According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (EPA), we spend 90% of our time indoors. Unfortunately, the air we’re breathing at home and work is more polluted than it used to be. Commonly used products, such as new carpeting, pressed wood furniture or cabinets, gas stoves and fireplaces, new electronics, and new paint all emit harmful toxins that pollute the air. These toxins can also cause a number of health problems.
What can you do to create a healthier indoor environment? You can improve your indoor air by opening the windows, using green cleaners, and choosing low-VOC paints. Another inexpensive solution is to use houseplants to clean and purify the air.
Keep reading to find out why our indoor air is becoming so polluted, and which plants you should use to create a healthier home.
The Rising Concern Over Indoor Air Quality
In 1989, NASA examined how well certain plants clean and purify the air. The intention, as you might guess, was to find out how to reduce air pollution in space habitats. This study, which has now reached almost legendary status, found that certain plants are very effective at removing harmful, cancer-causing chemicals from indoor air. Since its publication, many other researchers have expanded on NASA’s discoveries and come to the same conclusion.
Today, scientists are increasingly concerned about the quality of our indoor air. Buildings are now designed with energy efficiency in mind, which means that our homes and offices are far more airtight than they used to be. Even older structures are being renovated and updated to be more energy efficient. While this is great for lowering our energy use, it means that less fresh air is making its way into our indoor environment.
Another cause for concern is our increasing reliance on synthetic building materials. Many of the products we use today emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted from some solids or liquids. This process, known as off-gassing, can have serious, long-term health effects.
According to the EPA, the VOCs found in indoor air are often ten times higher than outside, whether you live in the countryside or an industrial area. The EPA states that VOCs are most commonly found in these products:
- Paints, paint strippers and other solvents
- Wood preservatives
- Aerosol sprays
- Cleaners and disinfectants
- Moth repellents and air fresheners
- Stored fuels and automotive products
- Hobby supplies
- Dry-cleaned clothing
- Building materials and furnishings
- Office equipment, such as copiers and printers, correction fluids, and carbonless copy paper
- Graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.
If the air you’re breathing is highly polluted, it could be contributing to a wide variety of short- and long-term health effects. These negative health effects can range from eye, nose, and throat irritation, to much more serious complications, such as damage to your lungs, kidneys, or central nervous system. Many VOCs often found in our indoor air are known to cause cancer in humans.
The EPA even has a name for the general feeling of ill-health we might experience in certain buildings. It’s called “Sick Building Syndrome,” and it’s becoming a major occupational hazard. People can experience Sick Building Syndrome anywhere they spend time, and this includes our homes.
The Power of Plants
Plants add warmth and life to any space. They can also help you feel more creative. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that plants can positively affect creative performance. Another study, published in the North American Journal of Psychology, suggests that plants might help you recover from mental fatigue.
Plants also act as natural scrubbers for our indoor air. While any plant will help clean and purify indoor air, some varieties work especially well at removing specific chemicals from the air.
If you don’t have a green thumb, don’t worry. Many of the plants that work best at purifying indoor air are also very low maintenance.
1. English Ivy
English Ivy is one of those plants that you see everywhere but never notice. They add a splash of green to corners and can withstand quite a bit of neglect before they throw in the towel.
English Ivy is also incredibly effective at removing benzene from the air. Benzene is a carcinogen commonly found in paint, paint strippers, pressed wood furniture, dyes, detergents, and synthetic fibers. In the NASA study, English Ivy removed almost 90% of the benzene in a sealed chamber in 24 hours.
You can pick these little plants up for around $4 at Home Depot or another garden center.
2. Boston Fern
In an article published in the journal HortScience, researchers studied how efficient some plants were at removing formaldehyde from the air. Of the 86 species they tested, the fern was found to be the most effective at removing this pollutant. They’re also efficient at removing benzene and xylene, two chemicals commonly found in products stored in the garage. These chemicals can find their way indoors if your garage is attached.
Keep in mind that ferns don’t thrive easily indoors without weekly care and attention. The Boston Fern can take the most neglect, which is probably why they’re so readily available in nurseries and home improvement stores. Boston Ferns are lush, thick, and look wonderful in hanging planters or on plant stands, but they do need regular, consistent watering. A full fern costs approximately $15 to $20, and you can find them easily during the summer months.
3. Peace Lily
The Peace Lily has been praised by NASA because it removes formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide from indoor air. For example, in the NASA study, the Peace Lily removed 79% of benzene and 23% of trichloroethylene within 24 hours.
Although you can buy Peace Lilies anytime, they’re often cheapest and most widely available in the spring. Depending on where you get yours, and what time of year it is, expect to pay $15 to $50 for a fully grown Peace Lily plant.
Keep in mind that while the Peace Lily is beautiful, the leaves can be toxic to pets and children.
4. Spider Plant
The Spider Plant is about as common as they come, but with an exception: It is a powerhouse when it comes to cleaning indoor air.
In 2016, the Washington Post interviewed Vadoud Niri, a chemist at the State University of New York at Oswego. According to Niri’s research, the Spider Plant was incredibly fast at removing VOCs from the air, lowering levels within a minute of exposure.
The Spider Plant, which generally costs less than $5, is easy to take care of and grow. Also, the plant offshoots baby “spiders,” which can be snipped off to grow new plants.
5. Dwarf Date Palm
In 1994, The New York Times interviewed Dr. William Wolvertine, a leading scientist at NASA who contributed to the groundbreaking study around these houseplants. According to Wolvertine’s research, the Dwarf Date Palm comes in at number one for removing xylene from the air. Xylene is an especially harmful chemical that is commonly emitted from paints, wood-burning fireplaces, and tobacco smoke.
If you’re looking for a Dwarf Date Palm, home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, commonly carry them in their garden centers, even during the winter months.
6. Gerbera Daisy
Gerbera Daisies add a burst of sunshine and happiness to any room. They’re also very effective at removing benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE) from the air.
In the NASA study, the Gerbera Daisy removed 38,938 micrograms of TCE, more than any other plant studied. English Ivy, on the other hand, removed 7,161 micrograms.
The reduction of benzene was even starker. The Gerbera Daisy removed 107,653 micrograms of benzene from the air, which was 67% of the total amount of benzene in 24 hours. The Pot Mum came in second, removing 76,931 micrograms.
You can find Gerbera Daisies at home improvement stores and garden centers during warmer months, and even in large grocery stores during the dead of winter.
Plants make any space more inviting, and knowing they’re doing double duty by scrubbing the air makes them even more attractive. My home is filled with plants, and I don’t begrudge the time I spend each week caring for them because I know they’re keeping my family healthy.
Again, any plant is going to help improve your home’s indoor air, but the species listed above go above and beyond when it comes to certain chemicals. Other plants, such as the Rubber Plant, Golden Pothos, Aloe Vera, Snake Plant, Red Edged Dracaena, and Weeping Fig, are also highly efficient scrubbers.
What else do you do to keep your indoor space fresh and clean?