Houseplants to Clear the Air
“Fresh air impoverishes the doctor.” – Danish Proverb
What do camera phones, LEDs, CAT scan technology, and handheld vacuum cleaners all have in common? All these technologies exist because of all the hard work that goes into space exploration. We also have the fine folks at NASA to thank for finding out which of our humble houseplants put in the most work to keep our homes clean. Luckily, it’s not rocket science, so feel free to take advantage of their discoveries to help clear the air at home.
NASA’s Air-Cleaning Plants
The problem that NASA was working on in 1984 was simple enough (well, simple compared to some of their other rocket-based problems): they were researching building bubbles with carbon and the latest lightweight plastics to live on other plants. Problem was, they found that all the synthetics they had to use made the air inside practically unliveable in a matter of
days. All those chemicals give off toxins, like formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene, which were making those that breathed that air severely ill. In addition to all the complex filtration technologies they worked on, NASA also turned to nature in attempts to clear the air. They found that very common plants that many of us enjoy as houseplants did an amazing job at cleaning the air, not only cleaning up toxins, but using them to actually boost their own growth!
Toxins at Home
We don’t have space-station amounts of plastics and synthetics at home here on Earth, but as every year passes they seem to make up a bigger part of our lives. Air-borne toxins aren’t just NASA’s problem – our homes are slowly filling with a cocktail of toxins, too.
Household Plants and Household Toxins
The simple version of the science behind air-cleaning plants is that they breathe (or “transpire”, if you ask a scientist) kind of like we do. They take in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, but they also take in tons of other chemicals as they breathe, too, pulling those toxins down to their roots to use as fertilizer. The same chemicals that
can cause headaches, respiratory issues, or irritation for us can actually boost the growth of our plants. Even better, with indoor houseplants that don’t have to brave our Manitoba winters, our homes get a health boost all year.
Our Top Picks For Removing Airborne Toxins
Not every plant is equal when it comes to cleaning your air. Here are some of our favourite air-cleaning powerhouses:
Peace Lily: These plants are a blessing in every way. They thrive in low-light rooms that your other houseplants might not cut it in and are incredibly easy to care
for. They also produce elegant, white flowers almost all year and are experts at eating toxins. These are an excellent choice for beside an entertainment unit where they can devour the acetone that come off the electronics.
Boston Ferns: This is the oldest houseplant in the world, and we can’t help but wonder if their ability to filter toxins and molds had a part in that. They are absolutely greedy for toxins in the air and will even treat you to a humidity boost around them.
Spider Plant: This plant is so easy to manage that it is often the unsung hero of houseplants. They’re practically impossible to kill, require very little light and care, and love cleaning up your air. It’s one of the few houseplants that will take on deadly carbon monoxide with enthusiasm, making it a great choice near fireplaces and kitchens.
English Ivy: This vine is easy to grow (you’re more likely to be cutting it back than coaxing it to thrive) and is a gift for allergy sufferers. It gets rid of true nasties in the air, like mold or even airborne feces (yes, you read that right). You are what you eat, though, so this plant is toxic and should be kept out of reach of children and pets.
Bamboo Palm: Also known as “Reed Palm”, this plant is stately and compact enough to fit in any obscure corner of your home. It’s also a heavyweight champion when it comes to eating up benzene and trichloroethylene. This is a good choice to place near new furniture to make the most of its appetite.
It wouldn’t be the first time that we “borrowed” space age research to make our lives here on Earth better. Thanks to some of the brightest scientific minds, we can breathe easy while enjoying a bright future of working with our favourite plants more and more as they work with us, too!