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We spend the majority of our lives behind closed doors. From the homes that shelter us from the elements to the offices and buildings where we work, a climate-controlled environment makes up all but our commutes. Every room is temperate, with carefully filtered air that’s clean and easy to breathe. Or at least, that’s the goal of it. The truth is, some buildings have more trouble with air pollution inside than out. These contaminants can come from all sorts of places too.
Old paint, dust, and mold from carpets or clothing, pet dander, and traces (sometimes in high quantities) of formaldehyde are just a few of the dangerous things floating around in the air. These contaminants exacerbate allergies, inflame your sinuses to the point of discomfort, and can lead to ongoing respiratory problems.
Ventilation air filters are great for removing larger contaminants like pollen and dust as they pass through the air conditioner, and a UV filter will kill the majority of any germs unlucky enough to get caught in the ventilation system, but there’s one more layer of protection you can put into your home, one that’s just a bit more natural: Houseplants. The benefits of houseplants as an anti-pollution filter are well documented by the National Library of Medicine, based on trials done by NASA. These trials were performed in attempts to deal with air pollution aboard the space station over the long-term residence.
Beyond the bacteria, mold spores, and dust specks that your air filter removes, there are few elements (also known as volatile organic compounds or VOC) that your in-home air and the city smog have in common:
- Xylene and Toluene
While we could go into the negative effects of each of these, rest assured they are all decidedly harmful to your health. If you’d like to read more about them (and other indoor air pollutants) we recommend the National Library of Medicine.
While our list of helpful houseplants is by no means exhaustive, we’re presenting the 5 plants which filter more different things out of the air than any other. Of course, some plants are better at filtering higher quantities of individual VOCs. And some plants, such as the miraculous aloe vera plant, have multiple other uses beyond just air filtration. You can find a quick list of NASA’s findings here.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Plant
- What is your home climate like? Is the air dry and will the plant need repeated watering throughout the day to account for dry conditions? Can the plant get plenty of sunlight?
- Do you have enough space for your houseplant? Some plants require very little room to grow while others spread out over time and will need constant trimming and care to keep from overrunning the room.
- Do you have any pets? Make sure that whatever plant you decide to keep isn’t harmful to any animals you have in the home. Dogs and cats are especially prone to chewing on plants, so make sure you aren’t growing something poisonous. What’s fine for you can be disastrous for them.
- Flowers generate a great deal of pollen. If you’re going to keep a houseplant, but have severe allergies, consider going with a leafy plant rather than something with flowers. During the summer seasons, flowers will put pollen into the air which can aggravate allergies. Your ventilation air filter is only partially successful at dealing with pollen counts when they’re originating from within your home.
The Best Plants for Improving Indoor Air
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Starting our list, the Peace Lily is a beautiful plant (as well-kept lilies are) which filters all of the VOCs we’ve mentioned today. A flowering plant, the Peace Lily will add pollen to the air during the summer, but throughout the year it does an excellent job of trapping VOCs and mold spores. These contaminants are gathered by the leaves where they’re pushed towards the roots and processed for nutrients.
Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
The often-difficult-to-pronounce chrysanthemum (mum’s the word if you prefer) is a beautiful flower that will make for a wonderful arrangement in your home. It’s also excellent for removing ammonia, formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air. Benzene is a common household chemical compound, found in detergents, glues, paints, and plastics. Decorating your house with chrysanthemums will help to reduce the impact of benzene.
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
English Ivy is almost as good as our two previous plants. It trades ammonia filtration for lower pollen output, a much more hypoallergenic plant than either of the two flowering plants previously mentioned. Since it is an ivy, this plant will require more trimming and care to keep it from sprawling out and taking over a room.
Variegated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
The snake plant ties with English Ivy for cleaning your home’s air but it’s a very hardy plant. Snake Plants are difficult to kill, require little watering, and prefer drier conditions. They don’t take up nearly as much room as ivy either. The Snake Plant is a great way to help with air in an apartment, where controlling the filtration or installing a UV filter is not an option.
Red-Edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
This plant is also fairly difficult to kill, has a low amount of pollen added to the air, and removes VOCs such as benzene, xylene, toluene, and formaldehyde. But this is not the plant to go for if you have pets, especially cats. Pets enjoy chewing on plants (it aids with digestion for some, and is simply fun for others), but the Dracaena is toxic to some animals, most notably cats. If you don’t have a pet, then this easy-to-care-for plant is a great choice.
Now don’t forget that proper ventilation and a good filter are just as effective (and in some cases more so) as natural house plants. But plants are beautiful and an extra level of filtration for your home. So if you already have plants, and need a new filter, central heating, and cooling system, or even a UV filter, just contact Boulden Brothers.
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Floral images are used courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr under a CC license.