Improve Air Quality Naturally With Plants

— Written By and last updated by Adrian Gaskins
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Plants add natural beauty to any interior space. There are plants to enhance almost any type of decor. In addition to their natural beauty, houseplants are also a valuable weapon against indoor air pollution. They can absorb harmful chemicals and improve air quality, making home a more pleasant place, and healthier place to live.

Though all indoor houseplants likely offer air-filtering assistance, there are particular plants that are more helpful than others. According to Deborah L. Brown, extension horticulturist at the University of Minnesota, airtight buildings that address the desire to conserve energy many times end up trapping indoor pollutants, causing what is referred to as “sick-building syndrome,” in which air seems stale and poorly circulated.

The most common harmful airborne chemicals found in the average home are formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide. Even in low concentrations, these chemicals can cause a variety of health problems.

Formaldehyde is found in virtually all-indoor environments. It is used in particleboard or pressed wood products to make furniture. It is also used in the manufacture of many consumer paper products, carpets, permanent-pressed fabrics, water repellents, and fire retardants. Other sources of formaldehyde include natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke. Formaldehyde irritates the membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and can cause headaches and allergic dermatitis.

Benzene is present in inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber. It is also used in the manufacturing of detergents, dyes, and some pharmaceuticals. In addition to irritation of the eyes and skin, chronic exposure to even low levels of benzene can cause headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, psychological disturbances, and diseases of the blood system, including anemia.

Trichloroethylene is used by the dry cleaning industry and in printing inks, paints, varnishes, and adhesives. This chemical is considered to be a potent carcinogen.

Carbon monoxide is found in cigarette smoke and is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel. Exposure to low levels can cause drowsiness and headaches.

Researchers have identified several varieties of houseplants that excel in removing chemical pollutants from the air. The most effective in removing formaldehyde are philodendron, spider plant, and golden pothos. Two common flowering varieties were the most efficient at removing benzene; these were gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum. The peace lily and the chrysanthemum removed the highest percentage of trichloroethylene. Since all plants utilize carbon in the process of producing new growth, all these varieties are effective in removing low levels of carbon monoxide.

All plants produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Any plants you choose, in addition to the varieties named here, will increase the concentration of oxygen in their immediate surroundings. In general, one large plant per 100 square feet of space is sufficient to clean the air in an average home.

One warning: Moist soil breeds bacteria, mold, and mildew. Don’t overwater your plants, and help control mold by “mulching” your houseplants with a one-inch layer of fine gravel or other porous material to encourage proper drainage.

To beautify your surroundings, and breathe a little easier, add several of these living air cleaners to your home. You will feel better and make your indoor environments more pleasant and healthy.

Resource: Deborah L Brown, University of Minnesota Extension

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