This blog is dedicated to inform and motivate people to make the changes needed so that everyone can breathe clean air. Unfortunately, ensuring clean air for all humans, regardless of where they live, work or commute, is difficult. There are a wide variety of challenging problems that will have to be solved to make that happen. Technology is essential to meet the goal of clean air, but it isn’t always the answer. Plenty of money can make change easier, but a lack of funds doesn’t prevent progress.
What if there was a way to improve indoor quality easily and on the cheap? There is. Let me introduce you to houseplants. Houseplants? Yes, those green, leafy things your mom and grandma would put in pots and crowd around every window in the house can keep the air clean.
How do they clean the air? Well, I’m not a science whiz, and it doesn’t really matter for the purpose of this post, but here we go…. As we all learn in elementary school, plants “breathe” by taking in carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen. Scientific work has found that they take in more than just carbon dioxide, though. According to one study that I found, the ability of a plant to clean the surrounding air “appears to be dependent upon uptake of ozone through the stomata and subsequent detoxification reactions within the intracellular spaces.” Glad we’ve got that out of the way. Hope you’re happy.
The above-mentioned study was specifically designed to measure reduction of ozone in the surrounding air by houseplants. Plants remove other harmful substances, too. A study by NASA in the 80s found that benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia can all be reduced by a combination of common houseplants. Those chemicals are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and proven to be harmful to human health. Two of the plants listed in the study, the peace lily and Florist’s chrysanthemum, proved effective in removing all of those substances by themselves.
I should point out that in some cases, the soil and microorganisms in that soil may be ridding the air of some of those pollutants, though there appears to be some uncertainty about that. Doesn’t matter. Whether the plant or the dirt it sits in is responsible, the entire package cleans the air, and that’s what we want.
Stop making excuses!
Why wouldn’t you want to use houseplants to keep the air clean? There aren’t many good reasons, but let’s address a few reactions you might have.
They’re too much work. No, they’re not. The species listed below are noted as being easy to grow. You do have to water aloe vera every two weeks and make sure it’s in a room with bright light. If that’s too much for you, then maybe houseplants aren’t for you. That being said, some plants do require more care than others, so do your homework before you get started.
I don’t have a green thumb. Congratulations! I don’t either. My research for this post informed me that if you’re good at killing plants, you have a black thumb. Maybe we can form a club. Fortunately, there are many plants that are tough enough to handle an owner like me. Just search for “houseplants you can’t kill” online, and you’ll have more suggestions than you can possibly use. If you’re too busy to search, then just click here, here, or here for a list. As a bonus, many plants on these lists are also on the NASA list of plants that are so effective at reducing VOCs.
Some plants are poisonous to people and their pets. This is true. If you have pets or small children who might ingest, or even touch, a houseplant if given a chance, you need to be careful. The Pet Poison Hotline has a list of plants that can cause problems for your animals. I also like the chart on dengarden’s site, which covers toxicity to people and pets. The Peace Lily, so good at cleaning all those VOCs, is on that list. There are many plants that are not toxic you can use in your home, including the Boston Fern and Spider Plant, both of which are on the NASA list.
Which houseplants are the best for cleaning the air?
“The best” can mean different things depending on your circumstances, but here are few to consider to get you started. They’re all easy to grow.
- Aloe Vera. Needs a bright room and water every two weeks or so.
- Snake Plant. Should be in a well-lit area. Water it when the soil’s dry to the touch. Some claim they can go a month without water. Not that they should, but that they can. This plant is also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. Perhaps because you can ignore it much of the time, as you do with your mother-in-law?
- Philodendron. Prefers low light, and water no more than once a week. What could be easier?
- Peace Lily. Loves shade and indirect light. Beautiful flowers.
Go to your local nursery or home center, pick out an easy-to-grow plant, a pot, and some potting soil and get started. You can even buy the plant already potted. Either way, you don’t have to spend a lot. Don’t forgot you can use one in the office, too. Just make sure you get the right plant for the amount of light you have at your desk. If you already have houseplants that do well for you, let me know in the comments below!
- Where can the chemicals tested by the NASA study be found? And what effect do they have on the human body? Check out lifehacker’s infographic for the answers.
- Read the full text of the NASA study. No fancy infographics here!
- 9 Air-Cleaning Houseplants That Are Almost Impossible to Kill. You’re officially out of excuses with this list.