Indoor plants are pretty awesome. They boost our productivity, reduce stress and fatigue, add life to otherwise bland living spaces, reduce noise level and even improve the air quality in our homes. While everyone should know that plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen during the process of photosynthesis, you may not be aware that they also have the ability to filter dust particles and harmful toxins out of the air we breathe. If you want to naturally improve the air quality in your home, stimulate your mental health and add pretty decor, a houseplant is your new best friend.
Find out what kind of air pollutants indoor plants can remove, how to decorate any space with pretty greenery and what plants are the perfect fit for your personal lifestyle.
Houseplants and NASA
What on earth do houseplants have to do with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)? Well, it’s not as far fetched as it may seem. In 1989, NASA published a study on Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. While this may sound complicated and out of this world, the inspiration for this study was actually quite simple. In the 1970s, new buildings were designed to improve energy efficiency by being better insulated which in turn led to reduced fresh air exchange. Less airflow in these buildings also meant higher levels of toxins in the air. Since it had become apparent that indoor air pollution can be a threat to human health, NASA conducted greenhouse tests in which they researched if indoor plants could filter common chemicals out of the air. The results showed that certain plants can reduce the amount of several volatile organic compounds and are therefore great additions to indoor spaces with little air flow.
What Are VOCs?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful gases and odors from chemicals and toxins that are emitted into the air. In regards to the NASA study, three VOCs were used in the plant screening tests: Benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Other compounds that are common in households and can be filtered by indoor plants are ammonium and xylene. Get a better understanding of where these VOCs come from, how you can get exposed to them and what symptoms they can cause when you are exposed to high levels in the air:
Formaldehyde is an omnipresent chemical compound made of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen that can be found in virtually any household. This gas is naturally produced in humans and animals. Tiny amounts of formaldehyde are often used in cosmetics like shampoo or face cream as preservative but can be broken down by humans the same way we break down formaldehyde that naturally occurs in our bodies. However, cigarette smoke, certain manufactured woods and permanent press fabric such as drapes or curtains can contain higher levels of formaldehyde that can be harmful to us. When overexposed to this gas, it can cause irritation to nose, mouth and throat.
Benzene is formed during natural processes like forest fires or volcano eruptions but can also be found in gasoline, tobacco smoke and chemicals such as lubricants, rubbers, pesticides and detergents. While you’re likely not going to be exposed to gasoline in your home, products like paints, glues or furniture wax can raise the benzene levels in your house and cause irritation to eyes, drowsiness and dizziness. Increase in heart rate, frequent headaches and even confusion can be further indications that you are exposed to unhealthy levels of benzene.
Trichloroethylene or TCE was used as a surgical anesthetic until it was banned in the United States in 1977 because it was found to cause kidney cancer. Besides cancer, if exposed to high levels of TCE, it can cause dizziness, headaches and nausea in humans and animals. The compound can be found in wood stains, lubricants, paint removers and adhesives.
Xylene is naturally formed in forest fires and occurs in petroleum and coal tar in small amounts. In chemicals it is primarily used in paint, rubber, cleaning products and varnishes. The compound can be found in gasoline and tobacco smoke and cause irritation to skin, nose, eyes and throat that result in difficulty of breathing when overexposed.
Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment but is also one of the most produced industrial chemicals in the United States. It is often used in fertilizer, window cleaning products and industrial cleaners. When you’re exposed to high levels of ammonia in the air, it can cause tiredness and breathing problems that are especially dangerous if you suffer from asthma.
Best Air-Purifying Plants
If you want to decorate your home with plants, you may as well make the most of it and choose the ones that will improve the air quality too. It doesn’t matter if you live in a tiny one bedroom apartment or a large mansion, plants of all sizes can spruce up your space. The rule of thumb says that two plants per 100 square feet can increase the air quality of a room. To help you get a better feel of what plants are best for you and your home, here are a few common houseplants that could soon become your newest roommates!
Aloe vera is a great plant for beginners as it’s on the smaller side and one of the easiest to maintain indoor plants you can place in your home. They love bright light and do well on windowsills or work desks. If you let this succulent grow a bit, you can cut one of the thicker leaves off the next time you have a scrape or sunburn and ease the pain by smearing the gel from the inside of the leaf on your skin.
The peace lily performed among the best in the NASA study as it was one of the plants that significantly reduced the amount of all three VOCs tested (TCE, formaldehyde and benzene). The peace lily is not only a great natural air purifier, it’s also really pretty to look at. This plant loves humid conditions and doesn’t mind little to no sunlight which makes it the perfect plant to decorate your bathroom with. To keep your peace lily happy, water it with distilled or rainwater.
This tree is native to Madagascar and Mauritius but will enjoy sharing your home anywhere in the world as long as it’s exposed to bright indirect sunlight and watered about every two weeks. The dragon tree is characterized by its long green leaves with red edges and will be an absolute delight to care for since it’s very low maintenance.
Also known as Ficus benjamina, the weeping fig is one of the best plants you can choose to improve the air quality in your home. While this plant is poisonous to pets, it was one of the most effective air cleansers in the NASA study. You will need to be a bit more attentive to the weeping fig, which by the way makes a great addition to your living room, if you want to see it grow up to six feet high. This tree loves bright indirect sunlight and hates wet feet so only water it when the soil is slightly dry.
Snake plants, or mother-in-law’s tongue can grow up to 12 feet high when exposed to plenty of sunlight and are easy to care for. This plant removes benzene and formaldehyde from the air and is non-toxic which makes it the perfect houseplant for families with toddlers and fur children alike. You also don’t have to be an ace in science to understand that the larger the leaves of a plant, the more toxins it can absorb which makes the snake plant the perfect air purifier.
Areca Palms can grow really tall for indoor plants and look amazing in industrial lofts or rooms with high ceilings. Expose your plant to bright, indirect sunlight, water it carefully and you’ll soon enjoy a tree that grows up to eight feet tall, purifies the air you breathe and boosts your mood every time you glance at the beautiful, lush foliage.
Sprucing up a room like your home office is a piece of cake with the spider plant. This plant is super forgiving, will grow under almost any circumstance and the added green to your working from home office or study room helps with reducing physical and psychological stress! Water your spider plant about once a week and expose it to moderate sunlight so you can enjoy it for a long time.
If you have a neglected corner in your home that could use a little makeover, the bamboo palm is the perfect plant to add life to it. While it’s a tropical plant, this tree does well in low light conditions and only wants to be watered when the soil is looking dry. A well cared for bamboo palm can grow up to six feet indoors and will absorb benzene and formaldehyde to leave you with nothing but clean air to breathe.
Plants are true superheroes. They provide us with fresh oxygen, brighten up any room and even filter harmful chemical pollutants out of the air to make our lives easier. Adding greenery to your home is a fantastic way of doing something for your physical and mental health but you should still make sure to open the windows every day to let fresh air in, dust and vacuum regularly and use products labeled “No VOC” or “Low VOC” to maximize the air quality in your home. The best news is that it doesn’t matter how small your home is, even a few tiny succulents can absorb airborne pollutants, reduce your stress level and transform your space into your personal oasis.