Clean indoor air is only as far away as your local home and garden center
By Sherry Swensk
Yes, I’ll admit it; I’m a murderer. I’ve killed—not once—but many times over. And while I feel utter remorse over it, I keep doing it again and again; I can’t help myself. You might even call me a “houseplant serial killer.” Little did I know my black thumb is costing me more than a guilty conscience, it’s also robbing me of the clean air I could be breathing inside my home.
All sorts of toxins hang in the air of your home or office, in total stealth mode, while you may be completely unaware of their existence. Formaldehyde and benzene fumes are released from materials like your drapes, furniture and carpeting. Fumes from cleaning solvents can lollygag long after a liberal mopping or wiping down of the countertops. And need I even explain the stubborn nicotine carcinogen of secondhand smoke? Its yellow hue is a dead giveaway. Unsuspecting homeowners or office workers can experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision or even respiratory illnesses and not even know what’s causing it. But whatever toxin(s) could be lurking in your enclosed air space, well … there’s a plant for that. In fact, there’s a houseplant that can combat just about every air pollutant you’ve been tolerating, and unknowingly absorbing, all this time!
Green plants are so effective at cleaning your indoor air; even NASA has spent time and money studying their effectiveness. While the test results were somewhat mixed about whether a houseplant’s cleaning secret lies in its green leaves, NASA did discover that soil is an important component of improved indoor air quality when potted plants are involved. In fact, the higher the carbon levels of potting soil a plant sits in, the greater the plant’s ability to filter chemicals and toxins from polluted air inside your home or office.
So which plants battle bad air the best? The gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum are two of the biggest grime fighters when it comes to dirty indoor air. And they’re pretty to look at, to boot. Other runners up: dracaena—or corn plant; spathiphyllum—also known as the peace lily, with those big white blooms and golden pothos; and devil’s ivy, which is so common and so hearty, even I would have a hard time killing it! Hard to imagine, but true.
So how do houseplants thrive on a diet of toxins? Well, to get somewhat technical for just a minute, plant leaves seek out and absorb organic chemicals and destroy them by a process called metabolic breakdown. (Maybe Beyoncé should consider the name for a new album title?) The chemical is metabolized—or changed—into tissue products like organic acids, sugars, and amino acids, and gobbled up by the plant for food. Cool, huh?
The Foliage for Clean Air Council—boy, there’s a council for everything, isn’t there—suggests that one potted plant per 100 square feet of floor space will effectively remove pollutants from the air.
Other potent purifiers that come in the form of greenery include:
- Sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue): formaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene including: new furniture or carpet, fresh paint, detergents, rubber, glue and furniture wax, to name a few.
- Azalea: formaldehyde from plywood or foam insulation.
- Dieffenbachia: particle board.
- Aloe vera: lower levels of formaldehyde, but also used for healing cuts and burns.
- Spider plant: new furniture chemicals.
- Bamboo palm: paper goods.
- Gerbera daisy: plastics.
- Chrysanthemum: synthetic fibers, like carpets and rugs.
Circulating your air with a fan, your air conditioner, or even opening your windows can help get these chemicals moving in your home so plants can absorb them. Unless you have a Little Shop of Horrors, you need to help get the toxins to the plants and then let them do the rest. Most often they’ll take no prisoners, and soon you’ll be living and working in a healthier state of mind, with a guilt-free green conscience.