According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans on average spend 90 percent of their time indoors. And indoor environments can be poor, trapping dangerous chemical toxins as well as bacteria, pollens and mold. It’s enough to make a person sick. But, luckily for man, houseplants can offer a solution.
SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
A few decades ago, people began noticing that as indoor air pollutants built up, they tended to cause a variety of health problems. Headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and itchy eyes were the most common complaints. But some conditions were severe enough to require hospitalization. To describe the situation, the term ‘sick building syndrome’ was coined.
Super-insulated, modern buildings can reduce the flow of good air
Consequently, in 1989, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), together with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) set about trying to determine the cause. They conducted a study that revealed a curious dynamic. It indicated that the same innovations that had made homes and workplaces more energy-efficient had also boxed people in. This had created a kind of superinsulation that significantly reduced the flow of good air.
Moreover, proper air flow was only part of the story. The study further revealed that airtight buildings also trapped airborne chemicals. These included emissions from interior surface materials, furnishings and many common household products such as toilet paper and ink.
HOW HOUSEPLANTS CAN HELP
This news was troubling to say the least. Through further research, NASA came up with a plan. They hypothesized that houseplants might offer a solution.
To test their theory, NASA ran experiments with plants over a two-year period, exposing their leaves, roots and soil to typical indoor contaminants. The results were startling. NASA discovered that, through photosynthesis, many common houseplants were able to absorb harmful toxins. Most importantly, they dramatically improved the quality of indoor air.
Indoor plants can remove harmful toxins from the air
The NASA list of top air filtering plants was first compiled to improve life on space stations. In the decades since, it’s also become the standard on earth for boosting air quality indoors. For the best outcome, NASA recommends using at least one houseplant per 100 square feet of home or workspace. Follow these general watering tips to keep your plants looking their best.
TEN COMMON HOUSEPLANTS THAT MADE THE NASA LIST
This easy-to-grow succulent is well known for its healing properties. Its thick, pointed leaves are full of vitamins, enzymes and amino acids which can sooth burns and cuts. Lesser known is that aloe can also absorb toxins that are byproducts of cleaning products and paints. It produces brown spots on its leaves when chemical exposure becomes excessive.
Plant care tip: Aloe likes lots of sunlight and cool temperatures (hovering around 70 degrees.) Like all succulents, it prefers dry soil, so avoid frequent watering.
It’s not a true bamboo, but bamboo palm (Chamaedorea) packs a punch. The multi-stemmed plant is great at filtering out benzene and trichloroethylene (which you may unwittingly bring home with your dry cleaning). Moreover, it is considered superior at clearing out formaldehyde and even xylene, which is present in gasoline, glues and some paints and varnishes.
Plant care tip: The bamboo palm needs lots of water and thrives in bright light. Cut off brown stems as needed to keep the plant looking neat. Taller plants may need staking.
CHINESE EVERGREEN ‘SILVER QUEEN’
The long, blade-like leaves of ‘Silver Queen’ grow upright before flopping over, lending this common houseplant a graceful shape. And its variegation brightens up dark corners. Lesser known is that Silver Queen also filters out benzene and formaldehyde emitted from inks, paints and dyes and many household cleaning products.
Plant care tip: Chinese evergreen prefers indirect sun and moderate temperatures. Direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. Trim off any yellow or dead leaves as needed and wipe leaves periodically with a damp rag to remove dust.
DEVIL’S IVY (GOLDEN POTHOS)
A fast growing vine with trailing stems of bright green variegated leaves, golden pothos can survive even in low-light situations. Perhaps that’s why it’s also known as Devil’s Ivy. Pothos works well in hanging baskets or cascading off the side of a table or bureau. It also absorbs formaldehyde.
Plant care tip: Cut back long stems as needed to keep the plant looking full and healthy. Pothos is one of the most resilient houseplants available. However, it requires some sun in order to maintain its leaves’ variegation. It’s best to allow soil to dry out between waterings.
THE BEST HOUSEPLANT OF ALL – ENGLISH IVY
Cited by NASA as the number one best air-filtering houseplant, English ivy adds elegance to any room with its variegated, cascading leaves. Easy to grow from cuttings, English ivy also absorbs formaldehyde found in some housecleaning products as well as carpeting and furniture.
Plant care tip: English ivy thrives in partial sunlight and prefers moist soil and cooler room temperatures. However, don’t let it dry out, or it will turn brown and shrivel up.
A trailing indoor plant with dark green, heart-shaped leaves, the philodendron makes a great accent in any room. It is not a good option if you have kids or pets, however, since this houseplant’s leaves can be toxic if eaten. Like English ivy, Heartleaf philodendron is particularly good at absorbing formaldehyde.
Plant care tips: Heartleaf philodendron can live for years with only moderate watering. It prefers indirect light and will thrive in almost any room temperature. Let the soil dry out between waterings.
PEACE LILY (Spathiphyllum)
This beautiful arching houseplant with tall white blooms topped NASA’s list for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene and even ammonia.
Plant care tip: The peace lily is easy to grow, and will withstand even neglect (one person I know didn’t water his all winter and it survived.) That being said, the peace lily prefers low light and moist soil. Be careful not to overwater, though, or the leaves will lose their color and droop.
Tall growing, with purplish-red leaves and curving stalks, the red-edged dracaena can reach heights of 15 feet or more. A word of caution to pet owners, however, this houseplant is toxic to cats and dogs. Dracaena is known to remove benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and xylene commonly emitted by lacquers, varnishes and gasoline.
Plant care tip: Dracaena thrives in filtered light in well-drained soil. It prefers humid, warm temperatures. If the temperature falls below 65 degrees, it will not grow.
RUBBER PLANT: THE FLEXIBLE HOUSEPLANT
This easy to grow houseplant can quickly grow to eight feet or more, making it a major addition to any décor. The dark green shiny leaves of the rubber plant are also effective at filtering out formaldehyde from household cleaning products and synthetic building materials.
Plant care tip: Rubber plant prefers some sunlight, but will grow even in dimly lit areas. Allow the soil to dry out in between waterings and keep leaves clean by wiping them periodically with a wet paper towel.
Also known as ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’, this houseplant is one of the hardest to kill. With blade-like thick, variegated leaves that grow stiffly upright, it’s a tough species and one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde.
Plant care tip: Snake plant will grow in a wide variety of conditions and doesn’t need much to survive. Unlike most plants that absorb carbon dioxide during the day, the snake plant works on an opposite schedule. It releases oxygen during the night, making it a great plant for the bedroom.