical as well. Urea-formaldehyde (UF) resin is used as a stiffening agent, water repellant, fire retardant, floor adhesive, carpet padding and wrinkle-resistant clothes. Other sources of UF include: some home cleaning agents, cigarette smoke, natural gas and kerosene.
Benzene is used as a solvent and can be found in oils, inks, paints, gasoline, plastics and rubber. Benzene is also used in some detergents, pharmaceuticals and dyes.
Trichloroethylene is used in metal degreasing and dry-cleaning products. The chemical is contained in some inks, lacquers, varnishes, paints and adhesives.
Here is a list of some of the best toxin-fighting houseplants. Try growing some of them in your home to go green in a new way:
1. Snake Plant. Commonly used as an ornamental plant, the snake plant is an evergreen perennial species that is very easy to grow even if you do not have a green thumb. Snake plants are tolerant of both irregular watering and lighting. In addition, the NASA study found that this plant can absorb formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air.
2. Peace Lily. The peace lily filters the same chemicals as a snake plant does in addition to xylene, toluene (which can cause tiredness and nausea), and ammonia (found in many household cleaners). The peace lily, known for its striking white flowers, is easy to care for and will thrive in medium to low light.
3. Golden Pothos. Also called devil’s ivy, golden pothos is a quick growing vining plant. Its green or variegated leaves will filter out formaldehyde in your living space.
4. Chinese Evergreen. A common houseplant because of its shiny, green leaves, Chinese evergreen grows well with little water and minimum light. This plant filters out toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air in your home.
5. Bamboo Palm. This tropical plant can do well in the shady areas of your home and will filter out formaldehyde, xylene and toluene.
6. Aloe Vera. Not only can this succulent’s inner gel be used to treat burns and other skin problems, the plant itself can filter various gas emissions in your home.
7. Areca Palm. A natural humidifier from your home, this sensitive plant with its delicate fronds can be kept anywhere in the house to help remove formaldehyde and xylene. Try placing one near any newly varnished furniture or near new carpet.
8. Spider Plant. This plant needs medium to bright light and will do well as a quick-growing hanging or cascading plant. Place one near the kitchen or near the fireplace as it absorbs carbon monoxide and other impurities, including formaldehyde and xylene.
9. Boston Fern. This graceful plant with its textured fronds is also excellent as a natural humidifier. By releasing moisture into the air, this fern removes pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and xylene.
10. Philodendron. A durable houseplant, philodendrons prefer medium to low intensity light. The Heartleaf philodendron and the Elephant Ear philodendron are both efficient at removing formaldehyde.
11. Gerbera Daisy. You know the Gerbera daisy as a summer flowering plant in your garden, but indoors, this pretty plant will remove benzene and trichloroethylene from the air. It prefers bright light and well- drained soil.
12. English Ivy. This plant grows and spreads so easily that is considered a weed in some parts of the country. As a hanging plant in your home, however, it can efficiently filter formaldehyde and even pet fecal particles from the air. There are many different colors, shapes, and sizes of English ivy. The plant does well in pretty much all lighting conditions, but keep it away from direct sunlight.
To ensure that your houseplants do their best at cleaning your air, place them in the areas of your home where you spend much of your time. Consider grouping several plants together in different areas of your home. For added benefits, avoid using plastic pots. As with all plants, be careful if you have young children and pets in your home. Some plants are harmful if ingested.