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Published on December 14th, 2010 | by ziggy

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Keep Houseplants To Improve Indoor Air Quality

Can these plants improve your indoor air quality?

Can these plants improve your indoor air quality?

Unfortunately, many conventional homes, office spaces, and all sorts of everyday indoor environments are making us sick, resulting in asthma, allergies, and other illnesses, all due to poor indoor air quality. Synthetic building materials, carpeting, paints, cleaning products, mattresses — dozens of seemingly innocuous substances and objects can emit formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene, and a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) over their lifespans. That spells nastiness for your home living environment, especially the very air you breathe.

Believe it or not, however, a simple houseplant can make the difference between a toxic indoor space and a happy, healthy one.

How to improve indoor air quality

The first step to preventing poor indoor air quality is to seek out natural alternatives to everyday products (choose low or no VOC paint, for example), but in cases where you simply can’t revamp your indoor space (say, for instance, your work office), a simple houseplant will do the trick. It’s true: many houseplants have the ability to detoxify polluted indoor spaces.

In 1984, NASA senior research scientist Dr. Bill Wolverton tested houseplants for their ability to maintain clean air for future habitable lunar bases. Testing in sealed chambers, Wolverton found that philodendrons and golden pothos were excellent formaldehyde controllers; gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were impressive benzene purgers; pot mums and peace lilies were highly rated for TCE removal. His initial findings suggested that one to three mature plants were enough to improve the air in a 100-cubic-foot area. He also found that it wasn’t just plants doing the clean-up work, but the microbes that were specific to the plants’ roots. Another 1989 NASA study concluded that tested houseplants removed up to 87 percent of toxic indoor air within 24 hours. [Source]

Indeed, it is not so much the houseplant that is doing the work of cleaning the air, but the beneficial microbes found in the soil of the potted plants that are responsible for filtering the air, so long as the plant itself is healthy. And thankfully, it doesn’t take a jungle’s worth of plants to make the difference:

Professor Margaret Burchett and horticulturist Dr Donald Wood at The University of Technology (UTS) in Sydney, Australia have been studying the method and rate in which plants take up VOCs from the air around them and have found that you don’t need many pot plants to improve air quality…. Professor Burchett discovered through her research, you only needed one large plant in a 300 mm (12 inch) pot, or three smaller pots on a window sill in a large living room (15 square metres or 3200 square feet) to make a measurable difference to the VOC levels in that room. They found a reduction could be measured in as little as 48 hours. [Source]

If you are concerned about the indoor air quality in your home or office space, consider getting a few houseplants to make all the difference and clean up the air you breathe!

Image credit: flickr via NCReedplayer



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About the Author

I'm a 26-year-old currently living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri, an intentional community devoted to sustainable living and culture change. Things you might find me doing here (other than blogging) are building with natural materials, gardening, beekeeping, making cheese, candlemaking, and above all else, living simply. You can read about my on-going natural building projects at: http://www.small-scale.net/yearofmud



3 Responses to Keep Houseplants To Improve Indoor Air Quality

  1. Ziggy,
    I have nothing against houseplants, but this information is a little misleading. Air purifiers are designed to clean the air in large spaces with an air change rate of 3-6 times per hour. This is how you get rid of toxins. The plants may make a “measurable” difference, but when you have customers with asthma and allergies, they need a place of refuge. I believe plants can be a part of the solution, but don’t mislead your readers to believe that they can take the place of an air purifier.

    Many of our customers do not live in such healthy places as Ecovillage and they are dealing with chemicals, highway pollution, factory pollution, etc. They need constant cleaning that can keep up. I would appreciate if you would direct your readers to read through the material at http://www.allergy-relief-air-purifier.com/green-air-filters.html to familiarize themselves with the different types of air cleaners and their proper applications. Thank you for your time and for a good article.

  2. Barry says:

    You couldn’t be more incorrect John Hendrickson, no offense, but you should do a little more research on the effectiveness of houseplants and how they actually do purify your atmosphere/environment. If one has gone years of not taking care of himself, then an air purifier may be the way to go, primarily because one’s back is against the wall, physically. However, if you understand the nature of plants, and how they work in conjunction with our being on this earth, the two – humans and plants – are intertwined. I’ve had plants in my home for over 20 years and I’ve never been to the doctor. My children and myself rarely catch colds. I took one flu shot in my life just because I thought it would be some type of preventive measure, and from the shot, I actually contracted the flu. There is no better way than keeping your home environment free from toxins than with houseplants. They protect your environment, which is their primary purpose for being here. Take a look at the series entitled “Planet Earth” and you will clearly see how God or the Universe (this is not about religion) placed every plant, animal, and myriad other species on earth to work collectively, as a group, as one unit, for the greater good. You won’t get from an air purifier, what you get from the ordinary House Plant .. you’ve totally underestimated its medicinal effects in our lives.

  3. Pingback: Stay Cool, Save Energy this Summer [Infographic] | Sustainablog

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