By Sandy Vanno, Warren CCE Master Gardener
Houseplants have long been used as a way to bring some of the warmth and comforts of the outside, natural world indoors. But did you know that the plant on your desk may not just be brightening your day, it could also be helping to clean your air? Thanks to some initial research by NASA scientists who were interested in the potential of plants to help clean the air, we now know that many popular houseplants are actually quite good at removing some of the toxins that are often found indoors. And, not just the plants! Microorganisms in the potting soil also do a fair job of cleaning the air!
Most people are aware that as plants photosynthesize they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Studies show that plants are able to take in other gaseous pollutants as well.
Some of the toxins researchers found that plants remove from the air are formaldehyde, benzene, acetone, ammonia, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide. Of all these, formaldehyde is the most prevalent, found in virtually all indoor environments, coming from wood floorboard resins, pressed wood products, furniture, exhaust fumes, fabric treatments, water repellents, flame retardants, many paper products, natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke.
Since many people spend a large amount of time indoors, especially during the winter months, it makes sense to minimize any negative health risks associated with indoor air quality. In recent decades, homes and office buildings were built to conserve energy through tighter construction methods and increased insulation. This keeps warm air from the furnace and cool air from the air conditioner inside but also blocks the escape of potentially harmful indoor air pollutants. Older, leaky buildings have fewer indoor air quality concerns. Also, many household items are the result of man-made processes.
Scientists at NASA were interested in the effects common houseplants had on indoor air quality because they were studying ways to purify the air in future space stations. They designed experiments to examine the impact common houseplants had on indoor air pollutants; the study found that houseplants can remove some of the pollutants but certain plants were more efficient at removing specific pollutants than others. They also discovered that a plant's roots and its potting soil were also important contributors to the plant's air purifying system. Data showed that when the same plants and potting soil were continuously exposed to air-containing pollutants like benzene, their capacity to clean the air improved over time. This suggests adaptive abilities on the part of soil microorganisms.
Houseplants that improve indoor air quality:
Healthy plants will do a better job purifying the air than those struggling to survive. Keep your plants thriving with proper light and watering, fertilizing, repotting, and pest control. Since the plant's leaves play a major role in air purification, keep them clean by wiping with a damp cloth or occasionally spraying down the foliage in the sink or tub. Flowering plants produce pollen, so if you are sensitive to pollen, choose a foliage plant.NASA recommends one healthy plant in a 6 to 8-inch container for every 100 square feet of living space.
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Last updated November 9, 2021