Air pollution can cause a variety of health problems such as asthma, cancer, and even heart disease. We often hear about the dangers of outdoor air pollution that are caused by factories, automobiles, power plants, and incinerators. It’s less often that we hear about the real dangers of indoor air pollution.
Many people are unaware that indoor air pollution is typically worse than outdoor air pollution. In fact, indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Fortunately, there is an unexpected remedy for poor indoor air quality: house plants.
In the late 80s, NASA published a report entitled “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement”. The intention of this report was to study how houseplants could be used to positively impact “sick building syndrome”, a phenomenon in which building occupants experience health issues due to poor air quality.
NASA used the chemicals benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene to conduct the study. This study found that certain houseplants are able to improve indoor air quality by eliminating toxins in the air.
How Does Indoor Air Pollution Affect Health?
Indoor air pollutants have been known to cause many negative health conditions. Twenty-five years after NASA’s study, the World Health Organization is still very concerned about the negative effects of poor indoor air quality. Though this issue doesn’t get as much coverage as outdoor air pollution, over a million people die every year from chronic obstructive respiratory disease caused by indoor air pollution.
Poor indoor air quality can also contribute to the development of lung cancer and pneumonia. In addition to these conditions, less serious problems such as asthma, allergies, and infection can also be caused by indoor air pollution.Here are some of the most common culprits responsible for indoor air pollution:
- Formaldehyde: This chemical is commonly found in carpets, glue, paint, upholstery, building materials, cigarette smoke, fuel-burning appliances
- Benzene: Plastics, pesticides, cigarette smoke, cleaning products, lubricants, and synthetic fibers can all harbor benzene.
- Trichloroethylene: This toxin can be found in spot removers, adhesives, rug cleaning solution, typewriter fluid, and paint removers.
How Do Plants Clean the Air?
At this point, you may be wondering how NASA scientists used plants to clean the air. Can you reproduce their results in your own home? Air purification using plants does not require any special scientific equipment. The plants themselves do most of the work! It’s common knowledge that plants use light and carbon dioxide to create energy. Using a similar process, plants can absorb other harmful gases such as the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) mentioned above.
Examples of Plants that Clean the Air
With its bright, large blooms, the Gerbera daisy is a popular houseplant due to its attractive appearance as well as its air-purifying properties. This plant can help to remove trichloroethylene and benzene in the air. Gerbera daisies also have the added benefit of releasing more oxygen than typical houseplants. This can be very helpful for those suffering from breathing disorders.
Peace lilies are easy to care for and very resilient, making them especially popular with those who don’t necessarily have a green thumb. The plant can grow to about 16 inches and produce lovely white blooms. Peace lilies can help reduce toxins such as benzene, ammonia, formaldehyde, acetone, xylene, ethyl acetate, and trichloroethylene.
The long, grass-like leaves of the spider plant make an ideal hanging houseplant. These plants are also easy to care for and are quite hardy. The spider plant can remove xylene and formaldehyde from the air. To get the best results, place the plant near your kitchen or fireplace, since these areas are prone to carbon monoxide build up.
The bamboo palm is another popular purifying houseplant due to its tropical look and insect-repelling quality. This plant also packs a big punch when it comes to purifying the air. The bamboo palm can remove substances like benzene, formaldehyde, chloroform, carbon monoxide, and xylene.
The broad leaves of the golden pothos make an attractive houseplant whether displayed in a hanging basket or small pot. The vines of the golden pothos can grow up to 40 feet in length, so some maintenance is required to avoid a plant of unmanageable size. Use golden pothos to reduce toxins such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, carbon monoxide, and xylene.
Before you run out and buy an expensive air purifier, why not try cleaning the air in your home with these houseplants? All the plants listed above are easy to care for and require very little maintenance, so even novice growers won’t be intimidated. This solution is not only more cost-effective than air filters or purifiers, it will also make your home more attractive and pleasant. If you are concerned about indoor air quality, pick up a few of these plants from your local nursery and enjoy cleaner, healthier air.
Plants don’t just clean the air indoors. They keep our our outside air clean too. The Green Ribbon would add 80 acres of green space to downtown Toronto. This would have a tremendous affect on Toronto’s air quality in the dense south core. If you value clean air, click here to help.