House Plants for Healthy Air: Eliminate Indoor Air Pollution

Houseplants for Healthy Air from

In most parts of the US it’s a little cold this time of year for outdoor gardening, and you might be missing the green view outside your window.  The solution is to bring the jungle indoors! Even if you don’t have a home greenhouse, it is still possible, and even a good idea, to have plants in your home.

Besides the psychological benefit of seeing greenery when there is little of it outside your home, there is a major reason to have plants in your home—your health!  For the past 40 years our homes have become increasingly energy efficient.  While this is a good thing (as Martha would say), and it saves money on home heating, airtight homes create indoor air pollution.

The air pollution inside our homes comes from the everyday things we have and use.  Have you installed a new carpet lately?  Then you know the new carpet smell very well.  Do you use air freshener spray? Do you spray chemicals to clean your bathroom or kitchen?  Bought a new vinyl couch?  Painted a room?  These are just a few of the everyday items we use that give off toxic gases, and one solution is to use natural scents for cleaning, or to pay a lot more money for a natural fiber carpet or couch.  But there are items in our homes we can’t control, like the “wood” in the construction which may be a pressed wood product held together by glue or resin.  What do you do?  You could leave a window open but it’s 20 degrees outside!

A simpler solution is to add some common houseplants to your home.  Research into the benefits of plants to improve air quality goes back to the days of the space program.  NASA needed to develop a way of keeping the air in future moon bases clean for the people who would live there for extended periods of time.  Scientists already knew that the earth oxygenates our air through the plants that grow on it.  But are plants good at removing toxins?  Studies were done in the 1980s and 1990s on using plants to remove three chemicals found in large amounts in our homes:  formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene.  These are common enough in our household products to make them contributors to the “sick building” syndrome.

Dr. Bill Wolverton, Ph.D., was a civilian scientist who worked with NASA on indoor air quality and how to improve it.  His research shows that plant leaves can absorb chemicals and metabolically break them down by their root microbes.  His research also showed that plant leaves can produce negative ions as they emit water vapors, and negative ions are needed for our good health and well-being.  He believes that the negative ions emitted by plants are responsible for the reduction of mold spores and bacteria in the air surrounding the plants.  Another study by Dr. Lohr of Washington State University showed that having indoor plants can reduce stress and keep down dust levels.  He also attributed this to the negative ions emitted by plants.

So which plants should you have in your home?  It depends on which toxic chemicals you would like to reduce, as different plants seem to be more or less effective in this regard.  Here are some suggestions:

Formaldehyde:  Boston fern, philodendron, golden pothos, spider plant, corn plant, snake plant, bamboo palm, chrysanthemum

Benzene:  English ivy, dracaena marginata, peace lily, chrysanthemum

Trichloroethylene:  Gerbera daisy, chrysanthemum, peace lily, dracaena marginata

You can see that some plants do double or triple duty at removing toxins, but all plants will contribute to indoor air quality and help your health and well being.  So visit that nursery green house, the trip alone will lift your spirits on a cold gray winter’s day, and take home a plant friend or two to remind you of summer!


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