Plants to tackle indoor pollution

Industrialisation and urbanisation has cut us off from nature and filled our indoor environments with thousands of hazardous synthetic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene and trichloroethylene. Furnishings and fittings, floor coverings, gas cookers and stoves, cleaning products, disinfectants, plastic bags, adhesives, paints, varnishes, air fresheners, perfumes, hair sprays, cosmetics, deodorants, shoe polish and other household items are often loaded with these synthetic chemicals that can contaminate the inside of your home by releasing harmful gases or particles in the air.


If you work in an office the pollution could be even worse. Printers, copiers, computer monitors, floor coverings, paint and wall paper all release harmful substances into the indoor atmosphere. According to the Healthy Plants in the Workplace Campaign approximately one third of indoor working spaces have an unhealthy indoor climate, and it is no surprise that illness related absence is much higher in these buildings.


Most people spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors in modern energy efficient, tightly sealed homes that keep toxins firmly locked inside. These toxins can trigger allergic reactions and many other health problems, such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, chemical sensitivity, sick building syndrome, skin, eye and respiratory infection, and even an increased risk of infertility.


In 1983 the US Environmental Protection Agency detected over 350 volatile organic compounds in five different buildings in Washington DC homes for the elderly, and since then other research studies have found traces of toxic chemicals in other indoor environments. NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has been aware of the problem of indoor pollution in closed spaces since the early 1970s, but it is only recently that governments and industries have started to look at ways that buildings can be made more health friendly.


Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve the quality of your indoor atmosphere, and perhaps the simplest and easiest is to utilise the healing power of plants. NASA research has shown that household plants can absorb harmful substances and chemical compounds in the air through tiny openings in their leaves. They also give us oxygen in exchange for our carbon dioxide and humidify the air by releasing moisture. Low humidity can cause dryness of the mouth, a blocked nose and skin and eye irritation. Plants have been shown to reduce coughing and irritation by up to 30% as well as easing headaches and fatigue. In addition, household plants can absorb noise and act as a filter for dust and dirt in the air.


And if all this wasn’t enough researchers have discovered that indoor plants can reduce stress levels and, by so doing, boost mood and enhance productivity in the work place. It seems that simply observing plants can reduce stress (indicated by physiological measures such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate). One study showed that illness related absence from work was decreased from 15% to 5% within six months when plants were placed near to the computer monitors of the workers.


So, with all these health benefits, visiting a garden centre could be a very smart move. Putting a plant on your desk or filling your home and office with plants could make all the difference to your health and well-being.  NASA research has consistently shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors. So why not use plants in your home or office to improve the quality of the air, to make it a more pleasant place to live and work – where people feel better, perform better and enjoy life more.


But which plants to choose? Which have the most ecological benefits? May I recommend the following:


Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

The Peace Lily is a beautiful plant with dark green leaves and a white flower. It’s brilliant for removing alcohols, acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene and formaldehyde. It grows best in bright indirect light and warm temperatures. Avoid intense exposure to sunlight as it can cause wilting and wash the leaves regularly.


Mother in Law’s Tongue (Sanserieria Trifasciata)

The spiky, prongy leaves of this plant have earned it the name Mother in Law’s Tongue. It is great for humidifying the air and for removing formaldehyde. It copes best in low light and moderate temperatures and requires little watering.


Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens)

A bushy plant that releases a lot of moisture into the atmosphere – judged one of the top plants for removing indoor toxins. During the summer months it needs a lot of watering, moderate to bright light and average temperatures. Don’t allow the plant to sit in water or the roots might rot, and remove stems quickly when they die to prevent rot from affecting other healthy stems.


Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis Exaltata Bostoniensis)

This popular fern is particularly good at removing air pollutants such as formaldehyde and for humidifying the air. It thrives in indirect sunlight and moderate temperatures. It needs plenty of watering; ensure the soil remains moist but don’t flood it with water.


Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Erumpens)

Adds moisture to the air and is also one of the top rated plants for removing benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. It needs low to medium light and well-drained, moist soil.


Janet Craig Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis)

This tall plant with long leaves is one of the best plants for removing trichloroethylene. It should be kept in medium light, in average warmth and watered every two weeks or when dry. The compost should not dry out and it should be misted regularly to keep up the humidity.


Other great indoor plants for tackling toxic substances include: Date Palm (Pheoenix Canariensis), which is particularly good at removing xylene; Elephant Eat Philodendron, which is particularly good at removing formaldehyde; Rubber Plant (Ficus Robusta), which again is effective at removing chemical toxins from indoor environments; and Spider Plant (chlorophytum Comosum), which can help remove carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and xylene from indoor environments.


The recommendation is that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house.

Comments are closed.