Staying healthy often depends on eating a responsible diet and getting regular exercise, but it’s easy to forget that your environment is a vital component, too. The air quality in your home and workplace can be harmed by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and other invisible gases that are difficult to measure. In fact, indoor air can be significantly more polluted than outside air, so it’s important to find ways of improving your indoor air quality.1 Plants that remove toxins offer a great way to reduce indoor air pollution.
You might already know that indoor plants have therapeutic value, and have been shown to help reduce stress.2 They may also help elevate mood, can provide a useful focus of care and attention, and many are pleasing to the eye.3
But some surprising evidence suggests certain plants might help improve air quality, and it comes from an unlikely source: preparation for long journeys in space.
Starting With The Science: Results From NASA And VOC Researchers
In the 1980s, the NASA Clean Air Study showed that certain types of plants are adept at removing toxins (namely formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene) from a closed environment – like the interior of a spacecraft.4
Unless you’re one of the lucky people who live on the International Space Station, you occupy an open environment. A 10x10x8-foot office naturally exchanges all of its air about once an hour.5
Still, public interest in this idea has flourished, and researchers have found some evidence that plants (especially in large numbers) might help remove formaldehyde and other VOCs from the air.6,7
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Are They Harmful To Health?
Scientists have identified the many dangerous chemicals in car exhaust and tobacco smoke, including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, but other potentially harmful chemicals are used in everyday household items. These can off-gas into the air, causing irritation of the eyes and nose, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.8 Long-term effects of exposure can include even more serious illnesses.9
Dangerous VOCs include benzene, a known carcinogen which is found in glues, wax, detergents, vehicle exhaust, and cigarette smoke.10 Both ethylbenzene (found in gasoline and some paints) and tetrachloroethylene (used in dry cleaning) are linked to nervous system problems.11,12 The same dangers are presented by xylene, which is found in gasoline, paints and tobacco smoke.13 The formaldehyde found in plywood, glues, fabrics, and some types of insulation may cause eye and nose irritation. Formaldehyde is also another known carcinogen.14
Clean The Air With Plants That Help Remove Toxins And Improve Air Quality
Most plants absorb some amount of environmental VOCs through their leaves and roots.15 Plastic plant pots can also help off-gas VOCs. And while the effect of a single plant on VOCs isn’t spectacular by itself – it’s comparable to opening a window in the sense that it can help remove VOCs. However, plants provide an extra benefit: helping to reduce airborne bacteria and mold.16,17
Which Indoor House Plants Remove Toxins And Give Fresh Air?
Think about the conditions in your indoor garden. Will your plants receive indirect sunlight, or full sun? What about humidity? How much space do you have, and what kind of budget do you have?
Once you’ve judged the conditions, choose some of these chemical-absorbing plants to both ornament your home, and support your health.
Resilient and easy to maintain, spider plants favor bright, indirect light. The spider plant might help absorb formaldehyde and xylene, as well as reducing mold and allergens.18
Peace lily plants give off moisture, raising humidity. Best placed in partial sunlight (careful: direct sunlight can scorch their leaves), the peace lily may help filter VOCs such as acetone, benzene, and formaldehyde. Keep in mind that the peace lily is not safe for pets or children.19
Usually found outdoors, this plant can remove airborne toxins and spores indoors. Choose carefully, because English ivy is not safe for pets or children.20
Used for centuries for minor burns, aloe plants may also absorb environmental toxins such as formaldehyde. Keep in a sunny spot, perhaps on a kitchen windowsill.21
Very easy to grow, snake plants can tolerate low light or full sun, but do best in indirect light. Known as sansevieria trifasciata or Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (perhaps due to their sharp leaves) they produce oxygen at night, and can remove xylene from the air. Be careful not to over-water, as this causes root rot.22
Also called the Broad Lady Palm, this humidity-loving plant belongs in your bathroom and thrives under indirect light. It can remove ammonia from the air, but it’s more expensive than some other options.23
Remarkably easy to maintain, these plants do well in low light or indirect sunlight, and may help to remove formaldehyde and other toxins. However, the golden pothos won’t flower, and its calcium oxalate compounds are toxic to pets.24
Native to Madagascar and once endangered, areca palms are fast-growing, inexpensive, and can help remove xylene from the air. A tropical palm, areca needs lots of light and humidity.25
Also known as the Weeping Fig, these attractive tropical plants may help absorb formaldehyde. They’ll also tell you when they’re in distress (usually due to an unsuitable location) by dropping their leaves.26 Keep in bright, indirect sunlight.
Bring In Plants to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Staying healthy depends on a mix of factors, including good food, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise. But it’s also important to ensure you’re getting plentiful fresh air, and to reduce airborne toxins. Air purifying plants might help by reducing indoor air pollution, and they’re known to provide many other health and wellness benefits. What better reason do you need to develop your green thumb?
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