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Breathe Easy: Houseplants Can Clean Air Indoors

By Sara Butler

Your House Plants

How much time do you think you spend inside each day? You may be surprised to learn that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, you spend about 90 percent of your time indoors. That’s a startling statistic, but one that is likely true. Between work, home, and sleep, unless you live or work outdoors, then you spend a lot of time inside just because you must.

Unfortunately, the air in your home probably isn’t as clean as you think it is. In fact, the EPA has also found that air inside people’s homes is full of far more pollutants than the air outside, which is another startling fact.

Try not to be too shook up because, now that you’re aware of the problem, you can do something about it. And that something is about as natural as you can get. The secret to improving the air quality in your home is simple: plants.

Here’s how you can harness the healing power of plants to help you breathe a little easier in your home, backed up by a little research from NASA.

Why Indoor Air Quality is So Bad

Some very common things in your home are contributing to poor indoor air quality. New carpeting, gas stoves, fireplaces, new paint, new electronics, and pressed wood that makes up cabinets or furniture can all emit toxic substances into the air you breathe in your home. These toxins can lead to some serious health problems such as:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Damage to your kidneys, lungs, and nervous system
  • The development of certain types of cancer

The energy efficiency of new homes and buildings also create more issues with indoor air quality. Dwellings are so airtight to save energy that they don’t allow the flow of fresh air in and out, which means there’s less fresh air inside.

Throw in reliance on synthetic building materials and you have a recipe for poor indoor air quality. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from liquids and solids can have an impact on your long-term health. The most common items emitting VOCs in your home include:

  • Paints
  • Solvents
  • Aerosols
  • Disinfectants and cleaners
  • Stored fuel
  • Air fresheners
  • Moth repellents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Dry cleaned clothing
  • Building materials
  • Furniture
  • Craft materials such as markers, glue, and adhesives

The EPA refers to the general feeling of “unwellness” that people experience in buildings as “Sick Building Syndrome.” And your home can be a sick building -- but you can help it get better.

Put a Plant in It!

Plants are often found in people’s homes because they look good, but the truth is that plants are more than a pretty face. Plants help you to feel more creative, they help you be more productive, and they also help you to feel more energized. They also happen to make excellent natural air scrubbers for the air inside your home.

While any plant helps to make the air in your home healthier, there are some plants that are better than others. Consider adding one of these inside your digs:

  • English ivy - Chances are you see English ivy everywhere but probably don’t notice it. It’s a common houseplant because it’s easy to care for and can withstand quite a lot of neglect. This plant also happens to be great at removing benzene from the air inside your home. Benzene is found in paint, pressed wood, paint strippers, detergents, synthetic fibers, and dyes. Ivy can remove up to 90 percent of benzene in your home within 24 hours.
  • Peace lily - The peace lily brings more than peace to your home; it brings fresh air too! It removes carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. It can also increase the humidity in your home by up to 5 percent. Just keep in mind that the leaves of this plant can be toxic to children and pets, so beware if you have either in your home.
  • Spider plant - This is one of the most common houseplants around and it also happens to be an indoor air quality powerhouse. It can help to remove VOCs in your home, taking them out of the air in a matter of minutes and lowering formaldehyde in the air by up to 90 percent. The spider plant does not play around but still masquerades as your friendly neighborhood spider plant.
  • Dracaena - This plant is also known as the Janet Craig plant, which is a lot easier to pronounce, and it’s quite the little workhorse. It’s one of the best plants out there for air purification. In fact, it takes out about 87 percent of the VOCs in the air and removes trichloroethylene, carbon dioxide, benzene, and formaldehyde out of the air too. It’s also been shown to help soothe dry skin, sore throats, and coughs through controlling humidity in the home and enhancing your cognitive function. That last one is probably a survival mechanism it has created over time so you don’t forget to water it.
  • Snake plant - This is one snake you want to welcome into your home. Studies have revealed time and again that this plant is great at removing toxins such as nitrogen oxide, toluene, formaldehyde, and xylene from the air in your home.

You don’t need a green thumb to grow these plants in your home. Most of them are pretty tough. After all, can you think of any other living thing that thrives by taking the things out of the air that can kill you? You might say plants are agents of the EPA.

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