We spend so much time worrying about the pollution outside our house, that sometimes we forget that the air inside your house can pose a threat to your health too. And I’m not just talking about the regular sources of air pollution, like cars and industrial sites. The air in your home may contain fumes from old paint cans, cleaning materials, and many other trace chemicals from modern furnishings and appliances.
In today’s post I’m going to explain how using indoor plants in your house can reduce or eliminate these pollutants. If you are suffering from a long-running illness or fatigue, think back to when it started. If it began when you moved into your new house, office or apartment, there may be a chance that you are suffering from ‘sick building syndrome’. If this is the case, some simple measures may improve your quality of life considerably.
Can plants really cleanse the air around us?
The ability of plants to clean our air is well established. In fact, NASA conducted a series of experiments to examine the use of house plants to improve air quality. The idea was that these plants might one day be used in space stations rather than expensive mechanical or chemical purifiers!
This NASA research showed that houseplants could eliminate a number of dangerous chemicals. These included benzene (found in detergents, paints and gasoline), trichloroethylene (used in paints and adhesives) and formaldehyde (found in wall paneling and kitchen cabinets). In many cases the levels of these chemicals were reduced by between 50% and 80% within a 24 hour period.
Even better, the study found that plants will actually adapt to the specific mix of toxins that they find in the air. This means that the longer you keep those indoor plants in your house, the more efficient they will become at improving your air quality!
Which plants should you choose to clean your air?
The NASA study tested 14 different plants, but not all of these are suitable for use in your home. Here are five of my favorites. If you want to get the best air quality in your house, choose a selection of these and try to have at least one in each of your most-used rooms.
This plant grows well in the shade and can eliminate a wide variety of toxic chemicals from your air, including acetone, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene. In the NASA study this plant was shown to remove 80% of the benzene and 23% of the trichloroethylene within a 24 hour period.
This is a tropical plant that loves the shade. Give it enough fertilizer and a little moisture, and you can expect it to bloom for several months each year. This is a beautiful way to bring flowers into your house without having to throw them away every two weeks!
Three different philodendron plants were shown to remove significant amounts of formaldehyde from the air. This is a versatile houseplant that can survive in direct sunlight or light shade. They do best with lots of warmth, light and moisture. The easiest philodendron to maintain is the philodendron scandens, otherwise known as the ‘sweetheart’ plant.
The Golden Pothos plant was used in the NASA study and removed more than 73% of benzene within 24 hours. This plant is a great addition to your home but it needs some good, indirect sunlight. That means keeping it close to a window, but out of the direct sunlight. They need a little water but are otherwise very easy to maintain.
The spider plant is particularly good at removing carbon monoxide. In fact during testing it was shown to remove 96% of the carbon monoxide from an enclosed space. That makes it a great plant to keep close to your kitchen or fireplace, where these gases might accumulate.
The spider plant will grow in the partial shade. It is usually a fast growing plant, as long as you give it enough water and use some fertilizer pellets to feed it during the summer.
Last but not least is the bamboo palm, the most effective at removing formaldehyde out of all the plants tested. Palms are beautiful plants to keep in your house but you need to choose the right variety. Pick one that doesn’t need much sun – that generally means the parlor or kentia palms. Give them small amounts of water and feed them regularly with fertilizer to keep them healthy and beautiful.
Other ways to improve your air quality
There are some other simple measures that you can take to ensure that your air quality stays at acceptable levels.
First, make sure that your house is properly ventilated. A house without proper ventilation is much more likely to retain moisture and develop a mold problem. It also increases the chance that chemicals from paint cans, appliances and elsewhere remain in your house for longer. If your house does not have an adequate ventilation system, get one installed.
Alternatively, a quick solution is to open all your windows once a week and allow the toxins in your house air to escape. If you have screens on your windows and the weather is good, leave them open all day (the longer the better!).
Secondly, remove the sources of the air pollution. I’ve mentioned old paint cans before – these are some of the worst offenders. Any cans that are lying around in your basement or storage room should have their lids fastened securely. And any older cans that predate 1990 should be disposed of immediately as they may contain mercury or lead.
Thirdly, you should consider repainting any rooms that were painted before 1990 too. If those lead or mercury-based paints were used, those rooms could be leaking toxic fumes into your house. This is particularly important if you have any younger children as their immune systems are far less able to cope.
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