In 1989, NASA carried out a somewhat famous experiment to try and find out why astronauts were feeling queasy, dizzy and often fatigued for no reason during certain tests. However, after exiting the building for a while, they seemed to feel all better. To cut a long story short, they couldn’t pin down the exact reason why it happened, but linked the phenomenon to a poor ventilation in buildings, leading to a buildup of pollutants within a room.
After the study, the World Health Organization reported that according to research, about 30% of all households are subject to the complaint, and chances are, so are you.
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Is indoor air quality that important?
In this day and age, there are very high chances you’re one of the 90% of people who spend 14+ hours indoors. Given those statistical odds, indoor air quality is extremely important.
The most common way the air you breathe could get contaminated is through a process called offgassing. During the manufacturing process, gases can easily get dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in materials used to build the walls, furniture and even utensils. Once the environmental conditions have sufficiently changed, or due to a variety of chemical reactions, these gases can be released either through sublimation or evaporation.
You may have already guessed, but these chemicals, which include formaldehyde and offices can emit a variety of toxic compounds, like formaldehyde and benzene, are pretty toxic (not toxic enough to kill you, but potent enough to make you feel sick).
Indoor air pollution could also be as a result of allergens like pollen, bacteria and molds. If you’re going to get pedantic, you might as well include exhaust from passing vehicles and chemical plants. This is all made worse by poorly ventilated spaces, and if it’s out of your control what you can and can’t do to the building, say, your office, you just have to find an alternative. Enter indoor air filtering plants.
How do you get rid of the toxins?
It’s a good thing you asked, because thanks to some great research by NASA, we have some pretty conclusive evidence as to how you can get rid of those nasty fumes that make their way into our safe abodes. It’s as cheap and easy as adding a potted plant into you room and voila! The rest only involves waiting.
If you’re still a bit skeptical as to how plants clean the air, it’s all part of their natural breathing cycle. They take in carbon dioxide (the stuff you breathe out and is also found in car fumes), at the same time taking in some particulates from the air, which would otherwise be bad for you. From there on in, the ‘stuff’ is broken down, the carbon dioxide is used in photosynthesis and oxygen comes out the other side.
But wait, there’s more! Plants, especially legumes, also attract microbes at their roots, which are responsible for breaking down nitrogen compounds (most of which you don’t want hanging around your air) into clean, refreshing air!
Beyond cleaning the air, plants have some great therapeutic benefits. A good example would be those mysterious potted plants you see out in the corners of hospital halls. They have been linked to lowering of blood and stress levels, and cleaner air means greater concentration, which translates to greater productivity and better health.
Can’t you just get filters installed, instead?
Well, I mean, technically, you can, but before you head over to Amazon to order that $500 filter for your office space, hear us out.
Initially, NASA scientists thought the exact same thing, but air purifying equipment, is expensive, for one. If you want quality equipment, then it’ll be really expensive. Unless you have money to burn, don’t jump at the air filter just yet.
Another problem is maintenance. Air filters get really dirty and need regular replacement parts and cleaning, something that couldn’t be done in space.
Well, you might argue that we currently aren’t in space, and an air purifier should just work fine, but then again, air purifiers won’t provide fresh oxygen, just the same old, recycled air. Besides, there’s the cost implication to worry about. From an open-minded perspective, though, plants are much cheaper, wouldn’t you agree?
We’d be hypocrites if we claimed plants can wholly replace air purifiers, so we’ll just go ahead and admit at this point that a mix of air purifiers and potted plants are the best option, rather than locking yourself indoors and throwing away all your ventilation machines.
According to the Clean Air Study, one plant every 100 square feet should be enough, but a little bit of math should tell you that that will stack up to a lot of plants, and that’s not particularly pragmatic for the average home, thus the need for air filters to begin with. Then again, if you have a relatively large home and enjoy the company of our leafy friends, you’re good to go.
Bonus points, for the really doubtful.
There’s a common experiment, which you can perform yourself, right at home if you still doubt the benefits of house plants in cleaning the air.
If you have automatic air filters at your home, it would perhaps help you to know that they work by detecting how much air needs cleaning in the room on average. Afterwards, they adjust themselves automatically, If you’ve had house plants for a while, you’ll notice the fan adjustment is less and less common – the fan speed will always automatically adjust lower more commonly in areas with plants than those areas without plants!
Chrysanthemum, often referred to as mums or simply chrysanths, are beautiful, bright flowers that not only add to the mood of your room, they are phenomenally good at cleaning the air.
What’s more, they don’t need a whole lot of attention, given you water them sufficiently and place them somewhere they can get enough light. What’s more, they’re at the very top of the best air cleaners on Nasa’s list, so you can be sure they do a great job.
Chrysanthemums are best for removing ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde from contaminated air.
The biggest downsides of possessing them though is that the leaves are poisonous, so you don’t want kids or pets hanging around them. Besides which, when it’s time to rebloom, you have to take extra care of them or they never will.
There are over 40 variant species of Dracaena, giving you a wide pool to choose from. This genus of plant is particularly renown for its ability to rid the air of benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene, all common bi-products of the manufacturing process. Once again, the leaves are poisonous, most notably to cats and dogs, so you might want to go for another pick if you’re a pet owner.
Named for its unique elegance and beauty, the Peace Lily, like all plants of the Lily family, resides in water and will do well in indirect sunlight. The Peace Lily has the added benefits of getting rid of getting rid of toluene, a chemical that’s commonly used as a paint thinner and is infamous for causing severe neurological harm in great quantities. However, some species of the plant contains oxalates, a chemical that can lead to dermatitis (a burning sensation in the skin) if crushed, eaten or crushed.
The ficus is perhaps the most popular point on this list so far due to their striking appearance and great ability to purify the air. Like Lilies, Ficus perform best if kept away from direct sunlight. Similarly, they must be watered quite often.
The Ficus’ greatest winning point is its aesthetic appeal, and can be a great attention-bringer if you need one. However, the sap is infamous for being quite irritating to the skin and if ingested results in severe diarrhea. Besides which, the Ficus is ‘territorial,’ sort of. It really doesn’t like to be moved and may not perform so great otherwise.
It might come as a surprise to you, but Rubber Tree Plants are distant relatives to the ficus plant, as they belong to the fig family. Like most members of the said family, they don’t like bright light and are better off kept in moist, humid areas. The good news is that Rubber Plants are notoriously good at keeping away pests, they’re super attractive, with broad foliage and are great at purifying your air.
The bad news, once again, is that the sap is not only terribly irritating, it’s poisonous to kids and pets. Besides which, you have to keep its environment in check, as it does not do well in temperatures on the higher side of 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next up is a plant that brings up only good news. The Boston Fern is a relatively ‘friendly’ giant, in that it can grow quite huge and shadowy and is best placed in bathrooms and similar humid places with gentle light. Keep their soil moist and you won’t have to worry about them growing bigger than you want.
A separate study published in 2011 claimed that ferns are the best plants for removing formaldehyde from your home. Formaldehyde is a chemical that has been confirmed by the US National Toxicology Program to be terribly toxic and an active carcinogen.
The best part is Boston Ferns are completely non toxic to humans and pets!
The sad part is that you might find it quite cumbersome to clean from time to time, since the leaves drop very often. They are also very susceptible to root rot, the solution to which is to only water it up to the point water is leaking from the drain holes.
The Snake Plant is named after its repetitive equivalent for its drought resistant nature, and hardy, unique look and strap-like leaves.
The pros of owning a Snake Plant is that they are wildly independent, so caring for them is pretty easy. Just water them at their base about once a week and ensure they get lots of light (even fluorescent lighting is fine), or place them at a window and turn them every week so they don’t grow out of their pot.
For a plant named after a venomous reptile, they are pretty good at cleaning the air, even recommended by NASA themselves. However, their leaves contain saponins, chemical agents that cause nausea and vomiting in pets.
The Bamboo Palm comes as a break from the fiercely independent snake-equivalent as it is anything but independent. Like every member of the bamboo family, the Bamboo Palm needs lots and lots and water, just don’t make sure you don’t over water it, and grows very fast,
However, it will add a nice touch to your room, with a traditional tropical feel. Just make sure you give it lots of light and a humid environment to live in.
For all the hassle you go through taking care of the bamboo palm, it sure does pay you back a lot though. It takes care of your air by removing formaldehyde (which causes cancer, if in high quantities, but otherwise leads to mild nausea). What’s more, it’s completely non-toxic, so your pet cow can chew on the leaves all it wants.
However, they are infamous for attracting spider mites, so be sure to be on the lookout for webbing under the leaves.
Another friendly entry on the list, the Golden Pothos, is literally one of the easiest plants on the planet to take care of. It’s quite forgiving in the amount of light and water required to survive, and in fact adapts itself to dry environments by wilting itself out, kind of like it’s dead, and coming back to life soon after you’ve watered it.
For it’s incredible friendliness, it’s easily the most common of houseplants. Besides which, it’s a great sight to look at and performs almost similarly at cleaning the air. It’s also resistant to disease.
However, don’t take its great abilities for granted, because if it doesn’t get enough water, it may droop to the point of no return. Once there, you can no longer revive it, no matter how much water you provide, so you may either need to repot it or well, get a new plant.
This plant is toxic to the gut because it includes oxalates, so keep it away from pets and children who might try to eat the leaves.
Finally, the plant we’ve all been waiting for — the Aloe Vera plant. This sour, green South African plant is known for it’s ability to survive harsh conditions and has quite a number of uses, even outside simply purifying the air. It’s great for healing cuts and burns; absorbs, on average, much more oxygen than the common household plant; and is easy to care for and regrow, since it regularly produces plantlets.
If you hate bugs, definitely don’t take an aloe vera out in the summer sun, since it’s juices are irresistible to sap-sucking insects like aphids.