Most Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. Assuming you spend 90 percent of your time indoors, ensuring the air inside your home is clean and safe to breathe would be important to you health. So the question is, how clean is the air you breathe inside your home? Most people associate outdoors with dirtier polluted air, but the reality is the opposite is true. The air we breathe inside our homes can be anywhere from 2 to 5 times as polluted as the air outside our home. Unfortunately, that also means that most Americans are spending a clear majority of their time in toxic, chemically polluted air. But there is good news! A study by the National Aeronautics & Space Association in association with the Association of Landscape Contractors of America proved that certain plants have the ability to detoxify the air inside your home making it safer for your family.
How Indoor Air Becomes 2-5 Times More Polluted
The air inside your home is 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. We can blame this on everything from air fresheners to household cleaners to off-gassing from furniture. There is also less air circulation and movement in the enclosed spaces we call home and work, and trapped dust actually harbors volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dust mites, flame retardants, and all sorts of pathogens.
So what can you do about this? Pull out your green thumb and we’ll tell you.
Houseplants Detoxify Indoor Air
In the late 1980’s, NASA collaborated with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America to study the use of houseplants to clean the air of toxins. The NASA study recommends having at least 15 of these houseplants for the average 2,000 square foot home.
NASA originally conducted the study to find out how to clean the air in the space station. This included plants grown hydroponically. However, newer research has shown that microorganisms in a potted plant’s soil can remove benzene. Houseplants also have mental benefits, including reducing anxiety and lowering blood pressure. They beautify a space and bring in a part of the outdoors. Houseplants also improve the quality of the indoors while adding to the beauty and aesthetic of it.
Lastly, houseplants give a feeling of achievement when successfully grown. Some houseplants are pretty hard to kill, like mother-in-law’s tongue and spider plants. Just be sure to plan your location before bringing home a plant to give it the light it needs and go from there.
Types of Toxins Found Indoor Average Homes
Chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene can be off-gassed from chemicals in household products and carpeting. And furniture, household goods, cleaners, air fresheners and more can also off-gas VOCs — volatile organic compounds. Accumulation of VOCs with nitrogen oxides can actually cause smog in your home. Running a heater and cooking on the stove can contribute, but so does the air outside, with industry, motor vehicles, and even dairy cows contributing to nitrogen oxides.
A condition called ‘sick building syndrome’ has been named after a type of illness that clears when you leave a building. Sometimes these toxic chemicals are making you ill and you don’t even realize what the cause quite is. ‘Sick building syndrome’ could be attributed to toxic chemicals lingering in your home. Sick building syndrome is thought to be caused by a variety of factors that come together. Researchers have often found it in buildings where occupants have low levels of environmental control. Dust or fiber particles in the air, large amounts of new and upholstered furnishings, and more can also contribute.
All of these were studied in the NASA houseplant study.
- Benzene is a known carcinogen. Furniture wax, paint, and home products often contain it. Companies use it industrially to make plastics, detergents, and pesticides. It is one of the 20 most commonly used chemicals in production.
- Formaldehyde is another known carcinogen that can be released by furniture, especially pressed wood and particleboard products, as well as furniture glue. You can find it in disinfectants and as an antibacterial ingredient in products.
- Trichloroethylene is often an ingredient in printer inks, varnishes, paint/paint remover and adhesives.
- Xylene is a solvent found in rubber, paints, varnishes, and rust prevention products. It can cause lung problems, exacerbate breathing issues and may cause birth defects in large quantities.
- Toluene is another solvent used in paints, dyes, detergents and even nail polish.
- Ammonia is used to make synthetic fibers, paper, pesticides and is also found in cleaning products.
Note: Homes with smokers and attached garages also have higher rates of benzene, formaldehyde and xylene in the air.
What Plants Work Best to Purify Indoor Air?
Find the idea of keeping houseplants alive intimidating? Don’t! With a little research, even the least green of thumbs can grow these houseplants.
Choose your location before you go plant shopping and pick a plant that will best tolerate the type of light you have in that area. Many plants do well in indirect sun. Plants used to moist conditions, such as ferns, should be misted. Other plants prefer being soaked on occasion, then left alone until their soil is completely dry. We’ve added some growing tips below, but go to a plant nursery or do some online research to see what might do best. The hardest to kill (and the most fun to say) is a mother-in-law’s tongue.
Wipe down leaves once a week to clean the plants of the accumulating dust. Dust will interfere with the plants breathing process and can also harbor VOCs. Be sure to wipe the underside of bigger leaves if possible, but do not coat them with commercial shine products.
Some plants are toxic to animals and humans when ingested or have possible but unlikely allergic reactions. Consider this when choosing houseplants. Put houseplants out of reach and keep any dropped leaves off the floor with small children and pets.
The Best Plants to Detoxify Indoor Air List
Peace lilies can remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia. They are toxic to cats and dogs. They are also toxic to humans if eaten in large quantities. Check soil weekly and only water if soil is dry.
This plant removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and ammonia. It is toxic to cats and dogs. It requires light to force blooms. Water regularly without wetting leaves to prevent fungal issues.
Variegated Snake Plant, aka mother-in-law’s tongue
It removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. Snake plant is toxic to cats and dogs. It is hard to kill and can tolerate most lighting and watering conditions. Ideally, mother-in-law’s tongue should grow in an area with bright light. When watering, try to under- rather than over-water.
This plant removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. It is toxic to cats and dogs. It is well-known for being good at trapping allergens in the air. Dracaenas like indirect sunlight. Water deeply when the topsoil is dry to the touch.
English Ivy removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene. It is toxic to cats and dogs. There is a small risk of dermatitis from touch and it is toxic to children. The berries have a bitter taste, which is discouraging to children. Frequently mist the leaves. English Ivy is best suited to hanging baskets so that the leaves can trail over.
The Gerbera removes benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. Gerbera daisies are non-toxic. They also like bright light. Water deeply when the soil on top feels dry to the touch.
Boston Ferns remove formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. They are non-toxic. Place in direct sunlight and mist the leaves.
The Spider Plant removes formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. Spider plants are non-toxic. They like bright light, but take care to keep them well-watered in the summer. You can easily propagate spider plants from the ‘spiders’ that grow.
Philodendrons (heartleaf, Selloum and elephant ear)
Philodendrons remove formaldehyde. They are toxic to humans and pets. Philodendrons are very popular houseplants. Put them in light shade, and keep moist (not wet) at all times.
Green Thumb Or Not, Let’s Do This!
So there you have it — an easy way to clear out your indoor air and help protect your family from toxins in the home. Whether or not you have a green thumb, you will be successful!
Do you feel you have a green thumb? Have you grown houseplants inside your home? Make sure to leave any advice you have for others in the comment section.