Sunday, February 3, 2013

Purify your indoor air naturally with plants

Many of us spend so much of our day indoors - especially in the winter time.  It is obvious that the air indoors is not as "fresh" as outdoors but do you know that there are many chemicals and toxins that prevent us from getting really fresh air indoors?  Synthetic materials release many volatile organic chemicals (VOCs)  into the air - chloroform, ammonia, acetone and formaldehyde, just to name a few. These toxins are found in almost every item in the home from furniture and carpet to cleaning solvents.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to public health (1).  On their website, the EPA also states: Children are more susceptible to air pollution because they breathe a greater volume of air relative to their body weight. To make matters worse, schools tend to be at a higher risk of poor indoor air quality because they can have 4 times the occupants as a regular office building for the same amount of floor space and generally less maintenance making air quality in schools an area of a particular concern.(2)

Poor indoor air quality can lead to or contribute to a host of problems including irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, sinus congestion, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, respiratory infections, allergies, and asthma (3).  If you already suffer from any of those symptoms, entering or residing in a room with poor air quality can cause you to become more sensitive to allergens, dust, and VOCs.  Learn more about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at the EPA's website:

So...What do we do to control or reduce indoor air pollution and improve air quality?  Grow Plants!

Plants remove air-born toxins through tiny openings in their leaves called stomata as they absorb carbon dioxide then release oxygen in a process called photosynthesis.   Plants also emit water vapor that creates a pumping action to pull contaminated air down around a plant’s roots, where it is also converted into food for the plant.  This was studied in the late 1980s by NASA, lead by Dr. Bill Wolverton, and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) when they researched to find ways to purify the air for extended stays in orbiting space stations (4). The conclusions of the study not surprising proved that the plants did clean the air but what was groundbreaking was that the plants also were greatly successful in reducing the high levels of toxins found in closed environments (sealed buildings) - the study showed that many houseplants remove harmful elements such as trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. Formaldehyde is used in many building materials including particle board and foam insulations and can be found in furniture, carpet and drapes. Additionally, many cleaning products contain this chemical. Benzene is a common solvent found in oils and paints. Trichloroethylene is used in paints, adhesives, inks, and varnishes.

The advantage that houseplants have over other plants is that they are adapted to tropical areas where they grow beneath dense tropical canopies and must survive in areas of low light. These plants are thus ultra-efficient at capturing light, which also means that they must be very efficient in processing the gasses necessary for photosynthesis. Because of this fact, they have greater potential to absorb other gases, including potentially harmful ones.   Dr. Bill Wolverton highlights the NASA / ALCA study as well as the best plants for removing toxins in his book, "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office". 
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the study and want to learn more about the cleaning abilities of houseplants.

Bamboo Palm
Based upon Wolverton's book, here are the TOP 10 plants most effective in removing: Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Carbon Monoxide from the air:

Bamboo Palm - Chamaedorea Seifritzii
Chinese Evergreen - Aglaonema Modestum
English Ivy Hedera Helix
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera Jamesonii
Janet Craig - Dracaena "Janet Craig"
Marginata - Dracaena Marginata
Mass cane/Corn Plant - Dracaena Massangeana
Mother-in-Law's Tongue - Sansevieria Laurentii
Pot Mum - Chrysantheium morifolium
Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum

Warneckii - Dracaena "Warneckii"

These plants are all pretty common and can be found at your local florist or plant store.
Wolverton recommends having two or three plants in 8- or 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet of floor space to successfully remove toxins and provide enough fresh air for living comfortably. An average living room size is 16'x16' (5) which is 256 square feet - this would require about 5-7 medium sized plants to adequately reduce indoor toxins, based upon Wolverton's study.  You may think this is a lot, but if you choose larger plants or plants with larger leaves, you can effectively reduce pollutants with fewer plants.

So while the weather is cold and we are spending more time indoors, think about the air quality and consider adding a few houseplants to give you a little fresh air indoors.

(4): Download and read NASA's study: Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, 1989


  1. Hello I love your blog, found you thru Monday Mingle.

  2. Hi there, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris


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