Posted on Nov 30, 2023, 5 p.m.
As the days become darker, colder and seemingly longer many of us find ourselves spending less time outdoors and retreating inside our homes to the warmth and comfort it provides. After some time inside many will start to feel that stuffiness inside and miss the great outdoors, but care not to venture back out into the harsh elements that have replaced the warmth and comfort that it provides, which I have grown to appreciate more with each passing year.
Over the years I have gradually turned into one of those cold-loathing people, and during the entire season, I will avoid going out as much as I can, and stare out the windows longing for the warm, bright, sunny days. During my time inside I miss the fresh air and lush green surroundings the most. In an attempt to combat the stale stuffy indoor air and the loss of daily interaction with nature, a few years back I developed an interest in house plants.
I was inspired by studies from The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the effects of plants on air quality. Interestingly enough, for about 20 years NASA has been conducting research and has confirmed that common houseplants not only provide a missing touch of nature but are also natural air purifiers, finding that plant-filled rooms contain 50-60% fewer airborne molds and bacteria.
Their research was aimed at finding ways to purify the air for extended stays in space, but their findings are also important to those of us on Earth as well. The NASA Clean Air Study found certain house plants to be better than others at eliminating airborne toxins, dust, and germs found in a variety of household products, materials, and furniture.
A follow-up study confirmed that to make a substantial difference to the quality of air inside your home you would need a large number of plants working together to clean the air. But with the variety of indoor plants available, the beauty of the plants is a welcome way to help improve the air we breathe even if they make no difference in the air at all.
Additionally, air pollution is a growing concern in urban environments. W.H.O suggests that poor air quality is globally responsible for 6.7 million premature deaths. Indoor air is estimated to be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air due to the presence of concentrated VOCs. Most people spend the majority of their time inside, that could be at home, at work, at school, or even places shopping. Because people spend a large amount of time indoors, it is important to find ways to help eliminate air pollution that is indoors.
It is difficult to say exactly how many plants will be needed to purify indoor air, most recommend having 2 medium or 1 large plant for every 100 square feet of indoor space, the bigger and leafier the plant the better at helping to improve air quality it will be.
With high hopes, I bought some of them myself and despite my black thumb several years later all but one are still alive. In addition to the NASA studies, in a report, NBC was quoted as saying “Indoor plants improve concentration and productivity by up to 15%, reduce stress levels, and boost your mood.” I have to admit they were not wrong, I enjoy looking at my plants when I’m feeling a bit down, and even more so when I am stuck inside due to poor weather.
The Peace Lily is a lovely plant that is good for beginners. It helps to remove traces of acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde from the home. This is an easy-to-care-for plant that even tells you when to water it by wilting in an outraged dramatic way and springs back once it gets the attention it demands. I call mine the drama queen. But this beautiful plant is not recommended for those with cats as it is poisonous to felines.
Aloe Vera is one of the best ways to help treat burns, and it will also help to rid your home of formaldehyde and benzene found in varnishes, floor finishes, paints, cleaners, and detergents. This easy-to-grow plant does best in a sunny location in well-drained soil.
Variegated Laurenti Snake Plants or Mother In Laws Tongue are really durable when it comes to growing conditions, and I can attest to them being easy to care for, just don’t overwater them as they get root rot in moist soil. These extra-tough plants are great air purifiers, filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene from the air. These plants are great in the bedroom because they release oxygen at night helping you to sleep better.
The Parlor Palm or Neanthe Bella Plant is another natural air freshener, but it also is a cancer-causing remover and powerhouse that helps to remove all indoor air toxins. According to the NASA study, they clean the air and remove benzene and trichloroethylene from your indoor space. These slow-growing plants can grow to 3-4 feet tall, and easily adapt to low light conditions of most homes in evenly moist soil which is why they are so popular.
Gerbera Daisy is much like the Chrysanthemum to the nature-loving eye, but this lovely little powerhouse can also help to remove all of the indoor toxins from the air in your home. This plant does best in warm temperatures, with plenty of natural light and moist but well-drained soil. Keep pets and children away from these plants as they can be toxic.
English Ivy will help to eliminate benzene and formaldehyde. This easy-growing plant is particularly effective at reducing airborne fecal particles making it a great choice to help purify a bathroom that may even help to combat mold levels. It can grow in full sun to full shade, but in my experience, it needs generous watering and about 4 hours of direct sunlight every day.
The Spider Plant is probably one of the most well-known easy-to-care-for houseplants, with its distinctive long striped leaves. This resilient indoor plant is a formaldehyde, benzene, carbon monoxide, and xylene eliminator. This is one of the few non-toxic pet-friendly options. It thrives in bright but indirect light with well-drained slightly dry soil.
Lady Palm or Broad Lady Palm or Broadleaf Lady Palm can help to eliminate all indoor air toxins and is especially powerful in removing cancer causers from your home’s air. This humidity-loving plant would be happy in most bathrooms as it helps to remove the levels of ammonia that can be found in a range of cleaning products. It also helps to filter out benzene, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from your indoor space. These plants like moist soil but need good drainage to avoid root rot. They can grow to 6 feet tall and are tolerant of low light making them ideal for dim corners.
The Dragon Tree or Red-Edged Dracaena is also one of the easiest plants to maintain in your home. While it is providing a touch of nature to your indoor space it is also helping to remove xylene and trichloroethylene from the air which are proven causes of breast cancer. This spiky slow-growing plant with bright red to purple trim leaves can grow to be 8 feet tall and needs a reasonable amount of sunlight but can tolerate low light conditions.
The Ficus or Weeping Fig plant will help to eliminate formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from your home, but it can trigger allergies in those who are sensitive. As I found out the hard way, these are fussy plants that don’t like change, keep it in bright, indirect light that is away from drafts. They like high humidity and wait for the top of the soil to dry out before watering.
The Chinese Evergreen is an effective cleanser of formaldehyde and benzene that is found in detergents and cosmetics. This easy-care tropical plant does well in low-lit and humid conditions making it great for most bathrooms. If you choose to keep it elsewhere, remember to mist the leaves occasionally to prevent browning. This plant contains an irritant that can be toxic to pets.
Florist’s Mums also called Chrysanthemums or Pot Mums not only add that missing splash of beauty, fragrance, and color but they also are great for removing formaldehyde, benzene, and ammonia from your indoor air.
The Rubber Plant/Tree is one of the best plants for new owners, like me, because they are difficult to kill, and this plant has been shown to help eliminate harmful chemicals like formaldehyde from the air. This plant also takes in carbon dioxide and converts it to oxygen. They prefer well-drained soil, regular watering, and liquid fertilizer when they are actively growing.
The Boston Fern or Lemon Button Fern can help to eliminate toxic emissions from your home/office air that are common in many furniture and building materials. They thrive in indirect light as long as there is sufficient humidity, be sure to let the soil slightly dry out before watering.
The (Golden) Pothos ranked high in the NASA study for helping to improve lung health. This ozone-cleaning plant helps to remove benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, and carbon monoxide from your indoor air. They can tolerate low light, but that will make their leaves revert to solid green.
The Philodendron (Red Emerald) is another indoor plant powerhouse. These ozone-cleaning plants also remove all indoor air toxins from your home present in carpet and cleaning products. These plants come in a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes. They adapt easily to most places with medium to bright indirect light.
Fittonia Frankie Nerve Plants are another low-maintenance houseplant that will help to filter out toluene, benzene, and trichloroethylene from indoor air. These small plants are good for terrariums and dish gardens with high humidity and moist well-drained soil in bright indirect light.
The Flamingo Lily is a red anthurium evergreen plant. NASA reported this plant cleansed indoor air of ammonia, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde. This flamboyant plant needs bright, indirect light and high humidity. Mist them regularly and keep the soil slightly moist.
The Dracaena 'Janet Craig' (Corn Plant) or Mass Cane will help to clean the home of benzene, formaldehyde, and cigarette smoke if you have a few throughout your home space.
Areca Palm is a universal air quality superstar that can help remove all indoor air toxins.
Bamboo or Reed Palm will help to remove benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde from the air. This makes a great house plant, it prefers part sun or shade.
Elephant Ear Philodendron is similar to aloe vera in helping to eliminate traces of formaldehyde from your safe space.
The Dwarf Date Palm is one of the best all-natural air fresheners and it also helps to remove xylene found in paints, solvents, and adhesive traces from the air.
The Kimberley Queen Fern Helps to remove formaldehyde from your home and it has been called one of the best natural humidifiers that you can find.
Houseplants are not just for visual beauty, they release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide which will help to freshen the air and eliminate harmful toxins. Research from NASA has revealed that houseplants can help to remove up to 87% of air toxins within 24 hours. Indoor plants are for practical and aesthetic purposes as well as enhancing your life.
Recently another groundbreaking study led by the University of Technology Sydney in partnership with Ambius revealed that a small indoor green wall of plants can effectively remove toxic petrol fumes, including cancer-causing compounds like benzene from indoor air. A small green wall made up of a mixture of indoor plants was found to be effective at removing carcinogenic air pollutants, removing 97% of the most toxic compounds from the surrounding air within 8 hours and over 50% of the pollutants from all chemical classes.
Plants help to brighten up a room and as it turns out they can also help to protect your health. Most people are aware that they help to clean the air and produce oxygen, but this study adds to the evidence suggesting that they can also help to eliminate harmful chemicals in the air, removing almost all of the cancer-causing fumes from a room. Pretty and functional, nature truly is wonderful. However, keep in mind that many plants can be toxic to pets and small children, so please be careful with your plant selections and where you will be placing them for safety.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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This article was written by Tamsyn Webber at WHN.