House Plants That Clean The Air

Several varieties of common house plants can effectively remove harmful air pollution including formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide, from indoor environments.

Living plants add natural beauty to our homes and workplaces. Among the wide variety of leaf shapes and growth habits, there are plants to enhance almost any decor. But in addition to their beauty, houseplants are also a valuable weapon against indoor air pollution. They can absorb harmful chemicals and improve air quality, making your home or office a more pleasant place to live or work.

The most common harmful airborne chemicals found in the average home or office 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 particle board or pressed wood products to make office or household furniture, in many consumer paper products, in carpets, permanent-pressed clothes, 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. It is suspected of causing a rare type of lung cancer in cases of long-term exposure.

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 causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, psychological disturbances, and disease 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 liver 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 these chemical pollutants from the air. The most effective in removing formaldehyde were philodendron, spider plant, and golden pothos. Two common flowering varieties were the most efficient at removing benzene; these were gerbera daisy and chrysanthemum (mum). The peace lily and the chrysanthemum removed the highest percentage of trichoroethylene. Since all plants utilize carbon in the process of producing new growth, all these varieties are effective in removing low levels of carbon monoxide. Other varieties found to be especially effective in cleaning the air were English ivy, Chinese evergreen, bamboo palm, snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue), and several types of dracaena, including marginata, corn plant, and Janet Craig. All plants produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Thus 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 or office. A more heavily polluted environment would require a greater concentration of plants.

Most of these houseplants are relatively easy to grow in moderate to bright indirect sunlight or under florescent lighting. Avoid windows or glass doors where sunlight shines directly on the plants, except for flowering mums and gerbera daisy, which thrive in sunlight. Ivy, palm, philodendron, spider plant, and dracaena are all susceptible to spider mites. To prevent infestations, mist often and avoid hot, dry air. The pots may be set in trays of pebbles in water to provide moisture around the plants. Make sure the bottoms of the pots are above the level of the water. Beware of overwatering any plant, the most common cause of houseplant deaths. Golden pothos, Chinese evergreen, and snake plant should not be misted and should be allowed to dry out between watering to keep the roots healthy.

How often you feed your plants depends on the type of food you use. Follow directions on the plant food container. Always water your plants with tepid water. If you use chlorinated water, allow it to sit for at least 24 hours so the chlorine can evaporate. If possible use rainwater or bottled (not demineralized) water.

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

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