Indoor air pollution is now one of the top five public health threats. One low-tech remedy is immediately available and virtually without cost: houseplants.
quickest, most effective filters of common dangerous air pollutants, including formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and ammonia. Each can cause many ailments such as asthma, allergies and what’s now recognized as “sick building syndrome.”
NASA placed houseplants in sealed chambers and exposed them to hundreds of chemicals. “We’ve found plants suck these chemicals out of the air,” says NASA researcher Bill Wolverton, author of How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin, 1997).
Plants clean indoor air in two ways, says Wolverton. They absorb toxins into their leaves, transmitting them to their roots. There, pollutants are transformed into a source of plant food. And they emit water vapours creating a pumping action to suck in dirty air.
Flora for Fresh Air
Source: Plants for Clean Air Council, plants4cleanair.org
Breathe a Little Easier
Plants are especially needed in “sick” office buildings because of toxins emitted by office machinery, pressboard furniture and carpets. Every office worker should have a plant within his or her “personal breathing zone.” This is an area of about 0.7 cubic metres (roughly seven cubic feet) closest to where you spend several hours on a regular basis.
In the home, this space is near your bed. While you’re sleeping, your plants are working, taking dirty toxins and carbon dioxide out of the air you’re breathing and recycling it into pure oxygen. The closer the plant is to you, the better. Even in large open rooms, a plant within your personal breathing zone really improves the air you breathe.
Many houseplants clean indoor air. Bamboo palm, rubber plant and dracaena “Janet Craig” are good choices among the larger plants. Good smaller-sized choices include the spider, Boston fern, peace lily and golden pothos. Some plants specialize. Boston fern, for instance, removes formaldehyde, which pollutes most homes; the peace lily removes acetone.
Outdoor plants, including mums, azaleas, gerbera daisies, cyclamen and tulips, also clean the air when brought in for a short time. When choosing your plant, first check if it emits allergens and pollen, which can be catastrophic for those with respiratory problems.
Plants can actually reduce moulds and mildews in the air. Research shows that plant-filled rooms contain 60 percent fewer airborne moulds and bacteria than rooms without plants. Current research may result in plant pot systems that contain lights that could triple a plant’s air-cleaning ability.
Along with other remedial actions to reduce indoor pollution, don’t forget plants. After all, they bring nature and life itself into your home.